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ODM gives strongest hint yet to abandon referendum course

By Standard Team | March 31st 2021
ODM leader Raila Odinga in Malindi, Kilifi County, on March 3, 2021. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

ODM has sent signals that it may abandon the quest for the review of the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In a statement yesterday, top ODM officials told the government to use the funds set aside for the referendum to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is the deputy party leader, and ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said the funds for the impending plebiscite “should be channelled to better use”.

As ODM threw the spanner in the works in the BBI process, the party also tightened its screws on its erstwhile partners Amani National Congress (ANC), Wiper and Ford-Kenya, accusing them of trying to rock the handshake so that they can benefit from it.

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed described ANC as a greedy hyena sitting somewhere with hopes that ODM abandons the Handshake.

“From today if we don’t get the respect we deserve from those small parties, we will deal with them in the only way we can as ODM,” said Mr Junet, without giving details.

But it was Mr Oparanya and Mr Sifuna's statement that signalled the likelihood of the BBI collapsing midstream as the partners wrangle.

Oparanya said the much hyped referendum, seen as the brainchild of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, and which was key in cementing their legacy, should be deferred.

“If there is no money at the National Treasury, there is no need of pushing to have the referendum this year. We should plan to hold the referendum next year when our economy has stabilised and Covid-19 has been contained,” said the governor, a close ally of Raila.

And speaking on Citizen TV earlier in the day, Sifuna appeared to be reading from the same script with Oparanya when he said Uhuru should focus on containing Covid-19 so that Kenyans could return to normal lives.

“If you don’t have original ideas just copy what the other countries are doing. Focus on giving people support and ramp up vaccination,” Sifuna said, adding that Kenyans were suffering due to effects of Covid-19.

Sifuna said no money was being spent on BBI, “but if there’s a single shilling that was going to BBI. We can now use it to buy vaccine”.

“We should focus on measures that can assuage the economic situation" said Sifuna, adding that Kenyans were tired of “consultations and stories” and needed tangible efforts to cushion them.

He later told The Standard: “Both the Senate and National Assembly have taken a break until the month of May, while they were the ones to discuss the BBI report.

"This means Parliament has already pushed the BBI matter further so as to focus on more important current issues, especially the third wave of Covid-19. Thats the same thing we support.”

But Junet said the BBI process remained on, warning that ODM would not allow smaller parties to hijack it.

“They (the other parties) should know that ODM is here to stay. ODM is the one that made handshake with the President and we will support BBI to the end. There are small parties that think they can push us out of the BBI process,” said Junet.

“How do you walk out of your project? ODM is in BBI and we will not walk out. These small parties are like hyena following a man with hopes that his hand falls down for them to eat.”

But ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula and Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala described ODM’s action as “kicks of a dying horse”.

The MPs said ANC was already in a working relationship with the president and are determined to work towards the formation of the next government.

Malala said the BBI document now belongs to the people and not to a political party, while daring ODM to abandon it if they feel sidelined.

“As ANC we will continue working with the president to promote the BBI. You have seen they have started to threaten to abandon the BBI. We want to tell ODM that BBI belongs to the people of Kenya,” he said.

The turmoil over BBI comes as disquiet continued in the ODM strongholds over perceived President Kenyatta’s isolation of Raila in the 2022 succession matrix, with some of former PM's lieutenants saying they had backed the BBI in the hope that Uhuru would back the ODM leader for presidency.

Siaya Senator James Orengo was the first to raisethe red flag over some Harambee House mandarins he accused of interfering with running of BBI affairs and planning to wreck Raila’s presidential bid.

Uhuru has been meeting regional political kingpins and was said to be favouring one of One Kenya Alliance leaders to succeed him in 2022.

One Kenya Alliance comprises ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang'ula, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi.

Political observers believe the alliance was meant to isolate Raila and Deputy President William Ruto ahead of next year's elections.

ODM has also cried foul over the conduct of Matungu parliamentary by-election that was won by an ANC candidate, accusing Interior Ministry officials of condoning violence during the poll.

The emerging war between the Handshake partners and former National Super Alliance leaders has reduced the momentum for the push for BBI, with ODM brigade insisting Raila had been short-changed.

Leaders from Raila’s Nyanza base and Western have expressed concerns over "few" additional constituencies the areas are to benefit from if BBI is passed and implemented.

Raila initially blamed the low number of electoral areas allocated to the regions to a hitch during printing of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020.

Oparanya’s sentiments yesterday signalled the ODM bigwigs could have abandoned the BBI and the push for a referendum.

He said the third wave of Covid-19 was posing a serious danger to the lives of Kenyans and all the resources and energy should be put on containing the spread of the deadly virus.

The governor added that the economic crisis the country was facing was a clear indication that holding a referendum would be a tall order. He suggested that the plebiscite be pushed forward until things clears up.

Oparanya spoke in his office when he hosted Finance and Planning Chief Administrative Secretary Eric Wafukho.

Wafukho was in the county to supervise the ongoing Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination.

The governor said Covid-19 containment measures put in place by President Kenyatta will hinder referendum campaigns.

“It is a requirement that public awareness about the document should be done and politicians will be conducting the exercise through public meetings. This cannot work in the current state of affairs when the country is busy dealing with the challenges of Covid-19,” Oparanya said.

He said there was no need of pressurising the National Treasury to release funds for a referendum while Covid-19 continues to claim lives of innocent Kenyans.

“Funds that are being set aside to finance referendum should be disbursed to counties for Covid-19 preparedness and provision of medical care to those who contract the virus,” Oparanya said.

The governor also urged the president to negotiate with international financial lenders to defer debts owed by Kenya for at least two years to enable the country meet its domestic financial obligations.

“If the international organisations that Kenya owes money allow the State to defer paying their loans we would be saving between Sh800 billion and Sh1 trillion per year, which is enough to help us recover from the current economic crisis,” he said.

But political analysts believe this could just be another tactical retreat by ODM and Raila.

Last week, the joint parliamentary Justice and Legal Affairs Committee was given 14 days to finalise and table its report on the BBI Bill.

This came a few days after National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said it was to be tabled on the floor of the House in 10 days instead of the 14 that it had sought.

The Bill was birthed through Raila's Handshake with Uhuru.

There has been discontent among a section of leaders from Nyanza who have argued that the region was given a raw deal.

Raila has taken a low profile on politics in the past few weeks as he recovers from Covid-19. Despite having raised queries about the micromanaging of the BBI secretariat, Raila’s foot soldiers too have gone slow on championing the passage of the Bill.

Proponents of the Bill from Nyanza have also either gone mute or changed tune on the BBI.

Migori Governor Okoth Obado at the weekend said Kenyans should not be cheated that if passed and implemented, BBI will make life easier. He said life will instead become harder and the narrative the Bill would make life easy was a big lie.

“Reggae rhythms can no longer be heard clearly,” he said.

“It looks like there is a cockroach that has got into one of the wires and the system cannot produce good sound.”

The county boss said the Bill itself was bad and would raise the cost of running government.

[Reports by John Shilitsa, Eric Abuga, Moses Nyamori and Anne Atieno]


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