So near yet so far: Where the rain started beating Mike Sonko

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko on phone at a Milimani court. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

What promises to be the last nail on former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s political coffin was hammered yesterday after the Supreme court upheld his 2020 impeachment.

Prior to the verdict, Sonko had sought reprieve from the High Court and the Court of Appeal and when those avenues failed, he lodged his case with the highest court in the land.

His clamour for the Mombasa governorship was yesterday dealt a blow, the development preceding another where the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had given him the green light to be on the ballot on August 9.

But it was Sonko’s tumultuous past in the capital that caught up to him. His woes started long before deciding to vie for the Mombasa governorship. So where did the rain start beating for Sonko?

Prior to his impeachment on December 17, 2020, Sonko long enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with MCAs in the Nairobi County Assembly due to his method of handling issues.

His failure to appoint a deputy following the resignation of Polycarp Igathe in 2018 was one of the major issues that caused friction between him and the ward reps.

To quell the “nagging” by MCAs, Sonko in January 2020 nominated Anne Kananu, then Disaster Management Chief Officer, as his deputy and forwarded her name to the assembly for vetting.

But before the MCAs could vet her, a Nairobi resident challenged the nomination and got a court order stopping the assembly from going on with the process. Sonko would later withdraw her nomination.

It was, however, his decision to hand over four key county functions of Transport, Health, Public Works and Utilities, and ancillary services to the national government without consulting the MCAs that compounded his woes. This is what led to his impeachment.

In February 2020, Sonko, citing outside interference from cartels, called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to help him run the county.

This led to City Hall and the national government signing a deed of transfer agreement that saw the four core county functions transferred to the central government.

The transfer took effect in March when Sonko and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, at a ceremony witnessed by the President and Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka at State House, signed the final deed following public participation.

But months and several confrontations later with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) Director General Mohammed Badi, Sonko formally registered his intent to pull out from the deed of transfer agreement.

In a letter to the Attorney General, Wamalwa and Badi, Sonko declared a dispute between the county and the national government.

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

He cited numerous areas in the deed of transfer as reasons for his desire to terminate it. He said the deal was grounded in sheer bad faith and monumental breaches of the Intergovernmental Relations Act.

But as fate would have it, the same MCAs who had castigated Sonko for handing over the county functions had now grown fond of Badi and threatened to impeach Sonko any time he dared talk ill of NMS. And in November 2020, they made good their threat.

On November 26, 2020, Minority Leader Michael Ogada tabled a notice of motion to impeach Sonko. He listed four grounds.

They were gross violation of the law, committing a crime under national and international laws, and lacking the capability to run the county. He also faulted Sonko for crippling operations of NMS and the county executive by failing to assent to a Sh37.4 billion budget and the subsequent refusal to release funds for county operations.

The motion was approved by 86 out of 122 MCAs. This surpassed the required one-third (42 members) threshold. The assembly’s resolve to impeach the governor was further seen on December 3, 2020, after 88 MCAs voted to oust him.

His ouster trial would then proceed to the Senate which upheld the decision. To add salt to injury, the court lifted an order barring Kananu’s approval by the assembly.

She was subsequently vetted, approved and sworn in as deputy governor. But before she could be sworn in as the governor, Sonko moved to the High Court and obtained orders stopping the oath. This set the stage for a series of court cases between Sonko and Kananu.

In June, High Court judges Said Chitembwe, Weldon Korir and Wilfrida Okwany dismissed the application and set the stage for Kananu’s swearing-in.

The judges ruled that Sonko was to blame for nominating Kananu only to purport to revoke the nomination when he had already been impeached.

But the former governor moved to the Supreme Court arguing that allowing Kananu to assume office will deny him a chance to lead the people of Nairobi who elected him in 2017, and had expectation that he will remain their governor until 2022.

The apex court, however, cleared the way for Kananu to be sworn in after it dismissed Sonko’s application.

The court also lifted the order it had issued stopping her from assuming office. This marked the end for Sonko but a beginning for Kananu.

Later, Sonko would engage in a long battle in the corridors of justice that ultimately led to the courts making a ruling that could cripple his political career.