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Why it will be make or break for Wafula Chebukati

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati is whisked away by security officers after chaos erupted at the Bomas of Kenya on August 15, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Tomorrow’s Supreme Court verdict on the petition challenging the declaration of William Ruto as president-elect will be a do-or-die affair for electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman was a defendant at the apex court, with petitioners led by Azimio la Umoja candidate Raila Odinga questioning his judgement and leadership skills.

If it court rules in favour of the petitioners, it will indict Chebukati and cement his place of infamy in the history of elections as the chairman of an electoral agency whose two elections were annulled.

If the judges condemn Chebukati, it will have a bearing on how future chairpersons of IEBC will be recruited. Should the court uphold Ruto’s win, Chebukati will be celebrated as the man who improved electoral systems from the failures of 2017. 

In 2017, Chebukati was at loggerheads with then commission CEO Ezra Chiloba over procurement-related issues. Equally, the chairman differed with three commissioners in the same election that led to the resignation of vice chair Connie Nkatha and commissioner Margaret Mwachanya and Paul Kurgat.

The three faulted Chebukati’s leadership, claiming the commission’s boardroom had become an venue for peddling misinformation, grounds for brewing mistrust and a space for scrambling for and chasing individual glory and credit.

Their exit left the IEBC chair to run the agency with only two remaining commissioners, Boya Molu and Abdi Gulieye. In 2022, Chebukati had run-ins with four commissioners including his deputy Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Justus Nyang’aya and Francis Wanderi, who have accused him of making unilateral decisions.

Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Justus Nyang’aya and Francis Wanderi accuse Wafula Chebukati of making unilateral decisions. [File, Standard]

However, Chebukati has accused the four of working against the interest of the commission and trying to subvert the will of the people expressed in the ballot. The four commissioners’ lawyer Isaa Mansur said: “IEBC acted as a serious corporate entity but it had serious corporate governance issues. The problem was when the chairman took unilateral decisions in the name of the commission.”

And while President-elect William Ruto described Chebukati as a hero whose place in Kenya’s history is secured, others accuse him of bangling the polls.

Prof Githu Muigai, who led a team of legal minds defending IEBC and Chebukati at the Supreme Court, referred to him as a national hero who stood against an external hand to let the will of the people prevail.

On the other hand, petitioners led by lawyer James Orengo attempted to persuade judges to sanction Chebukati and declare him unfit to hold public office.

He questioned the chairperson for rushing to declare the results before all constituencies were tallied and verified, noting that Chebukati had ulterior motivation for the hurry in declaring the winner.

“What happened is not just a conspiracy theory or any other ordinary event. What happened marked a pattern of constitutional violation to undermine people’s authority given that the election was not free, fair, accountable and verifiable,” said Orengo.