ODM 'rebels' in a battle of wits as Raila pushes back Ruto onslaught

This past week, the seven MPs - Jalang'o, Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Mark Nyamita (Uriri), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), Paul Abuor (Rongo) and Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda - sustained their engagements with government officials. Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir (Independent) has also been part of the meetings.

On Friday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua met the MPs, an engagement they said was on development.

"We agreed on continuous engagements with the legislators, and indeed leaders from all parts of the country irrespective of political or any other affiliation," Gachagua posted on his social media handles.

It is an assertion held by the lawmakers, who have also explained the meetings as driven by need to deliver development to their constituents. As they faced backlash over their meeting with the president, some made frantic appearances at media stations, justifying meeting the Head of State.

"In our continuous engagement with the government, we met the CS Education Ezekiel Machogu whom we shared with our different constituencies' strategic plans, which he agreed to partner with us to ensure their realisation," Jalang'o wrote on Friday, days after they had met CSs Kipchumba Murkomen (Roads and Infrastructure) and Eliud Owalo (ICT).

The initial meeting with Ruto at State House had been sold as a follow-up to the president's tour of Nyanza in January, through which Ruto would promise goodies such as infrastructure projects and investments into key sectors.

In all the meetings, Owalo has appeared as the chaperone of the MPs. Historian Timothy Onduru reads Owalo's actions, as well as that of the seven MPs, meant to test Raila's supremacy in Nyanza and isolate him in Parliament by denying him sufficient numbers to mount an opposition.

"Upstaging Raila in Nyanza is impossible at the moment as he is the undisputed leader of the region," Dr Onduru said yesterday.

"Other leaders such have Dalmas Otieno, James Orengo and Anyang' Nyong'o have tried before and failed. In 1997, all MPs who challenged Raila failed in their bids," the Moi University don added.

The said assertion dominated talk at yesterday's Azimio rally in Kisumu, where lawmakers poured cold water on their talk of development.

Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said the government had taken away funds meant for a road project initiated in the handshake era of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila. "I want you to ask your Senator Ojienda, what development he is discussing when you are losing projects," the Ugunja MP said.

Democratic Action Party-Kenya leader Eugene Wamalwa claimed the president had influenced the MPs with cash inducements.

"If you see them go to State House it is because they have been bought," Wamalwa said, an assertion held by Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.

"All those who have gone to State House were elected because of Baba. Why are they betraying him? I want you to eject them," the Senate Minority Whip said.

"Baba, give me the authority to deal with the rebel MPs who got elected by hanging onto your coattails," ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya said.

Homa Bay Senator Oteino Kajwang' said it was painful that Raila had been betrayed by his allies, terming them traitors who ought to be removed from office. Nairobi Senator and ODM deputy Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna told the Kisumu rally that stern action would be taken against the rebel MPs.

"Your senator has told me that you sent him to State House. Did you?" he posed.

The Sunday Standard reached out to some of the embattled MPs to establish whether they had discussed other topics besides "development", such as support in parliament, which Ruto is hoping will endorse his push for constitutional amendments. They did not respond to calls or text messages.

The lawmakers are facing disciplinary actions over allegedly endorsing the ideals of the president's United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

In response to show cause letters issued by ODM chairperson John Mbadi, some of the MPs denied allegations of disloyalty, levelled in a complaint by Migori Senator Eddy Oketch responded to by Sifuna, who said action had been initiated. Oketch seeks to have the MPs expelled from ODM.

"The allegations in the subject letter that I have continued to associate with the leader of the United Democratic Alliance Party; and are promoting the ideologies, interests and policies of the said part within the Orange Democratic Movement Party are not factual but utterly false and unfounded," Nyamita responded to Mbadi's letter.