Day of drama as ‘Cherera Four’ probe kicks off
Chaotic scenes rocked Parliament yesterday after MPs allied to Azimio-One Kenya Coalition stormed out of proceedings investigating four electoral commissioners following a petition for their removal.
The opposition MPs — and lawyers representing the embattled commissioners — engaged Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Gitonga Murugara in name-calling in full view of Azimio leaders Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua, who had attended the proceedings in solidarity with the embattled commissioners.
The minority side, led by Minority Leader Junet Mohammed, made spirited attempts to stop the proceedings by siding with lawyers representing commissioners Juliana Cherera, Justus Nyang’aya, Francis Wanderi and Irene Masit, who wanted the petitions struck out on technicalities.
The petitioners want the four commissioners kicked out of office over the manner in which they rejected presidential election results declared by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati. The four had described the tail end of the vote verification and tallying process as “opaque” and distanced themselves from the results just moments before Chebukati declared William Ruto winner.
The five petitions were separately filed by the Liberal Party, Republican Party, the Rev Dennis Ndwiga Nthumbi, Geoffrey Lang’at and Steve Jerry Owuor.
The committee had to retreat for an hour to discuss the issues raised by the lawyers for the four, which included the admissibility of the petitions and the legality of the parliamentary committee to hear them. When they returned, Murugara said members had resolved that the petitions were lawfully before the committee, a ruling that Junet and his colleagues disputed.
Junet attempted to shout down Murugara, maintaining that no vote had been taken among the members on the matter, but he was overruled.
“The majority of the members have upheld its jurisdiction to hear the matter before them. I, therefore, the rule that the first petition by the Liberal Party is heard,” ruled Murugara.
This prompted Junet to fire back saying; “Chair, let’s not involve ourselves in a charade. These are the Kenyans we are serving in this country. My choice in the participation of this committee must be respected. We can’t participate in a Kangaroo proceeding. This is an affront to the Constitution!”
The embattled commissioners, through lawyers Donald Kipkorir, Danston Omari, Jotham Arwa and Apollo Mboya raised a preliminary objection in which they argued that the committee had no jurisdictional authority to preside over the matter.
Arwa — representing commissioner Nyang’aya — said the matter ought to have been addressed by the Powers and Privileges committee. The issue prompted the committee members to retreat and agree on the way forward following the preliminary objections raised.
“We have agreed that we have the jurisdiction to hear this matter, this is the most competent committee, petitions by the public are sent to the clerk who when satisfied forwards to the Speaker, who forwards to the relevant committee,” said Murugara.
He then ruled that the first petitioner, Okong’o Mong’are for the Liberal Party proceeds with his case. Mong’are then defended his petition, saying the commissioners would not escape from the fact that they acted against the Constitution by questioning a process they were party to.
“The four commissioners cannot run away from the fact that they acted against the law and must answer to their actions,” he told the committee.
Earlier, Junet led another onslaught when he demanded that the committee chairman grant the lawyers representing the four commissioners adequate time to make their submissions.
The petitioners want the four commissioners removed from office for, among others, attempting to change the will of the Kenyan voters in the August 9 presidential election.
They argue that the four went against the official position of the IEBC on presidential election results, a move they say amounts to gross misconduct and violation of the Constitution. They further accuse the commissioners of violating the Constitution, which amounts to incompetence.
The committee has summoned the four commissioners to appear before it on Monday and Tuesday next week to respond to the accusations.
Addressing the media at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation offices after the drama, Raila, Kalonzo and Karua warned of a sustained fightback if Parliament proceeds with its plan to investigate the commissioners famously known as “the Cherera Four”.
The leaders said the decision by the National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to summon the commissioners would be vehemently opposed.
The four commissioners, led by Cherera, the IEBC Vice Chairperson, rejected IEBC’s declaration of Ruto as the winner of the August 9 election, claiming the tallying of the presidential results was opaque. The four also filed affidavits supporting Azimio’s unsuccessful petition challenging Ruto’s win at the Supreme Court. A number of petitions seeking their removal have since been filed before the Senate and the National Assembly.
Raila claimed the Legal Affairs Committee was being used by the ruling administration to go after the four for rejecting Ruto’s win.
“The injustice being inflicted on the four IEBC commissioners, if it proceeds as currently conceived, will mark the beginning of a massive pushback against Ruto and those who think like him, by the people of Kenya. We will openly and robustly lead that pushback,” Raila said.
He defended the four saying they had not been found culpable of any electoral malpractice. He instead redirected blame to Chebukati who, he said, was the only one indicted by the Supreme Court.
“The Ruto administration wants to take us back to the Nyayo regime of the 1980s. We want to sound a warning that no one should lie to this regime that we will sit back and watch a return to the Nyayo regime by another name,” Raila said.
Karua, who was Raila’s running mate in the elections, said the committee’s actions were politically motivated. According to her, it was an attempt to block Cherera, the IEBC’s vice-chair, from running the commission once Chebukati retires early next year.
“This witch-hunt in Parliament is intended to prevent the vice-chairperson from taking over as provided for by the law,” she said. Kalonzo, the Wiper Party leader, said the hearings were politically motivated. Hearings resume on Monday when the team reconvenes.