Kenya: Uproar Greets Use of Chiefs in BBI Signature Collection Drive

30 November 2020

Civil society groups and politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto have questioned the use of chiefs to collect signatures to change the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Rights activists took issue with what they termed as conversion of the political process into a state project, as Dr Ruto's allies alleged the use of "Machiavellian tactics" by President Kenyatta's government to get backing for BBI.

County commissioners, deputy county commissioners, chiefs and their assistants, they said, are civil servants and their involvement in politics is in breach of the law.

This came as some county commissioners and governors exerted pressure on chiefs in their areas to meet set targets.

In Vihiga, County Commissioner Ochilo Oyugi, who accompanied Governor Wilbur Ottichilo to launch the exercise, asked chiefs and their assistants to ensure they collect 100,500 signatures by Monday.

In Kisumu, Kakola-Ombaka assistant chief John Ongudi yesterday said he had received two booklets to collect 500 signatures.

Door-to-door campaign

"The exercise began on Saturday, some officers received three booklets depending on the size of the locations. We are supposed to submit them on Tuesday," he told the Nation.

Similar instructions have been issued in Nyeri, Bomet, Kericho, Migori, Homa Bay, Nakuru among other counties.

With a target of 97,800 signatures after 326 registers were distributed to chiefs in Nyeri, the national government administrators have been on a door-to-door kind of campaign to meet their targets. "Administrators will avail the documents to the voters at the grassroots for signing in what would make it easy for the targeted numbers to be attained within the shortest time possible. Every registered voter should support the process that caps resource allocation to counties at 35 per cent," said Chama Cha Mashinani party leader Isaac Rutto, who is leading the campaign in Bomet.

But in Nairobi, civil society groups and a section of political leaders under the Linda Katiba Movement said the "coercion" of chiefs to collect signatures is "manifestation of the creeping return of the Kanu authoritarian State".

"We call upon Kenyans to resist this flagrant abuse of power, and to flag any incidents they encounter through social media," David Ndii, Martha Karua, Boniface Mwangi, Prof Gitile Naituli, Jerotich Seii and Daisy Andany said in a statement.

"... It is the Kanu authoritarian State in which the provincial administration served as the enforcement arm of the imperial presidency."

They vowed to organise and launch "our defence of the Constitution and what we hope will be final showdown with the forces of impunity and darkness."

Impunity

"To the merchants of impunity and the manufacturers of consent, your hubris is premature. We the people will defend our Constitution in the court of public opinion and in the political trenches," the activists said.

Dr Ruto's lieutenants opposed to BBI also faulted the involvement of national government administration officers.

Jubilee Deputy Secretary-General Caleb Kositany said it was unfortunate that the signature collection was ongoing even "without the provision of the Bill for Kenyans to read."

"The urgency in collecting BBI signatures is at a desperate level. Chiefs have the forms and one copy of the bill per location. So how are the people going to read this bill? We are not the people to be read for by somebody," Mr Kositany said.

He warned that the government should not punish chiefs who return blank BBI forms.

"If the chiefs return blank forms, don't sack them. We are not boarding the Yes vs No train. Consensus is best for Kenya and it's possible," he added.

State project

Nandi senator Samson Cherargei said the use of county administrators to collect signatures is a blatant abuse of public servants and negates the law.

Kandara MP Alice Wahome put the blame on President Kenyatta, accusing him of turning the BBI process into a "State project."

But BBI secretariat, co-chaired by Suna East MP Junet Mohammed and former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, said no one will be forced to sign the document.

Interior Permanent Secretary Karanja Kibicho did not respond to the Nation on the allegations by the time of going to press.

Reporting by Justus Ochieng', Derick Luvega, Vitalis Kimtai, Elizabeth Ojina, George Odiwuor, Benson Ayienda, Nicholas Komu, Alex Njeru and Ian Byron

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