When Wanyonyi Wafula Chebukati was nominated to chair the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and eventually took leadership of the electoral agency, the name did not ring a bell. He was little known although Mr Chebukati has been running a law firm since 1986, a year after he graduated from law school.
After his nomination, he released a statement on January 1 saying he applied for the job knowing its challenges and he was equal to the task. He would be fair to achieve the objective of “delivering free, fair and credible elections to the standards acceptable to the people of Kenya.”
Ahead of his vetting by MPs Mr Chebukati, 56, had faced accusations of incompetence and professional negligence over a case he handled that caused the Nairobi County government to lose Sh325 million.
His law firm Cootow & Associates, which acted for the county against Salima Enterprises in a dispute over ownership of the Westlands Market, exhibited negligence including failing to appear in court for key hearings.
There were also loud murmurs that something was irregular in the IEBC leadership resting on the shoulders of two people from one county. Ezra Chiloba, the electoral body’s chief executive, like his chairman, comes from Kitale in TransNzoia.
Kenyans go to the polls on August 8. Jubilee Party, whose presidential candidate is Uhuru Kenyatta, who is gunning for a re-election and the National Super Alliance (Nasa), made up of four principals Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi, have, so far, emerged as the leading contenders.
Among other demands, the Opposition has been asking the electoral commission to deliver credible elections by auditing the voter register and procuring reliable systems.
Born in Bungoma County’s Bokoli village in 1961, his parents migrated to TransNzoia when “he was two or three years old,” to settle in Kwanza Constituency.
The lawyer later moved out of his father’s home to settle in Kiminini, between Webuye and Kitale towns.
Mr Chebukati started his law practice by forming Wanyonyi & Company Advocates in 1986, managing it for 20 years until he entered a partnership in 2006, forming Cootow & Associates that offers services including maritime, shipping, company, aviation, insurance, international trade, intellectual property, mining, environmental and labour law.
An alumnus of Lenana School, Mr Chebukati graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1985 with a Second Class (upper) law degree.
His law classmates who are well known include PLO Lumumba, the director of the Kenya School of Law who once headed Kenya’s anti-corruption commission, Philip Murgor, a former director of public prosecutions, who now wants to be President of Kenya.
Others are Nairobi lawyer Albert Muma, who was the best in that class with the only First Class, High Court Judge John Mativo, lawyer Njoroge Regeru and Musili Wambua, Justice Abida Ali Aroni, and Gilbert Mutembei, a chief magistrate now stationed in Meru.
He had good teachers at the university: Kivutha Kibwana, Makueni governor and a former minister who was presidential adviser, Jackton Boma Ojwang’, a Supreme Court judge who was interviewed for Chief Justice’s job, Bonaya Godana, a former MP who died in a plane crash in 2006, the late Oki Ooko Ombaka, who was Gem MP, and the late Hastings Okoth Ogendo, who became vice chair of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission that produced the first draft of Kenya’s Constitution promulgated in 2010.
“By then there was no woman lecturer at Law School,” a 1985 graduate of the University of Nairobi told the Business Daily.
An accomplished golfer who is a member of several local clubs. He is a member of the Kenya Golfing Society, previously was captain and chairman of both Mombasa and Nyali Golf clubs and a committee member of the Kenya Golf union.
Mr Chebukati will benefit a lot from his MBA degree he got from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in crafting the polls agency’s strategy.
A busy man, our efforts to interview him for this article did not materialise when we were told that he was in a chain of meetings yesterday, offering a clue about the demands of Mr Chebukati’s office, especially months to the August election.