Former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha contemplated resigning on at least two occasions during his three and a half years at Jogoo House, underlining his reputation as perhaps the most principled of the ministers that served in the Uhuru Kenyatta administration.
One of the incidents, which made Prof Magoha, who died last week, hand his resignation was over the decision by the University of Nairobi to appoint Stephen Kiama as vice-chancellor after the then Education Cabinet had revoked it through a gazette notice.
"He [Prof Magoha] once wanted to resign. A decision was made but was later reversed and he felt like he had been thrown under the bus. I had to call Prof Kiama to the office and we had a small chat," recalled former Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho on Tuesday.
Dr Kibicho spoke when he visited the late Magoha's Nairobi home to condole with the family.
What he didn't disclose is that Prof Magoha had also come close to quitting the Uhuru Cabinet the previous year.
He had sat back, staring at the letter in front of him with detachment. The Education Cabinet Secretary was furious but also flustered.
It was in November 2020 and the letter had come from then chairperson of Public Service Commission (PSC) Stephen Kirogo, warning the CS of misdemeanour and stripping him of some roles within the Education ministry.
Prof Magoha was required to not only sign the letter but also to acknowledge its receipt and write back.
This came hard on the heels of an incident where the CS had publicly reprimanded then Uasin Gishu County Director of Education Gitonga Mbaka during an inspection of Langas Primary School in Eldoret town.
“Would I be lying if I said you are a fool?,” the CS had blasted the CDE, triggering outrage in the country, and particularly in the education fraternity.
A source privy to the matter says Prof Magoha’s detractors had seized the opportunity to humiliate him.
“How could he undermine me?” the furious CS asked, his mood tanked and ego wounded. Under the structure of Executive, the chairperson of the PSC is a rank lower than a CS.
Details have now emerged of intrigues in the past regime where superiority battles, sabotage, humiliation and competition among senior members of the executive nearly forced out the boorish CS.
“I would rather resign from Cabinet than be ordered by a junior,” the source recalls Prof Magoha vowing.
But even as he swore not to engage Mr Kirogo, Prof Magoha contemplated complying and signing the letter. He was a man under siege.
“I found him in a pensive mood in his office. He asked me if he should sign the letter,” recounts Prof Simon Gicharu, chairman of the National Association of Private Universities in Kenya (NAPUK).
He was one of the people who had interacted with him in the aftermath of the tiff.
Prof Gicharu had visited Prof Magoha to discuss the reopening of medical training facilities in the country to boost the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid the gloom, Prof Magoha still oozed passion for education and was eager to see the medical schools re-opened.
“During the time of war, do you stop training more soldiers or do you train even more?” Prof Gicharu recalls Prof. Magoha asking him.
But the closure of schools being a presidential directive, the CS was somewhat powerless. Meanwhile, the contents of the letter still hang over Prof Magoha’s mind like a shroud.
“He was so frustrated in government. He told me it is only in a dysfunctional government where a junior officer gives orders to his seniors,” Prof Gicharu adds.
“I would respond 'if the letter had come from Kinyua [Head of Public Service]. Not from a colleague.'”
He recalls asking the CS during the conversation if the appointing authority, that is the president, had spoken to him about it, to which he said he had not.
“I asked him to wait until his boss had communicated to him,” he says. Prof Magoha would claim that his troubles had been engineered by a powerful Cabinet colleague.
“To me, there is no senior or junior minister in the government. We are all equal,” Prof Magoha had said in open disdain for his colleague.
A source tells Business Daily that Prof Magoha was being targeted due to “the gusto with which he approached his work” and that some colleagues were attempting “to slow him down.”
The CS, though, was relentless and unstoppable. “Some individuals want to appear to be working harder than others. They do not want to be outdone,” Magoha revealed to our source.
Asked if he would bow to pressure from education stakeholders across the country and apologise to Dr Mbaka, Magoha was adamant.
“Not at all. Whatever I did was for the good of learners and education. If people do not like my [leadership] style, they should focus on the results,” the CS defended himself.
Dr Mbaka had been scolded by the professor for alleged poor hygiene at Langas Primary School.
The CDE, though, was not the only education official on the receiving end of outbursts from Prof Magoha during his tenure that was mired in controversy.
Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) chief executive Dr Mercy Karogo and former Technical and Vocational Education Principal Secretary were also publicly humiliated by him at different times.
During a routine inspection of education in Kakamega County, the CS told off the regional director of education Stephen Barongo, saying he was in the wrong job.
Meanwhile, officials at ministry headquarters at Jogoo House and County Directors of Education had repeatedly accused Prof Magoha of threatening and intimidating them.
Those close to the late Prof Magoha, however, argue that despite his sometimes coarse approach to issues, he did not mean harm to anyone. He also held no grudges.
“Once he reprimanded you, that was it. The matter would end there,” says Prof Gicharu, adding that passion for his job sometimes made him impatient with people.
Prof Magoha would never acknowledge the letter from Kirogo (now deceased) nor respond to him, which put the matter to rest.
Upon Prof Magoha’s passing, Dr Mbaka, who has since retired, said he holds no grudge against him.
“I have no issues with the late. As my senior in authority, he owes me nothing. He was a gallant civil servant. May his soul rest in peace,” Dr Mbaka told the Business Daily.