Mike Sonko: Subdued at hour of reckoning


Nairobi governor Mike Sonko at a past senate hearing. FILE PHOTO | NMG

When 45-year-old Mike Mbuvi Sonko sat in the Senate for two days facing his accusers from the Nairobi County Assembly, he was in a familiar territory.

Familiar because he spent five years with some of the senators who were closely following as MCAs tabled accusations against him.

But unlike his previous appearances before the House, Mr Sonko looked subdued, civilised and at times. Gone was the usual chest-thumping and aggressive character.

He listened keenly as his lawyers Harrison Kinyanjui and Wilfred Nyamu cross-examined his accusers and had to stomach the usual point of orders and point of corrections by senators.

Although not new to controversy, this time it appeared Mr Sonko knew that the battle was big- he had to save his job, especially after several attempts to stop his impeachment failed.

Perhaps pondering how his rivals outsmarted him this time round because the proceedings went on uninterrupted and he was impeached in less than two hours. Attempts by some MCAs to cry foul that someone impersonated them or illegally used their log-ins to vote, were ignored. Not even a court order could save him.

His saving grace now lay with the senators, who could vote to confirm the impeachment or hand him another lifeline.

Mr Sonko’s rise to power was dramatic- from an MP for Makadara Constituency to the city's first senator under the new Constitution and later dethroning Dr Evans Kidero as the Nairobi County governor in 2017. His was a promising life in politics with masses on Nairobians behind him.

Trouble for Mr Sonko, who at one time put President Uhuru Kenyatta on speaker phone to the amazement of many- perhaps to show his closeness to the head of state- started last year when he was arrested in Voi as he allegedly tried to escape from police officers.

Then, the claims were that the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji wanted to revive a case against him from years’ back. Claims were that he escaped from prison or never completed his sentence and that he failed to disclose this fact to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission when filing his papers to join the Nairobi gubernatorial race.

As he was being airlifted from Voi following the dramatic arrest on a fine afternoon in June 2019, his lawyers led by Cecil Miller were in the court corridors to block his prosecution.

“That the actions of the 1st Respondent (EACC) to purport to summon the petitioner and investigate him on the allegations of failing to declare that he had earlier been charged and convicted amounts to double jeopardy,” he said in the application through lawyer Cecil Miller.

He argued that at time the sentence was meted out against him, none of the investigative instruments, being the Constitution 2010 as well as the Statues being relied on, had been enacted into law and as such cannot be applied retrospectively.

He was arraigned but was still defiant and bullish, daring his accusers and detractors to bring it on. He vowed to continue serving the down-trodden and the thousands who voted for him.

Another suit was to follow later and the DPP brought charges of money laundering, conflict of interest, abuse of office, acquisition of public funds and conspiracy to commit an economic crime, against him over tenders amounting to Sh357 million.

After denying a total of 19 counts, chief magistrate Douglas Ogoti barred Mr Sonko and other officials from his administration charged alongside him from accessing the county government offices, unless with permission from the investigator and for purposes of picking his belongings.

He then became the fifth governor after Kiambu’s Ferdinand Waititu- who was later impeached, Okoth Obado (Migori), Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) and Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), barred from accessing their offices. Garissa’s Ali Korane later joined the list.

In April a popular group he formed and which run parallel services to the county government, Sonko Rescue Team, moved to court accusing the national government of interfering with its activities.

The group accused the police of destroying its sanitiser spray booths erected at Kencom bus stage, Buruburu and Kibera.

The non-governmental organisation alleged that similar booths erected at Kenyatta National Hospital, Greenspan estate, Mathare and Korogocho, risk destruction unless the court intervened.

The group also alleged that the police had also interfered with its plans of distributing foodstuffs and other items such as face masks and hand sanitisers, to the less fortunate in the society, yet the government has not put any interventions in place.

“Sonko Rescue Team is a non-governmental organization which has been assisting the less fortunate members of the society in Nairobi. It has been empowering youths and women in Nairobi to increase access to clean water, education and health care services, among other service,” his lawyer submitted.

Mr Sonko is also battling with EACC over the acquisition of a property in Upper Hill, which initially belonged to the Trustees of Kenya Railways Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme. A company associated with him said he acquired the property, measuring 0.2025 hectares, in 2019 for Sh200 million.

Back to the Senate, the accusations were at times serious while others appeared laughable. For instance, the MCAs charged that he is “too greedy” to lead the city. He was also accused of spending taxpayers’ money to fly his daughter Saumu Mbuvi to the US disguised as county administrator.

Saumu allegedly accompanied Sonko’s wife, county First Lady Primrose Mbuvi, to the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women held in New York from March 12 to 23, 2018.

County assembly Minority Leader Michael Ogada said Sonko flew his daughter in a first-class flight to the US.

Ogada told the Senate the governor’s daughter spent Sh220,000 on a chopper flying around New York City, and another Sh260,000 in what he described as an ‘offside party’ from the first lady’s conference in Philadelphia.