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Janet Ouko's political quest after City Hall

 Janet Muthoni Ouko
Former education executive Janet Muthoni Ouko. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

City Hall has been thrust into turbulence as Governor Mike Sonko and former education executive Janet Muthoni Ouko traded accusations over her resignation on Tuesday.

The former City Hall executive has taken on the governor in a rare show of boldness in a county where most serving and former senior staff keep a low profile even as Mr Sonko hits out at them.

But who is Janet Ouko?

She was the first female secretary-general of students union at Moi University and was member of a task-force on affordable education in 2014 as the country laid the ground for start of free day secondary education.

But it has not been an easy ride for the education reforms activist who has hinted at joining politics after exiting City Hall.

She once served a three-year suspension at university that threatened to scuttle her degree studies and is now taking on Sonko. Somewhat, she has seen it all.

Ms Ouko had said she was resigning to pursue personal interests even though a day later the governor accused her of overseeing a corrupt docket that misused bursary funds at City Hall.

Sonko claimed the former executive should take responsibility for the loss of Sh357.5 million in a bursary scheme meant for the city’s needy children.

"I will not tolerate any corruption case from the executives. If any one of them is involved in any, they will be charged and jailed. The officials who benefited from the bursary fund will carry their crosses. There is no cat-walking when public funds go missing," Mr Sonko said when he accepted her resignation on Wednesday.

The fiery governance and education rights advocate hit back, becoming one of the few senior executives at City Hall to publicly take on Sonko, questioning his leadership style at City Hall.

“You know there are people who behave like when they appoint you to a position it means so much, it is like they have married you, it is like they have given birth to you. That is not the situation. This is a job and the terms are very clear,” Ms Ouko responded to the governor.

A friend who went to school with Ms Ouko at Naivasha Girls describes her as hard-working, focused and a go-getter.

She would later defy the odds to become the secretary- general of the students union at Moi University, earning the nickname ‘Mama Rainbow’ for being the only female in the top leadership in 2002 at the learning institution.

The Mama Rainbow moniker was a lofty one for the student leader since it was the now Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu who was known by the alias. Ms Ngilu was the only woman in the top leadership of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) when the coalition ended former president Daniel Moi’s 24-year rule in 2002.

Ms Ouko was suspended in her fourth year after riots between the self-sponsored and regular students turned chaotic, forcing the university to close down.

She completed her degree in Business Management after serving three of the five-year suspension.

“I discovered my passion for championing people’s rights while I was on campus. That time, there were very few seats in classes, not enough beds in hostels, toilets were flooding and a few lights and sockets were functioning. It was complete mismanagement of the university,” she once said in an interview.

Prior to her appointment to the education docket at City Hall, Ms Ouko was the national co-ordinator at Elimu Yetu, a civil society education movement.

She resigned amid an ongoing probe into the alleged theft of millions of shillings from City Hall’s bursary kitty for the funds disbursed last year.

She wondered why the matter was being raised now yet she has been serving as a county executive all along. There is speculation she is eyeing the Embakasi South parliamentary seat in the coming by-election. She remains coy, though. “I will contest for a political seat but not this by-election,” she told the Business Daily.

She lost out in the preliminaries for the Nairobi Woman Representative seat in the 2017 poll. This was Ms Ouko’s second major stab at politics after previously losing out on the councillor’s (now County Assembly) seat for Waseges Ward in Rongai Constituency.

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