The many controversies that befell Wafula Chebukati during his tenure at the IEBC
Wafula Chebukati, and commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu will call it a day today, January 17, 2023, six years after the initial seven-member team was sworn into office in 2018.
The original team comprised Chairman Wafula Chebukati, Vice-chairperson Connie Nkatha Maina, and commissioners Roselyne Akombe, Paul Kurgat, and Margaret Mwachanya. Ever since the 2007 debacle, IEBC has been turbulent habitation for commissioners.
When it all began;
On January 17, 2018, Wafula Chebukati and his team were appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to steer the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for a non-renewable six-year term.
Chebukati was appointed chairman of the commission, Consolata Nkatha was vice chair, while the others - Boya Molu, Roselyn K. Akombe, Paul Kurgat, Margaret Wanjala Mwachanya and Abdi Guliye were appointed commissioners. Mr Chebukati and his team took over from the Isaack Hassan-led team.
The controversies arising out of the 2017 General Election
On September 1, 2017, in a historic ruling - and a first in Africa - Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the re-election of the sitting president, Uhuru Kenyatta. The court subsequently ordered a fresh presidential election to be held within 60 days after finding that the outcome of the August 8, 2022 election, was tainted with “irregularities and malpractices by the IEBC.”
The indictment on the IEBC was damning and they bore the heaviest responsibility for having “failed, neglected, or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution,” the Supreme Court ruled.
With just a week to the repeat presidential election on October 18, 2017, the IEBC commission was hit by the resignation of commissioner Roselyn Akombe who fled to New York, alleging the agency was under “political siege and unable to reach a consensus or take any decisions.”
IEBC said it regretted her decision to quit as Chebukati conceded he could not guarantee that the repeat poll would be credible. It however went ahead to conduct the repeat presidential election which the opposition boycotted and Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner.
On April 16, 2018, the next bombshell hit IEBC; three of the remaining six commissioners opted to resign saying they “refused to remain in a commission that had become dysfunctional due to external interference.”
The three commissioners Paul Kurgat, Margaret Mwachanya, and Connie Maina said “for too long and way too many times, the commission chair has failed to be the steady and stable hand that steers the ship in difficult times, and gives directions when needed."
They claimed the chairman offered no leadership and “the commission boardroom has become a venue for peddling misinformation, grounds for brewing mistrust, and a space for scrambling for and chasing individual glory and credit”. The IEBC Commissioners resigned with immediate effect.
A crisis ensued when Chebukati was left with only two commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu. Some in the opposition and civil society filed a suit in court claiming that a commission with only three commissioners lacked a quorum and insisted they all resign to pave way for a new commission.
The constitution of Kenya Article 250 states that the minimum number of IEBC Commissioners is three as well as the IEBC Act that states three commissioners form a quorum. Despite being a minority, Chairman Chebukati and his two commissioners trudged on.
The controversies arising out of the 2022 general elections
With the 2017 General Election out of the way and a “handshake” deal between former President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga holding sway in the public political discourse, a change-the-constitution process dubbed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) took off. One of its main aims was to change the constitution to introduce new constitutional offices among other amendments.
The commission, during the BBI process, was dragged into the courts for lack of quorum once more. However, the Supreme Court ruling on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), expressly stated that the IEBC had a quorum in the presence of three commissioners.
On September 2, 2021, after a lengthy negotiated process, former President Kenyatta appointed four new IEBC commissioners to replace the four who had earlier resigned. The four were Irene Masit, Justus Nyang’aya, Juliana Cherera, and Francis Wanderi.
As the August 8, 2022, General Election came to a close, the commissioners put a united front by participating publicly in the verification and dissemination of the results to the public as results streamed in from all over the country.
However, as time went by and the public tallying and presentation of the presidential vote played out, there was drama slowly brewing up within the commission.
On August 15, 2022, when Chebukati rose to announce the results and declare the presidential-elect from the final 27 polling stations, there was a sudden walkout from Chebukati by the four new commissioners.
The four, led by IEBC vice-chairperson Juliana Cherera, disowned the results at a news conference saying some aspects of the electoral process were “opaque”.
The four dissenting commissioners said the exercise of verification was all right until the last phase when the process turned opaque and that they did not wish to be part of it.
It took the security organs at the national tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya to steady the ship when a fracas broke out around Chebukati and he had to be whisked away to safety.
Order was later restored and Chebukati was able to make his final announcement, declaring William Ruto the president-elect.
The 'Cherera Four' kept to their stance disowning the results announced by the IEBC chairman. The matter was contested and eventually went to the Apex court.
However, the presidential petition fell flat on its face when The Supreme Court dismissed all counts and the election of Dr Ruto as president-elect was upheld.
Chebukati was vindicated and the Cherera Four have all since resigned from the commission save for Irene Masit. Meanwhile, the commissioners await their fate from a tribunal investigating their conduct for alleged gross violation of the Constitution set up by President Ruto.
Chebukati-Three's last assignment
For the Chebukati-three, the by-elections in Elgeyo Marakwet, Kandara, Garissa Township, and Lamu’s Shella ward were their last main task.
The three commissioners Chebukati, Molu, and Prof. Guliye, against all odds, have served their full term of six years to the end. They have been cited for bravery by many as well as reviled from other quarters.
To President Ruto, Chebukati is a hero for refusing to “accept blackmail and bribery.” To Raila Odinga Chebukati should be “prosecuted and jailed for bungling the August 2022 presidential election.” Chebukati is therefore described variously from different quarters.
As all goes into history on January 17, 2022, Chebukati’s tenure at the IEBC will remain etched in many people’s memory for the roller-coaster ride it presented to the public.
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