Opinion | Migori senatorial by-election a win for Raila and not an indication of anti-ODM sentiments

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Migori Senator Ochillo Ayacko receives a certificate from Migori County returning officer Ruth Kulundu after winning the by-election on October 9, 2018. PHOTO/COURTESY

By MANENO MWIKABE

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

I have just returned to the city, after a grueling senatorial campaign in Migori to find a lot of “analyses” attempting to put the result into perspective but giving the truth a very wide berth.

For many desktop analysts, it is convenient, and saleable news, to allege that Raila Odinga, the ODM party Leader, had lost at the by election following the good showing by rookie politician and youth activist, Eddy Okech Muok against veteran campaigner Dr George Ochilo Ayacko.

Many city ‘analysts’ claim that the fact that Raila Odinga camped in the county for two days to campaign for Ayacko was an indication of the strong anti ODM sentiment gaining currency in the county, and Muok’s own prowess, appeal and brand as a politician. None of those analysts have so far got it right.

Technically, Mr Muok Okech was not a candidate. He was a pawn. Muok is a political nobody that agreed to be used, or used other politicians, for reasons known only to those involved in that game. He was a loser from the beginning, and very few care about how he fares after the contest – he could have been relevant if he’d won, maybe created a name for himself and probably carved out a career, but he didn’t win so he’s toast.

He was used by big players in Migori and national politics to settle scores and make a point. The resources he put on display – helicopters, Landcruisers, massive banners in towns, radio advertisements, T-shirts and allowances for campaigners, did not reflect his own ability to fundraise but the fact that his sponsoring masters were determined to have their way. At all costs.

First things first, the Migori by election was not about local politics only. Nor was it a test of ODM’s popularity. It was a contest at two levels. At one level, the contest was between local rivals Ayacko and Obado, the latter represented by Muok.

At such and at another level, it was a contest between Raila Odinga, represented by Ayacko and Deputy President William Ruto, who was represented locally by Obado and Kuria West MP Mathias Robi Nyamabe.

When ODM decided to award the nomination to Ayacko following the demise of Sen. Ben Oluoch Okelo, Muok was one of the interested aspirants invited to Orange House to meet Raila Odinga to agree not to offer themselves as candidates.

Others included Mr Dalmas Otieno Anyango, a former MP for Rongo and Cabinet Minister; former educationist and MP for Suna, John Pesa; and former Nyatike MP Edick Omondi Anyanga. At the meeting followed by a press conference, all of them agreed they would not offer themselves for election and would support ODM’s choice of Ayacko.

But supporting bitter rival Ayacko wasn’t what Obado had in mind. Before the wrinkles of their wry smiles had faded from their faces, Okech Muok was called to a meeting with Obado in Nairobi. The governor, a ruthless and egoistic politician with a misleadingly humble demeanor, had been hurt by the ODM decision to nominate the man he detests most to run for senate.

Campaigns during the Migori Senatorial by-election. VIDEO/MIGORI NEWS

Muok agreed to the governor’s proposal, with several lofty promises of support. He was assured there was no way he could lose with the most financially endowed politician in Migori on his side. He agreed to the proposal to renege on his agreement with Raila and run.

To Obado, Okech Muok was the best candidate to support for the race because he had his own resources from an NGO he ran and he’d surprisingly come second at the 2017 elections, with Ayacko’s support.

Okech also, conveniently, came from the governor’s backyard of Uriri. Obado quickly dumped the other aspirants he had promised support; Solomon Hodo of PDP and Peter Osieko Jobando, an ally of Ayacko who had agreed to run if the governor could foot his bills.

Ochilo Ayacko, as the ODM candidate, attracted passionate opposition from the governor and other local politicians because he ran for governor in 2017, and intends to run for governor again in 2022, citeris paribas.

That’s a coveted seat that current occupant, Okoth Obado, does not want taken by a person he cannot trust. He has so much to cover up – fictitious projects, payments to ghosts, massive plunder and misuse of public resources.

Ayacko cannot be trusted to stay silent if he ever comes across information that could incriminate the governor. His becoming senator would grant him access to information, and provide him a forum to question the governor on spending in Migori. He had to be stopped.

FPK candidate in the Migori Senate by-election Eddy Oketch boards a helicopter. PHOTO/COURTESY

Migori is an ODM stronghold and that isn’t changing with the election of Ayacko or the strong and impressive showing by Muok. What needs to be understood are the factors that made the contest so hot, even though, in the end, voters failed to show up at polling stations to emphatically have their say.

For many voters, there was little motivation to show up to vote in a contest in which Ayacko was a clear winner. But for Okech’s supporters, there was a lot of financial motivation to go and vote; people were paid from their homes and ferried to polling stations to vote the youthful candidate.

The Migori contest was between the Handshake supporters and those opposed to it. In the county, Obado is the biggest opponent of the Handshake. By his body language when invited to the podium to shake hands with Ayacko during the funeral of the former senator Ben Okello, he was an unwilling friend.

From the funeral he continued efforts to market Dalmas Otieno Anyango as Oluoch’s replacement, going as far as trying to infiltrate Raila’s family and ODM through elder brother Oburu Odinga, and Raila’s wife Ida, to win favour for his preferred candidate.

The two however didn’t play ball and he lost. Through Anyango, the governor had hoped to silence critics of his administration, who accuse him of wanton graft, nepotism and administrative irresponsibility.

Dr George Ochilo Ayacko winner of the Migori senatorial by-election. PHOTO/COURTESY

He however didn’t lose his determination to ensure Ayacko did not become senator. It is now becoming apparent that although he ran an efficient spy network through his gang of Sangwenya, Obado was seemingly unaware that complaints of corruption, with evidence, had reached the top party honchos at ODM.

Silently, Raila had come to a decision to deal with the corruption by bringing in someone who wasn’t going to fall for Obado’s money tricks – Ayacko. Ayacko now has the unenviable brief of exposing and fighting the corruption in Migori through the Senate.

That Okech Muok was Obado’s candidate was not clear from the start, as the governor had kept many guessing, until he authorized, without payment, erection of huge campaign billboards in Migori town carrying Okech’s image and messages.

There were claims too that county government departments contributed funds to Okech’s campaign after creating fictitious projects and activities that were irregularly funded.

While arrangements were going on to support Okech through the county government, Obado placed several calls to the Deputy President William Ruto, with whom he discussed details of the campaign, and how the youngster was going to be funded to upset Ayacko and ODM.

DP Ruto also made a trip to Kuria East and West, whose MPs are members of his Jubilee Party, during which he attempted to coerce them to support his joint project with old friend Obado. At a meeting in Kuria East, Ruto wanted local MP Maroa Maisori to declare support for his other project, Solomon Hodo, a Maragoli who passes off and poses as a Mukuria, but the MP declined.

Maisori’s reason was simple; his core supporters were angry with Obado and his government for their role in preventing Kerario Maroa, a Migori based lawyer, from taking over as speaker of the Migori County Assembly.

Mr Maroa and his supporters had been attacked and beaten by goons, known as Sangwenya, hired and maintained by Obado to help him contain his political competitors, during elections for speaker last year.

It would have been politically suicidal for Maisori to go against the wishes of the people from Kerario’s Kegonga area of Kuria East, from where he drew most of his votes in 2017. That left Mathias Robi, the MP for Kuria West, as the only MP, Mr Ruto could bank on for support for his joint project with Obado.

Robi, also a businessman with interests across the border in Tanzania, quickly grabbed the opportunity to land his name in the DP’s good books as a great hatchet man, and make a shilling or two from the posturing.

It was therefore through Robi that huge financial resources were channeled to Okech Muok for the campaign, including money that was paid to campaigners in Kuria East and West. The campaigners were mainly politicians, like former MP aspirant Wilson Mwita Maroa Paul and Ntimaru East MCA Augustine Mwise Mwera both of Kuria East; and Abednego William Maroa, MCA for Masaba ward and Obado’s sidekick who chairs the assembly’s budget and appropriation committee.

In the two Kurias however, few wanted to listen to projects fronted by Okoth Obado after he’d vetoed the establishment and funding by the World Bank of a municipality at Kehancha town in Kuria West; and ensuring Kerario Maroa lost the contest for speaker to former North Kadem MCA Boaz Okoth, a meek ally of the governor.

That Obado bragged to anybody who cared to listen that he had Abakuria votes in his pocket also enraged the community and its leaders, many of who felt that he was insulting the goodwill they had shown when they voted for him in 2013 when he was a poor ex-teacher.

Obado on his part had hoped to maintain Abakuria support by deploying huge sums of money to bribe voters and compromise opinion leaders in the area. He had done this successfully and managed to turn the vote against Ayacko, who had made significant inroads in Kuria in the race for governor in 2017.

Voters queue to cast their ballots during the Migori senatorial by-election. PHOTO/COURTESY

That Obado has for long wanted to challenge Raila Odinga’s grip on Luo politics is not a secret in Migori. For this, Obado knew that he needed big money. This money could only come through association with Raila’s biggest rival, William Ruto, and getting money from the county government.

For a man who had ascended to the highest county office with very little in material wealth, it’s intriguing that Obado is now one of the biggest land owners in Migori and perhaps the single most significant investor in real estate in the county.

He also controls a lot of liquid cash and his position as governor grants him access to millions of shillings that can be deployed to fight political wars at a moment’s notice and with very few questions asked.

Other parties that boosted Okech’s showing at the poll were some sitting MPs eyeing the position of governor at the next elections. One of these MPs, Mark Ogola Nyamita of Uriri, played a complex game that seemed to get out of his control.

While Mr Nyamita identified with Ayacko and showed up at a few campaign meetings, he continued to covertly support the opposition, especially in his constituency, where he encouraged youths and other groups to turn up to vote against Ayacko.

Nyamita, notably, owes his seat to the patronage of Obado, who controls the dominant Kanyamkago clan in Uriri. As he has admitted to close friends, Nyamita is aware that without Obado’s support, the only votes he’s sure to win are those of his extended non Kanyamkago family of about 200. That made him a hostage to Obado.

The other factor that may have played a role in Muok’s performance was that he had some money of his own to throw around. In looking for a candidate to replace Okello after the disappointment by Otieno Anyango, Obado settled on Muok as he seemed capable of mounting his own campaign.

This was in spite of having encouraged Solomon Hodo, a Maragoli investor living in Isebania, Kuria, and one who carried with him several thousand Abakuria votes at the last election. Obado had also lured one Peter Osieko Jobando, a former aspirant for the Suna East parliamentary seat, to enter the fray in the belief that the governor would finance his campaign.

Maneno Mwikabe looks critically at the impact of the Migori Senatorial outcome on ODM party and its leader Raila Odinga. PHOTO/FACEBOOK

But Obado surprised many when he settled on Okech, who. Like the governor, comes from North Kanyankago ward in Uriri Constituency.

When the campaign proper started, it was clear that Okech Muok was well funded with a campaign that seemed to overshadow that of Ayacko, a former minister and veteran of so many campaigns.

While Ayacko relied on local well-wishers for vehicles and transportation, Okech hired several state-of-the-art Prados from Nairobi and towards the end pf the campaign, hired a helicopters for several days at an estimated cost of Ksh20 million. The question was, where was the young man getting the funds?
It is no longer in doubt in Migori that Okech received funds from Obado. But the issue is, how was this possible given that Obado was in prison towards the tail end of the campaign? This is much easier than would be supposed.

Funds given to Okech were taken from the county government through its various departments whose CEC Members and Chief Officers were authorized to withdraw money from the Treasury, after submitting papers and plans for fictitious projects.

One department is alleged to have withdrawn Ksh5 million, from which the CECM deducted Ksh4 million to buy a truck while another withdrew Ksh3 mn, which he took straight to a land dealer to purchase a plot of land.

Finally, the issues that determined and dictated the senatorial race were local, and will have no bearing on national politics or the elections of 2022. Most of the people that voted for Muok, even though motivated with cash provided by the Deputy President, would still vote for Raila, not Ruto.

The DP’s investment in Migori was for ego, not for pragmatic political gain. But the biggest loser is not Eddy Okech Muok, but Zachary Okoth Obado.

MANENO MWIKWABE IS A MEDIA CONSULTANT AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR.

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