A tale of drama, fear and chaos in Sonko’s City Hall
When he appeared for a live interview on Kameme FM last Monday, Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko was in a foul mood.
Sonko alleged that he was being undermined by some senior government officials who never believed he could become the Nairobi governor.
He singled out Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho as one of the officials who he claimed have been intimidating and threatening him after he refused to yield to their demands on who should become the deputy governor.
“Two weeks ago I was saved by the President when the same people threatened to take down my business with my sister. They wrote me a letter which I later handed over to the President who told them to stop the petty issues.”
“A PS is a very small person and has no right to intimidate me, threaten or tell me what to do. I only take orders from President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto,” Sonko charged.
It was not the first time the governor was invoking the President’s and the DP’s name. It has become his modus operandi, with those close to him revealing that it is the governor’s way of intimidating perceived political enemies.
In what is fast becoming his management style, the governor on Tuesday sacked his executive committee member in charge of Finance, Mr Danvas Makori, accusing him of working with his enemies.
This is a man he had personally defended when critics questioned his nomination. “He is a pastor, a man of God, you can trust him to manage the docket well,” argued Sonko then.
It was the second time Sonko was shuffling the Finance docket, first held by Vesca Kangogo who was replaced by Mr Makori during the February reshuffle.
According to insiders who sought anonymity for fear of attracting reprisals from the governor, top officials in the Sonko administration live in constant fear of losing their jobs.
“Nobody is safe here, you never know when you will be fired, we are being monitored all over, we are under constant surveillance, there are CCTV cameras in our offices, our phones are tapped, there are spies all over us, whether in office or out there in the bar,” said a top official.
Sonko’s penchant for sidelining his CECs and chief officers and instead using political allies and powerbrokers to run the county’s affairs has also come under sharp criticism.
One such man is one-time Kamukunji MP Simon Mbugua, who is regarded along City Hall corridors as the power behind the throne.
At one time, Members of the County Assembly petitioned the governor to make clear, if any, the roles Mr Mbugua was playing in his administration due to his frequent visits and claims he was intimidating them.
The former Kamukunji MP would later retort: “I am a great friend to Governor Mike Sonko. I have never in any way meddled in the operations of the county.”
Mr Mbugua, now a member of the East African Legislative Assembly based in Arusha, Tanzania, was also blamed for the sudden resignation of former Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe on January 12 this year.
Mr Igathe had differed with Sonko over the latter’s management style.
The governor had earlier maintained that he was in very good terms with Mr Igathe after word leaked that the two were not seeing eye to eye.
He even released a recording of his conversation with Mr Igathe, informing him that he had withheld payments worth millions of shillings due to some road construction in the city because of cost inflation by acting Chief Finance Officer Ekaya Alumasi.
In the conversation, Sonko urged his deputy on the phone to attend the NTV interview with Mark Masai and tell Nairobians the truth about the issue of garbage collection and assure them that they will transform the city.
Later Sonko was overheard telling some unidentified person that Mr Igathe was a “very good guy.” “There are some people who are out there to spoil for him, but he is a good guy altogether,” the governor claimed. A day later, Mr Igathe was gone.
Sonko’s erratic nature is best illustrated through an incident one Wednesday morning in February this year when he abruptly stepped out of a meeting with senior Transport ministry officials in his office and dashed to his private dining room to ask its occupants to shut up as their “noises” were interfering with the deliberations.
“The guy is chaotic by nature, there is no privacy in his office, his confidantes, Shaw (Peterson Kimenye) and Jamal (Otieno Ombok) are all over the place, even when the governor is in a meeting with a guest,” notes one of his confidantes who also requested not to be named for fear of losing his job.
At some point, one is opening a drawer or bringing the governor a power-bank as the other adjusts the volume of the TV while the governor engages his guests.
At another point, Sonko is barking out orders at a leader of a matatu sacco or quarrelling with staff who have not performed a task he assigned the previous day. Next he is summoning the head of inspectorate to his office accusing him of working with his enemies.
This is what the staff at the office of the governor of Nairobi, one of Africa’s largest and most important metropolises, have become accustomed to.
Sonko’s typical day begins at 5am, or thereabouts, depending on how late he stayed up the previous night. When he arrives in the office, he is brought breakfast from a nearby hotel, his favourite sausage and eggs being part of the helping.
He then calls for the list of guests waiting to see him and does a shortlist of those he will attend to. The rest are asked to come some other day.
The governor was in the news last month when he posted on social media the new reporting times for his CECs.
In the tweet, Mr Sonko directed that all CECs would report to work at 5am and that cabinet meetings would henceforth start at 5.3 am.
From 10 am, most of his meetings are punctuated with glasses of Cognac, his favourite brand. And, being a master of camouflage, next to the glass is always a package of apple juice. You can hardly tell he is in fact enjoying his whisky unless you’re an insider.
Occasionally, a number of Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) join in for a drink as the day wears on.
“What got me worried when I started working for him is the idea of drinking in the office. Yet interestingly, his confidence level increases and the tone changes once he has taken considerable amounts of the drink,” a senior officer said.
Multiple interviews with current and former City Hall staffers, some of whom started with him as Makadara lawmaker, revealed a complex personality that may appear easygoing with the masses but hard to please at work.
“When you take, say, 10 issues to him, by the time you are on the third item, he has lost concentration. He will begin checking his WhatsApp messages or log into Facebook for updates on things that are trending. And all his handlers know this. The moment you see that happen, you will be wasting your time if you continue talking to him,” an individual familiar with Sonko’s operations told the Sunday Nation.
“He has no regard for procedure, process or protocol. He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants it and with whom he wants it,” another aide said.
The kind of chaos and congestion in the corridors that characterised his senatorial offices on the 25th floor of Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) followed him to City Hall.
The number of people seeking audience with him starts swelling as early as 5am. Yet he does not keep a diary. This, our sources say, often leads to clashes in schedules.
“There was a day we were meant to meet an ambassador in town but, a few minutes to the agreed time, we suddenly saw him live on Facebook from Mukuru slums. It was chaos,” one of the handlers recalls.
One of Sonko’s ministers told the Sunday Nation in confidence that cabinet sittings are never without drama.
“In the middle of a serious discussion, he may remember that he was to send someone money, picks his phone and starts giving instructions to the person on the other end. You have to wait for him to finish,” said the CEC.
But the county chief says all is well between him and his officers. “We are all firm and working as a team. I know it will hurt many since I have sealed all corruption loopholes,” he said in an earlier interview.
Another handler lamented that there are occasions they stumble on intelligence they feel their boss needs to know but his template response is a morale killer.
“He then concludes that you can only be working with his detractors to be able to come across the information in question,” the source stated.
With sackings being the order of the day, some senior staffers said they are constantly worried that the governor could be recording their conversations for use against them in future.
“There’s a day someone in his office tipped him about an extortion ring in some of the city’s markets; he not only recorded their conversations but went ahead to play it to the very culprits. In the end you feel cheated and betrayed,” another source said.
Presiding over a budget expected to cross the Sh40 billion mark this year, Sonko could be rivalling heads of states like Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza whose 2017/2018 budget is estimated at Sh75 billion.
Sonko’s manoeuvre into City Hall included shedding tears on TV in the run-up to the Jubilee Party nominations. He claimed some people were trying to deny him the ticket yet he had fought for President Kenyatta more than anyone else. This “fight” included leading mobs to do acrobatics at The Hague while wearing T-shirts emblazoned with abusive words targeted at the International Criminal Court.
In the end he had his way at the polls, whitewashing his challenger Peter Kenneth, who was campaigned for by President Kenyatta in the early days of the duel.
This State House shadow appears never to have left him. When State House Comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua visited him at his offices on Wednesday, the governor’s body language didn’t portray a man at ease with himself.
We gathered that Mr Mbugua had gone to have the governor reinstate Mr Peter Kariuki as the county secretary. Seconded by State House, the governor had declined to appoint Mr Kariuki even after the Assembly approved his nomination. He has since rescinded the move.
Sonko has struggled to mend fences with those who opposed his bid with reports that it is Deputy President William Ruto who strongly came to his aid. His claims, two weeks ago, that some Central Kenya politicians were busy, through night meetings, plotting how to block Mr Ruto’s ascension to State House in 2022, has only worsened the relationship.
Further complicating matters are recent developments that have seen President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga closing ranks politically. The tectonic shifts radically change the dynamics in the city county assembly where President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga jointly command an overriding majority. Should relations deteriorate, analysts believe, the governor will be in a precarious position.
Sonko did not respond to our numerous calls and messages sent to his mobile phone number to respond to the accusations levelled against him.