I Didn’t Frame Uhuru, Collapse Of His Case Vindicates Me
Seasoned lawyer and Nyeri women representative Priscilla Nyokabi previously worked at Kituo cha Sheria where she represented the victims of the December 2007-08 post election violence. She talked to our writer MERCY GAKII about a wide range of issues including the allegations that she framed President Uhuru Kenyatta, the recent deregistration of some NGOs and her experiences in the august house.
This is your first time to be a member of parliament. What is it like?
It is an interesting, and sometimes disappointing experience. I came to parliament with very high expectations. Having come from the private sector where work was highly valued through clear measurement of what one has delivered, the public sector was more of an anticlimax. People are in no hurry, and there is a laxity that is annoying, especially for those like me who want to see results.
Which challenges have you encountered as you serve in a male-dominated field?
Indeed, it is a man’s world out here (motions in the direction of parliament buildings). They think they are entitled just because they are all Alpha males. As a woman you have to fight for what you believe in, you must push for the bills you know will benefit more people who are depending on you out there. It is the only way to gain respect from the men, because more often they assume that women are in parliament to be seen and not heard.
Being a young MP is another hiccup because the same sort of stereotype can be found among older women parliamentarians, as they also want to make younger women feel like they are not entitled to some of the responsibilities. They can have that attitude of how did she get here? Who are you?
Luckily for me, I am a lawyer, so I understand the jargon, and what is expected of me on the floor of the house. Being a lawyer has also given me the guts to stand my ground and not let them intimidate me.
You championed the Marriage Bill with such energy that most of us remember you personally petitioning the president to sign it. Why?
I came from a background of human rights law, part of which are women rights. During my work as a human rights lawyer, I saw first hand how badly women are marginalised, both in private and public spheres. The marginalisation goes as far as what the law says on women, especially on issues of domestic violence, and property rights for the woman in a marriage union. There are many issues in marriage, not just divorce or polygamy.
Are the male MPs committed to championing for causes that affect women and the girl child?
I would say some men are very supportive of gender empowerment and will offer their time and efforts when these issues are being discussed. The Jubilee government is keen to implement the constitution. However, we need more men to change their attitude and join in the empowerment of women and girls.
Is the Kenyan law sufficient in protecting women or we need more to be done?
So much more needs to be done to laws that protect women and the girls against assault, especially sexual assault. The new constitution is a good place to start, but a lot of work is yet to be done after 50 years of bad laws.
Some NGOs were de-registered by the NGO board recently, and many people feel they were unfairly targeted. What is your comment on that, having come from the NGO world yourself?
The NGOs that were de-registered had not complied with requirements and they know what they have not fulfilled. I don’t see any malice in it. They just need to set their paperwork right, and not give excuses.
It even happened to us when I was at Kituo Cha Sheria, just because of failing to beat a deadline. Accountability is important for every institution. Kenya is a deadline country; we wait until the last minute before we do what is required of us.
You were in the news in the recent past over the politics of the International Criminal Court. Shed more light on it.
In 2008, after the unfortunate effects of the general election of 2007, many poor people who had lost their livelihood came to us at Kituo Cha Sheria seeking help.
They had no idea what the process of seeking justice involved; all they wanted was compensation for their losses. As we continued to represent them in courts, the International Criminal Court came calling. Hague’s interest was not just about the perpetrators of the violence, but also about victims. In a country with no law to present the interests of internally displaced persons, Kituo, which was by then championing their cause, found itself representing victims even further. The victims want justice, whether it is got from ICC or otherwise. However, victims are in the case because they want justice for what they went through, not otherwise. My name was being dragged into the issue because I worked at Kituo back then and represented them in my capacity as a lawyer. But I no longer work there, and my job there ended back then. I went into politics in 2012,and if anyone had questions, they should have asked me then. I know that those were political detractors who were working to bring me down. But the case against the president has collapsed, God is vindicating me!
What are the memorable professional cases that you handled during your tenure?
I represented prisoners as they sought for their right to vote. It was a case that generated a lot of international interest, because I was not a victim, yet the law could not allow a person who is not a victim to represent victims. Remember, prisoners had no voters cards while I, their lawyer, had one. But I finally won and prisoners got the first opportunity to vote in the referendum in 2005.
There have been many interesting experiences, including the sick getting detained in hospital when they cannot pay a bill, slum dwellers whose housing is suddenly demolished, women who are molested by clients as they go about their businesses of washing clothing, so many cases. Representing the poor and vulnerable comes with so many sacrifices. They cannot afford to pay for professional services, and when their causes are championed for, they are extremely grateful. They would bring us live animals, fruits, anything to show their appreciation. I remember one client who brought a whole sack of mangoes to our offices, just to say thank you.
Would you represent Nyeri County again if you got the chance?
Oh yes! Nyeri is my home, and I love the independence of the people there. They do not come to beg for alms. Every person works hard, and minds their own business. In fact, I can walk freely around when I am at home without being harassed to give this or that. You will not find Nyeri people come to line up waiting for me outside parliament buildings. Part of that culture came from former president Mwai Kibaki, who instilled in the people a mentality of self dependence. The Kikuyu culture is also not accommodative of men borrowing money from a young woman — that is unheard of, and our men know their limits well.
What do you miss about your life before politics?
I miss visiting with friends, and having unlimited time to myself. It is frustrating having to time your visits, and telling dear ones that you will give them only 20 minutes of your time. I miss my movies, and reading as much as I would. I miss myself. I have lost myself to the public life. Of course I try as much as possible to keep it real, but it is different. I expected so much more from being a lawmaker that it is kinda frustrating seeing the slow pace of things. I hoped we could pass many laws, debate big issues, solve Kenyans’ problems fast… (sighs) but I am disappointed. In the public sector it is totally different. You may choose to deliver on your work assignments or not. Yet those who deliver sometimes land in trouble…(another sigh) and it would make me feel disillusioned to some extent.
(At this point she reaches for her black handbag and fishes out a typed list) I have to keep reminding myself that I am working, and see, (hands me the list to read) I even came up with a list of what I know I have achieved so far, if only it would make me feel better.
Your parting shot for women in this country regarding their place in society?
Get some education, women. Understand what the law says and how it represents your rights and interests. For as long as we women are illiterate on whatever matters, we will remain in the dark, and what is rightfully ours will be taken away by those who know. Yet, ignorance is no defence. Where there is an opportunity to gain some knowledge, women should go for it because it will help.
I hope my being in the parliament can help me influence laws that champion for the causes of women and the vulnerable. Women also need to agree to elect their fellow women and support them in leadership.