The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will sit on Monday to discuss the abrupt resignation of former commissioner Reverend Samuel Kobia.
The meeting will take place as it emerged that President Uhuru Kenyatta may have prevailed upon Rev Kobia to resign to make way for the appointment of two new commissioners, Winnie Guchu and Kipng’etich arap Korir.
Ms Guchu, a close associate of President Kenyatta, and Mr Korir replace Prof Christine Mango whose term had expired and Rev Kobia.
Rev Kobia still had almost two years left on his term at the JSC where he also chaired the sub-committee on the establishment of the International and Organised Crimes Division (IOCD) in the High Court of Kenya.
Following his resignation, Rev Kobia is understood to have been offered a three-year assignment in a different capacity in government and will also continue with his role in advising on the South Sudan conflict.
Attempts to reach Rev Kobia were futile as his phone went unanswered and he did not reply to our text messages. The JSC did not comment.
Sources indicate that when Prof Christine Mango retired from the JSC in December 2013, President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were unable to agree on her replacement. This resulted in a stalemate, with the vacancy remaining unfilled for more than one year.
To overcome the stalemate, Jubilee strategists hatched a plot to convince Rev Kobia to vacate his position in the JSC, which would create an additional vacancy on the commission and would allow the President and the Deputy President to each pick a new member of the JSC.
Rev Kobia is said to have been reluctant to relinquish his position and, to change his mind, a sweetener was added in terms of which he would get an additional year in the public service on the term he would have served on the JSC.
He subsequently accepted the State House offer and resigned from the commission effective March 10.
President Kenyatta accepted his resignation on March 11 “saddened by your abrupt departure from the Judicial Service Commission” and regretting that “the Judiciary will lose your enormous experience and contribution”.
A civil society organisation, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), has written to Chief Justice Willy Mutunga seeking clarification about recent changes in the JSC.
In the letter, ICJ states that “we do not understand how, and would like any explanation”, on how the two nominations have come about.
The letter notes that since there has been no announcement of Rev Kobia’s vacancy in the JSC, “we are at a loss how the vacancy that he holds has come about.”
ICJ’s letter demands a formal statement from the Chief Justice on what has happened and which has led to two vacancies on the JSC, noting that “the developments that have occurred fall far short of the expectations of the constitution regarding transparency in the conduct of public affairs”.
President Kenyatta’s choice to the commission is Ms Guchu, who served as the executive director of his The National Alliance (TNA) party, and was previously a member of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC). URP had elevated Davis Chirchir, who had held an equivalent position in URP before the 2013 elections, to the powerful position of Cabinet Secretary for Energy.
The Sunday Nation understands that Ms Guchu would have landed a cabinet position but there were concerns that she would rival Anne Waiguru, who has emerged as the most powerful cabinet secretary in the Jubilee government.
But even without a public position, Ms Guchu has remained powerful, and maintains access to the President. Her nomination to the JSC is seen as the most obvious indication by the Jubilee government of its interest in playing a decisive role in the transition that is expected in the JSC in the next 18 months.
Ms Guchu has close personal ties with a senior judicial official who, despite her judicial position, has maintained close ties with the presidency. As such, Ms Guchu and the judicial official have been tasked to drive the Jubilee agenda in the Judiciary.
Jubilee strategists are also understood to be working out modalities to influence the replacement of Emily Ominde, a magistrate who will retire from the JSC later in the year.
In addition, Jubilee is also keen on the position held by Justice Smokin Wanjala, who represents the Supreme Court in the JSC.