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Thursday, May 25, 2017

State House's hand in picking Sonko's running mate

Vivo Energy MD Polycarp Igathe. Photo/Enos Teche.
Vivo Energy MD Polycarp Igathe. Photo/Enos Teche.

Failing to persuade rambunctious Senator Mike Sonko to quit the Nairobi governor's race, President Uhuru Kenyatta decided to find him a sober-minded, CEO-like running mate.

The Star has learnt Uhuru tasked trusted State House operatives to interview running mates for the flamboyant, mercurial and wildly popular 'gangsta-type' politician. He won the JP ticket by a landslide.

Sonko made jaws drop early this month as he appeared to rebrand himself as a thoughtful, calm, conservatively dressed candidate. No longer draped in gold chains, wearing eccentric costumes and haircuts, his hands encrusted with diamond rings.

The President is said to have asked private secretary Jomo Gecaga and Solicitor General Njee Muturi to oversee recruitment of a strong manager.

They settled on Vivo Energy MD Polycarp Igathe, announced yesterday by Sonko. He is a Jubilee strategist and Uhuru's adviser on energy issues.

State House had offered Sonko a CS post to drop out and support the more 'respectable' Peter Kenneth. Then there were sudden objections to his previously approved academic papers. To no avail. Sonko wouldn't cave.

So State House decided to work with what they had — Sonko beloved by the masses for his Sonko Rescue Team and good deads.

Its direct hand in picking Sonko's running mate sets the tempo for bruising battle for control of the capital.

"The team has been working in secrecy for some days after Uhuru ordered them to search for Sonko's running mate," a State House operative told the Star, seeking anonymity because of the sensitivity of its intervention.

The Jubilee Party has been dismayedthe opposition runs the city through ODM Governor Evans Kidero.

Despite all the garbage, congestion and downtown disrepair, Nairobi is still the jewel in the crown. It's the nerve centre of the economy, accounting for 12.7 per cent of GDP and 43 per cent of total urban wage employment.

The fight for Nairobi revolves around control of lucrative contracts and business opportunities exploited by people and parties who control it.

The Star has established Gecaga and Njee were among a team of five who interviewed a number of candidates from politics and business.

The interviews were mainly conducted at State House to keep the sensitive search from leaking.

The team finally settled on Igathe,.

He holds a BA in Economics and Sociology from the University of Nairobi and is a graduate of Strathmore Advanced Management programme.

Also read: 'Team Nairobi' down to Sonko, Wanjiru after Waweru goes for Dagoretti South MP

The 44-year-old manager is said to be Uhuru and Deputy President William Ruto's choice because of his cordial networks with multinationals to attract investments tothe capital.

There had been fears a Sonko government would scare away investors, which Sonko dismissed as fiction.

Sonko, who loves engaging the electorate directly, will be in charge of politics while Igathe will be the hands-on manager of county resources.

"If Polycarp has agreed, Nairobians are very lucky," magnate Chris Kirubi said yesterday. "He is an incredible committed worker, trained by the best companies. Everybody knows what he has been doing in Vivo."

Igathe shot into the limelight early in February when nominated Senator Paul Njoroge fired a gun at him in Naivasha following a row over management of a petrol station. The Senator runs a Shells station but allegedly defaulted on payment, leading to the incident.

Igathe, the former vice Chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, has frequently been profiled as one of Kenya’s top ten CEO’s under 40.

He previously served as Managing Director and Executive Director of Haco Industries, owned by Kirubi. Igathe was acclaimed for turning around the fortunes of the re-branded Haco Tiger brands into a Pan African business worth billions of shillings.

His industry career gave him the head start on competitors, mainly politicians, who wanted to be Sonko's running mate.

Candidates included Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau and Mark Mwenje, son of former Embakasi MP, the late David Mwenje.

On Sunday night, State House wound up interviews but invited Igathe for further vetting on Monday night at a Nairobi Hotel with Sonko.

Nominated MP and Nairobi Jubilee Senate candidate Johnson Sakaja attended.

State House Senior Director of Public Communication Munyori Buku yesterday declined to comment, referring the Star to Sonko and Igathe.

President Uhuru called Sonko immediately he was declared winner of the Jubilee ticket and assured him of support, following speculation about Kenneth being favoured.

A Sonko confidante told the Star Uhuru asked to keep the running mate issue a closely guarded secret.

"It was clear the President was keen on the next deputy governor," another source said.

Yesterday Sonko arrived at Vivo Energy offices at Laiboni Centre, Lenana road, at 11 am and met Igathe for 30 minutes.

Igathe then addressed staff and announced his decision to plunge into politics.

"He said he will take a major pay cut but will work with us through this year," said a Vivo employee seeking anonymity.

In picking Igathe, State House was keen to bring on board a governance expert

On his Facebook page Sonko said Igathe emerged tops among several candidates after he took a running mate poll among his 1.1 million Facebook followers.

Sonko said Igathe scored 64 per cent.

On the list was Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, whom he defeated for the JP ticket.

Dagoretti South MP Denis Waweru, Millicent Omanga, John Gakuo, Janet Ouko, Jimna Mbaru, Raymond Matiba and Professor James Kiyiapi were some of the big names touted as deputies.

Recruitment of a running mate earlier closed in on either a Luyha or Kisii candidate to boost Sonko's chances of dividing the opposition vote.

There was pressure from some Kisii power brokers to pick Millicent Omanga as a running mate. She lost the women representative ticket to incumbent Rachel Shebesh.

In 2013, Kidero won by 692,483 votes, mainly because he was seen as a level-headed, experienced manager compared with his closest rival, Ferdinand Waititu, who got 617,839.

The opposition to plans to do everything possible to retain the governorship and take most elective seats.

Also read:Sonko rejects Cabinet post


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