Deputy President William Ruto yesterday accused the ODM party of “hate-filled obsession" with him amid claims that he had a hand in the just concluded Migori by-election.
Through his spokesman David Mugonyi, Ruto said he did not understand why the party and its leaders were dragging his name into everything. He said the “the anti-Ruto spectacle in ODM is evidence of failure of reason and perspective".
“ODM has been driven by a consuming, hate-filled obsession with the Deputy President. They cannot understand it,” he said, adding that as a result, they have let their “worst impulses impel them from one terrible decision to another.”
Ruto was reacting to claims by ODM leaders that Eddy Okech, the political novice who narrowly lost the to Ochilo Ayacko in the Migori by-election was his ‘project’.
During the campaigns preceding the Monday election, ODM leaders claimed that Ruto had funded Oketch, a 27-year old candidate on the Federal Party of Kenya.
But Ruto yesterday denied knowing Oketch and told off those who framed the by-election as a contest between him and Raila.
“First and foremost neither Raila nor Ruto was on the ballot. Neither do we know the candidate who gave ODM a run for its money.
“What is new, however, is how ODM has infected all its political sidekicks with this inexplicable animus. ODM’s minions now run about spewing undignified, hateful and shameful venom without rhyme or reason,” read Mugonyi’s statement.
Ruto is known to be good friends with Migori governor Okoth Obado and has been trying to win over the minority Kuria community in the country.
Although a relative newcomer into politics, Oketch waged a bruising battle against Raila’s political juggernaut, losing the mini-poll to ODM’s Ochillo Ayako by a slim margin of 25,679 votes.
Oketch polled 60,555 votes against the former Cabinet minister’s 85,234 votes, in a race that left the orange party’s presumed dominance badly dented. It left many analysts mulling over Raila’s influence in Nyanza.
Oketch initially sought the ODM ticket but announced his withdrawal after meeting with Raila. Two days later, he rejoined the race through the Federal Party of Kenya. Migori ODM branch denounced the direct nomination of Ayacko, who has been involved in a bitter tussle with Obado for the governorship.
During the last two weeks of the campaign, Oketch had at his disposal a chopper with which he traversed the county. It costs between Sh600,000 and a million to hire a chopper for one day.
Oketch also seemed to enjoy the goodwill and network of Obado’s political support base. The list he presented to IEBC was similar to what Obado presented in 2017. It included two people who died three months ago.
From the results, Oketch scored highly in Obado’s constituency of Uriri where he got 14,000 votes against Ayacko’s 6,000.
Oketch also defeated Oyako in Nyatike where he got 9,000 votes while his opponent managed 4,000.
People close to Raila told the Star yesterday that the ODM party leader was concerned that Ayacko was struggling in some areas.
He then deployed his deputy party leader, Hassan Joho, and director of elections, Junet Mohammed.
“When we realised that things were not very good in some places, we asked all our MPs from the country and neighboring counties to take charge of their respective constituencies,” said Junet.
The party also sought help from its MCAs who, in some cases went door-to door to fish for votes for Ayacko.
Opposition politicians believe Ruto’s shadow lurked throughout the Migori campaigns in what propelled the senatorial by-election into a mock contest pitting Raila against the DP.
Speculation was fueled by comments made by Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen and other people known to be close to Ruto.
"Who is this Eddy Okech who is giving baba a run for his money? The people of Migori county may want to look at him seriously," said Murkomen last Friday.
Yesterday another Ruto ally, Nandi sentor Samson Cherargei, was quick to congratulate not Ayacko, but Oketch for his impressive performance.
"Proud of Oketch. That was a resilient fight against dynasty. Migori youth just threw out their golden opportunity to lead," he tweeted.
Yesterday, Junet confirmed that the mini-poll was a do-or-die duel for the Orange party that has been facing a hushed mutiny from a section of youthful politicians from Nyanza.
“This by-election was right in our bedrock. It was a must for us to win. It was an important by-election and the party fought hard,” said the Suna East MP who led the ODM campaigns.
Having sensed imminent danger from the youthful Oketch, Raila took leadership of the campaign machine in a three-day vote hunt in Migori that raised the stakes of the election.
Raila campaign included dozens of MPs from the region who literally camped in Migori from Thursday last week through Saturday.
It was unusual for Raila to roll out his sleeves in his own Nyanza backyard where he traditionally commands fanatical support.
The ex-prime minister was at some point forced to invoke the name of the deputy president as he pushed for his candidate.
ODM chairman Mbadi said Ruto’s hand in the by-election was evident from the nature of campaigns Oketch mounted.
“Oketch must have gotten some backing from somewhere. At 27 years, where did he get the kind of resources he deployed? He should tell us where he got the money to hire a chopper for days,” said the Suba South MP.
“He generally got support from our competitors at the national level. You don’t need rocket science to know where he got funding from,” the ODM chairman said.
Insisting that ODM was still the party to beat in Nyanza, Mbadi declined to link Oketch’s massive votes to Ruto’s backing saying Migori was a unique county with so many dynamics.
“I don’t think he got the votes because of money; its because of local political dynamics,” he said.
But Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny dismissed the claims that Ruto supported Oketch, saying it is part of the ODM propaganda they deployed to destroy the FPK candidate’s chances of winning.
“I don’t think Ruto had anything to do with that by-election. But this is politics and for obvious reasons, because Ruto is the region’s political enemy his name popped up,” said the Jubilee MP.
“That Ruto tag could have cost the young man [Oketch] over 20,000 votes. If it wasn’t for the Ruto tag, he would have won,” Kuttuny told the Star in an interview.
Kutuny warned ODM against what he termed as a building wave among the young people rebelling against ‘old school politicians.”
“The election is a wake-up call for Raila that the new generation is uncomfortable with recycled politicians. There is need for the old generation to appeal to the young people,” he added.
Asked if Raila’s three-day presence was a confirmation of his fragile grip on the Nyanza politics, Junet said the party leader’s presence was symbolic.
He said it was part of ODM’s campaign strategy for the party leader to hit the road in the last days of the vote hunt.
“Raila goes to all campaigns. It is our strategy that he concluded the campaigns. Even if we have a by-election in Ugenya tomorrow you will still see Raila in the campaigns,” said the MP for Suna East, in the same county.
Junet insisted that the strategy is for Raila to appeal to his own supporters to back the party candidate.
“There are voters that just vote for Raila and not the candidate. Those are the people we target in campaigns by bringing the party leader,” he said.
But Oketch’s impressive performance and the earthshaking campaigns characterized by choppers and top-of-the range vehicles put Raila’s dominance in the region to an acid test.
Sources told the Star Oketch’s campaign secretariat was heavily supported by some renegade ODM lawmakers, youthful politicians and professionals disenchanted with Raila’s dominance.
Other covert support is said been estended to Oketch through professionals from the region who initially worked for Raila before breaking ranks.
Conspicuously involved were Jubilee’s only two MPs in Migori county — Marwa Kitayama[Kuria East] and Mathias Robi [Kuria West].
“I am in Jubilee and I support DP Ruto in 2022, but I urge you to vote in this young man,” Robi told Kuria residents during one campaign rally.
Robi is seen as the DP’s pointman in Migori and his open support for Oketch gave credence to claims that Ruto was behind him.