Embu Governor Martin Wambora has seen it all. He has braved a baptism by fire and came out without a scar. He is perhaps the master of political survival or as others say, he has the proverbial nine lives of a cat. Some have cheekily remarked he should start a mentorship programme: How to survive vicious poll petition and unrelenting impeachment proceedings.
“I don’t know whether to call it nine lives. They could be more. My daughter, Mukami Wambora [citizen TV journalist] has counted 19 challenges I have encountered. And there are others in the civil service she doesn’t know,” Wambora says laughing.
In any case, Wambora is a student of the late powerful Internal Security Minister Hezekiah Oyugi whom he served as Personal Assistant. In his own words, Oyugi taught him two things: administration and toughness.
The Embu Houdini was impeached twice in 2014 by the County Assembly. The first impeachment proceedings were endorsed by the Senate when MPs overwhelmingly voted to send him packing.
At one time, Wambora’s political life appeared to be on the line. The courts, his usual last line of defence, ruled that he should stay away from office.
And yes, Wambora stayed away from his office for a record two months, before the same court gave him back his job.
After he secured his second term win in 2017, then began a protracted legal duel with his political nemesis, former Embu Senator Lenny Kivuti. The election had been close. Wambora beat Kivuti by a paltry 985 votes. The legal battle which began in the High Court stretched for 16 months. Kivuti won the first round when Wambora’s election was nullified by the High Court in February last year. However, he would have the last laugh when the Court of Appeal overturned that decision.
Wambora was to give Kivuti a final staggering political blow after the Supreme Court upheld his victory last week.
“We found no basis upon which to interfere with the appellate court’s decision. The appeal is hereby dismissed,” Justice Mohammed Ibrahim ruled last week, giving Wambora what appeared to be his final triumph over his detractors.
In an exclusive interview with the Star, the astute, but soft-spoken Governor, opened up about his political troubles and how he has survived the past six years.
“My Bishop, Bishop Kariuki asked, how come you have not had any health complications? I told him prayers, prayers, prayers. And also, the understanding that I am with the voters,” Wambora said.
According to the county chief, his impeachment was orchestrated by looters who were scheming to fleece county resources.
“I use to hear people swearing that they only need 90 days to make Sh100 million,” Wambora recalled. “With that kind of talk, how can you leave your people to suffer? There was no way I was going to leave.”
Asked whether he contemplating quitting at some point, he thundered emphatically: “neveeer”.
In his view, an elective position bestows on the leader huge public expectations, easily throwing up the towel amounts to cowardice and hopeless surrender.
“No way! I would never be remembered for anything… I would not leave the seat. It will never happen. I will be disfranchising my own people. To imagine that I will leave my people in the hand of looters, that gave me the strength of a lion,” he told the Star.
Senators wanted to use him as the sacrificial lamb in a bid to tame governors, he says of his troubles in his first term.
“And I could not allow myself to be used as a guinea pig. To be the victim because of battles between governors and senators. And I told the President as much and the deputy president. Even the speaker of the Senate. They will have a big fight with me because I would not accept,” he told the Star.
“The people who wanted to remove me are poor leaders. If it was a better person, I would not mind. But if I knew it’s a leader who just wants power, prestige and to access resources, I could not leave wananchi to the lions, to the carnivores to be torn apart,” he says
He recalled that after his impeachment, many politicians including then TNA chairman, Johnson Sakaja, called to ask him to hang up his political boots. But he told them all off.
“I did not care who is going to ring me. Anybody who tried I told off. Hii kiti si ya mama yako (this seat doesn’t belong to your mum).This seat belongs to wananchi.”
The tussle for the control of the county was so vicious Wambora says then Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo and ex-Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Lenku separately warned him about his security.
The warning made Wambora, a veteran provincial administrator, to live a secretive and unpredictable life.
“They told me Governor be careful. Don’t always be in your house. Be careful where you eat,” he recalled the chilling warning. “I have been security chairman as District Commissioner for Baringo so I knew the realities and what they were speaking about,”
“You avoid night meetings, completely. Don’t announce your route of travel. Just appear in a place and do what you are going to do and move on.”
But he admits the impeachment periods was a difficult time.
His lowest moment was when the courts barred him from going to his office for a record two months. His wife and children remained his pillars of strength.
“They would tell me dad don’t worry, you know you are a good person. You are the best dad. We know you are honest. We have not seen anything you have taken from the public,” the father of two girls and two boys told the Star
According to Wambora, millions set aside for the tarmacking of the 12.7km Kibogo Road, which cuts through the most productive areas of Embu, was diverted at the time.
He says the money was shared by greedy MCAs and some unscrupulous county government staff under the guise of grading roads.
Wambora was impeached for allegedly for violating the Public Procurement and Disposal Act 2005 and Regulations 2013, the Public Finance and Management Act and the Constitution.
But Wambora, a graduate of economics and political science from Makerere University and MBA from Hartford University, US, says he has procurement laws at his fingertips.
“One thing I was sure of, because of my training, I am not able to do something which is against procurement act.
Let alone the fact that I don’t procure,” he told the Star.
Wambora vows that he has not stolen a penny from the public purse.
When he was chairman of the Kenya Airports Authority, there was an attempt to bribe him with Sh100 million during the construction of the Green Field terminal at JKIA
“I was not happy with the tender because it was fast-tracked. Done in a way that I was not comfortable with. I said No. I fired the MD, a good friend of mine whom I had encouraged to apply for the job,” Wambora says.
“I was offered one million dollars. I refused.
Nonsense! …I can’t live with it. Conscience Baba! Conscience!” Wambora says proudly
He also says he never took nor asked for a penny from retired President Moi when he was DC in Baringo.
“The reason why he [Moi] instructed his son, Senator Gideon to protect me is that he could not believe the stories.
A lot of money passed through my hands and I would account for every cent for all the harambee projects. So when I am being accused of funny things, the former President couldn’t believe them,”
He, however, says he always warn accounting officers that he will not defend them if they break procurement laws.
“Those who do I did not renew their term. Others I took to places where there is no money. So they [MCAs and Senators] could not catch me there,” he stated
Looking back, Wabora says he has no regrets.
His impeachment battle in the courts, he says has strengthened the governors from frivolous attempts to remove them from office.
“It’s now not possible to keep a governor out of office even when his case is ongoing. At least that consoles me. We have raised the threshold of impeaching an executive governor,” he says.
But Wambora, a strong proponent of the constitutional amendment, says the powers of MCAs must be kept in check.
He said the Council of Governors already have a committee on the referendum and reducing the powers of MCAs and increasing academic qualification requirements are among their considerations.
He says amending the law to increase allocation to the counties is another critical consideration to the governors.
“Why do you give billions to the Ministry of Health yet they only have three referral hospitals? thousands of hospitals and health workers are in the counties,” he said.