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The Star
November 09, 2013
1695 words
Lawyers Battle to Replace Ahmednasir
Nzau Musau

THE race to replace controversial lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi as the Law Society of Kenya representative at the Judicial Service Commission is shaping up to be hot contest pitting strong candidates.

The nominations for the all-men affair is slated for next week on November 15. The vote which has attracted at least three former LSK chairs will take place sometimes in December.

Ahmednasir, the Grand Mullah himself, has thrown his hat back into the ring and is dead-set for a bruising battle to clinch it back.

Former chair Okong'o Omogeni is determined to make it after missing out on several bids for top jobs, so often that he once wrote a complaint letter to former President Mwai Kibaki and former PM Raila Odinga, who were then co-principals in the grand coalition government.

Former Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commissioner Tom Ojienda, also a former LSK chair, has trained his eye on the job. He rarely misses out on the jobs he goes for because some people in government consider him a "safe pair of hands".

To complete the equation is prominent lawyer Ken Nyaundi, a former commissioner with the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, now IEBC.

The process through which an advocate is to serve on the Judicial Service Commission is outlined in Article 171 (2) (f) of the constitution. The article says the Judicial Service Commission shall be constituted of "two advocates, one woman and one man each of whom has at least 15 years experience, elected by the members of the statutory body responsible for the professional regulation of advocates."

This means the two lawyers in JSC will be elected i.e. chosen through a voting process. The constitution clearly states the voting process will be carried out by the body responsible for the professional regulation of advocates, in Kenya this body is the Law Society of Kenya. Ahmednassir was elected to the position having garnered 896 votes.

The LSK vetted all the lawyers that ran for the position to ensure they were qualified and chairman Eric Mutua says the same procedure will be used.

"If you have a conviction or a disciplinary matter then we will bar you. However if your issue is yet to be determined then you are free to contest. Ahmed has a pending disciplinary issue that is yet to be determined so he is free to defend his seat," said Mutua.

LSK is picking only one representative because the other, Florence Mwangangi has two more years to go.

By all accounts, Ahmednasir is no push-over in this race if he survives the ongoing parliamentary onslaught. MPs have passed a report recommending that the President sets up a tribunal to remove Ahmednasir and five other commissioners; Emily Ominde, Samuel Kobia, Florence Mwangangi, Christine Mango and Mohammed Warsame.

"Do not underestimate the man. All those in the race come from western Kenya. They are likely to split their votes. Secondly, Ahmednassir can focus on the lawyers who have trained in Nairobi University as main constituency as the rest fight for Moi and other institutions. These will give him a head start," said a senior lawyer

Despite his controversial stint at the JSC, Ahmednasir still wields substantial chunk of support especially among young lawyers who admire his cantankerous and combative approach to issues.

The same caliber of lawyers may not understand or care a thing about the wars Ahmednasir has been fighting with his entrenched colleagues.

Ahmednasir had the courage to tell off judiciary at a time when few dared. In late 90's, retired appellate judge Richard Kwach compared him to the overzealous Icarus, son of Daedalus of Greek mythology after he strongly criticised judiciary for its rot

The man who takes credit for coining the term "radical surgery" has also created powerful networks over his stint at JSC. He enjoys the benefits of an incumbent having ran the race in 2010 and won overwhelmingly.

"If I am unpleasant why do they vote for me? I think they vote for me because I represent their aspirations, I deliver on my promises and I always have a vision for any of the offices I vie," he said in the interview.

In his own words, Ojienda says he is the strongest candidate: "The race is more or less concluded before it even begins. I am the strongest candidate of those who have declared interest thus far. And I have all it takes to bring in new and positive energy to JSC in these turbulent times."

Ojienda has been teaching and practising law for a long time. He has just successfully completed a term as a TJRC commissioner where he chaired the report-writing of the all-crucial lands chapter.

Ojienda is also a former President of East Africa Law Society, Vice President of Pan African Lawyers Union and a consultant for the famous Ndung'u Land Commission. He has also chaired the Land Acquisition Compensation Tribunal, sat on Council of Legal Education, board of American Biographical Institute, International Bar Association and many other organisations.

He is campaigning on a platform of "merit-based appointment of judicial officers", "continuous in-service training of judicial officers" and "implementation of a five-year judiciary strategic plan."

Ojienda also says he will campaign for structuring of allowances paid to judicial staff and entrenchment of order and chain of command within the judiciary.

On his lands beat, Ojienda wants lands and industrial courts restructured to handle more matters over their current jurisdictions. He also wants magistrates empowered to handle land and probate matters.

"I want to restore the integrity of the judiciary and JSC. I want to help in guiding the country towards full implementation of the constitution both in whole and in all its aspects to do with judiciary," he told Weekend Star.

Nyaundi is a tough nut as well. Credited of having been part of the team that restored Kenyans' faith in electoral process and management, Nyaundi will ride on this to give his colleagues a run for their money.

Before joining IIEC, Nyaundi chaired the board of Kituo Cha Sheria and the Media Complaints Commission. He has sat in the council of International Commission of Jurists (Kenya chapter).

Earlier on, he founded the Child Legal Aid Centre, was a trustee of the government of Kenya's Street Children Rehabilitation Trust Fund, member of LSK's Constitutional Reform, Human Rights, Public Interest and Legal Aid Committee.

He says he wants to bring "focused leadership" and is not running "on his own ambition" but to represent the ambition of the members of the legal profession.

Nyaundi's philosophical basis for his bid is that the position cannot be competed for in the proper sense of it: "It should never be viewed as a political position or personal advancement. This is an honour bestowed by peers after recognising that one has the capacity to represent their aspirations."

He says he has a good feel of "the heartbeat of the profession" and is ready for the honour. Granted the chance, Nyaundi says he will rectify on one problem he has noted with regard to the current LSK representation at the JSC.

"They do not revert back to the membership they represent on important issues. I will make sure I revert back to the Council and the membership more often than it has happened in the past," he says.

Nyaundi says JSC needs a principled representation which is socially responsive and which "recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of its membership but does not take advantage of the weaknesses."

He believes at the moment, JSC is too troubled to miss the opportunity of a sober representative from LSK. He strongly believes he can offer the "fresh, gentle and stabilising" representation that LSK should inject into a troubled JSC.

Omogeni served two stints at the LSK helm before and after the formation of the grand coalition government. He also chaired the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Advisory Board at a tumultuous time when former President Kibaki unilaterally re-appointed Aaron Ringera to head KACC.

The lawyer has suffered a string of losses in the recent past, losses he attributes to his stance on various issues over the grand coalition period.

He severally applied jobs which obtained after the 2010 constitution with no success. Among them was the postions of Director of Public Prosecutions, chair of Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and Nyamira Senate seat.

In all the instances, Omogeni came close to clinching the job but never quite got them. He is obviously keen to break this "tyranny of loses" by clinching this one.

"Having served in the powerful positions at the anti-corruption commission and LSK and being a member of several legal professional bodies, I have gained adequate experience that can help nurture the JSC and move it to the next phase," he said recently.

He told Weekend Star that the race had basically narrowed down to between himself and one of the other competitors. He believes Thursday's passage of report calling on President Uhuru to form a tribunal to investigate five JSC members technically knocked out Ahmednasir.

"With that, he is as good as done. It is impossible to conceive of a way in which Ahmednasir would bounce back into the race. And even if there was a way, I would still beat him to it," he said.

He says JSC is lacking in leadership at the moment and needs fresh blood. Omogeni says once in JSC, he will push for a mechanism where a committee of non-judicial officers will be engaging Parliament. He says separation of powers does not mean conflict between the three arms of government.

Omogeni wants to enhance the relationship between the bar and the bench which he says has deteriorated in the last few years. He wants to promote a situation where JSC attracts a wide pool of talents to serve in the judiciary instead of "scaring interest."

Another reason for throwing his hat into the ring, he says, is to further expand the courts, especially land and environment courts, down to the county levels. He believes much more needs to be done to devolve administration of justice down to the common man level.

"My campaign is doing very well. I am going round meeting the lawyers and selling my agenda. I believe I am better placed to represent LSK at JSC and I am confident I will take it," he said.
November 11, 2013
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