Igathe’s entry into Nairobi governor race rocks Azimio

Polycarp Igathe

Former Nairobi deputy governor Polycarp Igathe.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi, who is also eyeing the Nairobi seat, insisted he could not deputise a political novice.
  • Mr Igathe is already on the campaign trail with a coterie of leaders reportedly whipped to sell his candidature.

Former Nairobi deputy governor Polycarp Igathe’s entry to the governor race has sparked a storm in Azimio even as he set off his campaigns yesterday amid reports of a new city power line-up.

The man, who unceremoniously quit as Nairobi deputy governor in four months in 2018 and retreated to the swanky corner offices of the corporate world, has bounced back into the political theatre, causing a commotion that threatens the unity in the coalition party on whose ticket Mr Raila Odinga, backed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, will vie for the presidency.

On the second day since reports of a State House-brokered deal, Mr Igathe, who had been lurching from one top job in blue chip firms to another, was already on the campaign trail with a coterie of leaders reportedly whipped to sell his candidature to secure City Hall, which has been jointly run by the county and the national government since the ouster of Mr Mike Sonko, whom Mr Igathe abandoned, saying it was difficult working with him.

And yesterday, Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi, who had been marketing his bid for Nairobi governor for months until the surprise deal asking him to step down, insisted he could not deputise a political novice, handing President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga a headache a day to the nominations deadline.

Following talks between Mr Odinga and Wiper Party chief Kalonzo Musyoka, reports indicated former Kibwezi MP Philip Kaloki has been fronted as Mr Igathe’s running mate, while Mr Wanyonyi will be asked to contest the the Senate seat.

Prof Kaloki yesterday accompanied Mr Igathe on the campaign trail in Nairobi.

Initially, he had been fronted by Mr Musyoka as running mate to businessman Richard Ngatia, who has been popularising his bid for Nairobi governor under Jubilee until the latest development that suggests he has fallen out of favour with the ruling party.

It is not clear what the new line-up means for ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, who had also been gunning for the Senate seat for months, and was to face former Starehe MP Maina Kamanda for the Azimio ticket.

Yesterday, Mr Sifuna dismissed the reported line up saying: “Not true. Tim does not want Senate.”

A source close to Mr Musyoka insisted that Wiper wants a stake in the governor ticket, citing what they said was a 600,000-strong Kamba vote bloc in the 2.5 million-city vote count.

“There are discussions between the principals that since the governor seat will go to Jubilee, Wiper will be given the running mate position. Wiper cannot be wished away,” the source said.

This was as Mr Igathe hit the ground running yesterday, kick-starting his popularisation tour at City Market in the city centre. 

“My name is Igathe. I am running for governor of Nairobi. Please vote for me. Please let me have your votes for Nairobi governor,” he said, repeatedly, to small groups he found in Mwiki, Kasarani, Roysambu, Njiru and Kayole.

Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan rallied Nairobi residents to vote en mass for Mr Igathe, saying he is Azimio’s choice for the top city seat.

“I urge you not to lose this chance to elect a tried and tested leader with experience from corporate world and will be able to transform the capital city,” Mr Hassan said.

But in Kilimani, ODM leaders backing Mr Wanyonyi’s bid insisted that he is the best man for the job, and instead demanded joint nominations.

Leading ODM Luhya leaders, Mr Sifuna said it is time the Mulembe nation is taken seriously in the capital city.

He said the new development has been occasioned by other parties in Azimio trying to jostle for a pie of Nairobi top seats.

“The issue is not ODM but other parties in Azimio saying negotiations be done first. Even as the party SG, I have not received my certificate yet I have no competitor,” Mr Sifuna said.

ODM Nairobi branch chairperson George Aladwa demanded that Mr Wanyonyi be given the ticket “since that is the only seat the Luhya nation asked for”.

“The presidential seat is gone with Raila Odinga and we will not get the running mate position as that is also gone. We must therefore be given Nairobi governor’s seat or at worse, let Tim go for joint nomination with Igathe,” the Makadara MP said.

Reading what he said was the Nairobi Mulembe nation irreducible minimums, former Nairobi Town Clerk Philip Kisia said they must be assured of the governor and Senate seats in Nairobi as well as five parliamentary seats and 24 wards.

Further, they want five cabinet secretary slots: Finance, Health, Roads and Public Works, Water and Environment.

“We also demand that all ODM direct tickets be issued before the end of today. We have supported others before to ascend to power but this time we refuse to be used as a ladder for political expediency by others,” Mr Kisia said.

For Mr Igathe, his rise to being named the possible Azimio ticket holder for the governor seat is a culmination of what has been a lucky streak for the 49-year-old.

Mr Igathe’s magic wand seemingly has propelled him from one job to another.

He has been a man in the right place at the right time, attracting top jobs like a moth to light.

The Equity Group Holdings chief commercial officer quit high-level positions four times between May 2017 and March 2020.

Mr Igathe has suddenly jumped to the front of the queue of aspirants eyeing the Jubilee Party ticket for the seat.

They include Mr Ngatia, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) president, Governor Ann Kananu and businesswoman Agnes Kagure.

“Nairobi is too important to be trivialised and be in constant fights and lack unity. I am going to be ready to serve you and serve you with distinction and, hopefully, in five years you will assess whether I have done a good job,” said Mr Igathe on Tuesday, immediately after reports emerged that he had joined the race.

Mr Igathe came to the political limelight in the 2017 elections, when President Kenyatta’s Jubilee settled on a Mike Sonko-Igathe ticket to face ODM.

In the arrangement, Mr Igathe was to run the policy, administration and management of the city county government, while Mr Sonko was to do the political legwork.

To many outsiders, it seemed like the corporate man had been picked from nowhere.

But that was not the case. Mr Igathe had already been in the eyes of President Kenyatta, who first appointed him to chair the Anti-Counterfeit Agency in 2015, where he served for a year.

He was then appointed chairman of the Special Economic Zones Authority in October 2016 before joining Vivo Energy as chief executive and resigning in May 2017 to cross to the political arena.

The political marriage between Mr Sonko and Mr Igathe did not work as Jubilee honchos had imagined.

Mr Sonko soon shunned Mr Igathe, demanding that he be treated as his deputy and not somewhat of an equal.

The governor felt that having won hundreds of thousands of votes – 871,794 against Dr Evans Kidero’s 696,888 – it would have been unfair to relegate him to only dealing with the political noise, and not the actual running of the country.

In January 2018, four months after being sworn in as deputy governor, Mr Igathe quit his post, saying he had not earned the trust of Mr Sonko to run the administration and management of the county that receives the highest allocation annually from the national government and collects the highest revenues every year.

“Dear Nairobians, it is with a heavy heart that I resign as the deputy governor of Nairobi effective 1pm on January 31, 2018. I regret that I have failed to earn the trust of the governor to enable me to drive administration and management of the county,” Mr Igathe said.

He then took back his seat at the CEO’s table barely four months later, joining Equity Bank as the chief commercial officer in May 2018 and rising to managing director.

Mr Igathe would then resign in August 2019 as MD before being appointed the following month as Vivo executive vice-president for sales and marketing.

But he was not to last long there, as he resigned on March 13, 2020 and was appointed three days later as Equity’s Group chief commercial officer.

“Nairobi is the front porch of Kenya and it needs our best. I am saying that I rank among the best. I am coming around your community in the next 90 days. What I am only asking for is five years,” said Mr Igathe.


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