James Aggrey Bob Orengo, dotingly referred to as ‘the walking constitution’ by the supporters of the ODM leader Raila Odinga, the Siaya Senator has been one of the most dependable allies of the former Prime Minister.
But in recent days, he has come under intense scrutiny by the same base on the accusation of working at cross purposes with the party leadership on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
After questioning the authenticity of the BBI document released to the public as well as the legality and distribution of the proposed 70 new constituencies, high-ranking members of the ODM party are calling the seasoned lawyer out for what they call betrayal and dishonesty.
“Orengo co-chaired the committee that produced the final Bill. He cannot turn around now to say we didn’t agree on this or that. He cannot run away from his baby. He is essentially trying to disown a document he himself by the virtue of being a co-captain author. It is the height of political dishonesty,” Minority Whip at the National Assembly Junet Mohamed told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
After the Naivasha retreat with MPs, President Uhuru Kenyatta Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga formed a committee to fine-tune the Bill. They tasked Mr Orengo and Majority Leader in the National Assembly Amos Kimunya to jointly chair it.
Mr Mohamed added: “The committee was the final hand that dealt with the Bill before it went for printing.
“I am asking politicians opposing this, especially those from our camp, to retrace their steps, the journey the BBI has gone through. They may have forgotten where the country was before BBI.
“The first county assembly to pass the BBI Bill was Siaya that he (Mr Orengo) represents in the Senate and oversights, why didn’t he ask them not to pass it if he feels it is a raw deal? Why was he quiet when other counties were passing it?”
Yesterday, Mr Kimunya confirmed co-chairing the crucial committee that operated from the BBI headquarters in Runda, House number 168.
“After the two Bomas meetings, the principals tasked us with fine-tuning the views collected from the public which were largely feedback on the draft bills. It was a lean team that had Orengo, Junet and Muturi Kigano that largely worked in private to ensure confidentiality and also guard it against personal interests,” said Mr Kimunya.
The technical team of the committee had Mr Tom Macharia, Prof Ben Sihanya, Mr Oduor Ong’wen, and Priscila Nyokabi.
And on whether lawmakers can reopen the Bill like allies of the Deputy President William Ruto have been demanding, Mr Mohamed said those who want the two Houses of Parliament to have their input captured were only out to derail the BBI train.
“That story only came up when the joint parliamentary committee was formed the other day. Before that, nobody raised any issue and they all knew how minimal their participation in the popular initiative is. Article 257 of the Constitution clearly stipulates this. Even IEBC advised us that you cannot change this Bill once you present it to them and the political class knew this, including those in the Runda committee.”
The Suna East MP has also been accused by those allied to Mr Orengo of not doing enough “to prevent boardroom manipulation of the Bill” by President Kenyatta’s loyalists in the team.
Sentiments by the Orengo camp have been interpreted to mean that some monkey business must have been at play between when they were done with the Bill and when it was taken to the county assemblies for voting.
“I have seen people accuse me that I may have sold out ODM by not signing the document page by page to guard against possible alterations, but it was the work of chairman to sign if at all, not me as an ordinary member,” said Mr Mohammed, adding that his role as a co-chair of the secretariat was different from that of Orengo’s committee.
Siaya Senator says he is out to ensure that the constitutional amendments cater to all, not just a few.
“We are focused on ensuring that the BBI Bill safeguards the agenda of the common Mwananchi. I stated categorically that Migori, Kisii, Busia and Homa Bay should have additional constituencies.
“We have to ensure that the BBI document reflects what was captured in the original document,” said Mr Orengo.
Some ODM MPs are of the view that they lost out in the allocations of new constituencies blaming their representatives in the negotiation table.
To tame the uproar, Mr Odinga has told those sulking that they would get a chance to “correct the imbalance” when IEBC reviews the constituencies.
Yesterday, Ugunja MP and ODM secretary for political affairs Opiyo Wandayi said even though it is true that not everyone got everything they wanted, political, social and economic gains have always been incremental.
“Therefore, the task we have at hand is to pass the BBI Bill as it is in Parliament and at the referendum. The rest we can deal with later,” he said.
The Sunday Nation also established that against a strong tide of rebellion in his central backyard led by his DP William Ruto, Mr Kenyatta needed to show his base they had a lot to gain from BBI — and the constituencies were his best bet.
Away from the BBI finger-pointing, Mr Orengo is further facing accusations of leading a splinter group of lawmakers, with some going against the party position on various issues.
His critics claim he could be forming an alternative power base to that of Mr Odinga.
However, speaking in Nyatike on Friday, Mr Orengo said he is fully behind the ODM leader.
“I want to categorically state without fear or favour that we are all under Raila Odinga. It should be known that there is no political heavyweight in this country compared to Mr Odinga,” he said.
Mr Orengo on Thursday hosted Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, TJ Kajwang’ (Ruaraka), Sam Atandi (Alego Usonga) and Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay) in his office over the BBI report that was being debated in both houses.
The lawmakers, according to our source, were concerned that the original BBI report they put together at Windsor was not the same one tabled before the House.
Mr Odinga’s handlers not only accuse the senator of attempting to scuttle the very document he helped author but also projecting himself as the only leader looking after the interests of the Luo community.
“Mr Orengo is my friend and senator, I visit him in his house and office, so what? Come 2022, the seat Orengo will be vying for nobody else will be vying for it, so what are people fighting for? Mr Atandi posed.
He accused some unnamed party leaders of feeling more important than others.
“It is our usual enemies that want to portray that there is infighting in the party.
“The party is united under Baba but there are a few overzealous leaders who want to use the party to get some seats in 2022,” Mr Atandi told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Odinga’s handlers are livid at Mr Orengo whom they accuse of attempting to instigate a coup at a time he is recovering from the effects of Covid-19.
A source within the party said Mr Odinga recently hosted the Siaya senator at his Karen home where he is said to have been confronted on why he is muddying the political waters.
Mr Orengo did not answer our calls or text messages on accusations of being a traitor by his ODM colleagues.
With the ‘rebellion’ getting intense, there is suspicion that the party may have as well been infiltrated by those opposed to the handshake Mr Odinga had with the President to portray the former Prime Minister as not in charge of his House.
There is a sharp split in the party with one wing rooting for activism as the other hold that whatever it is they want they should negotiate it out in the boardroom with President Kenyatta in the spirit of the existing political cooperation.
“Mr Odinga is now preoccupied with economic empowerment of the regions he has led politically over the years through the handshake with the president,” said Denis Onyango, Mr Odinga’s spokesman.
At the height of the wrangling is a myriad of issues ranging from succession politics in Luo Nyanza on who is best suited to take over the mantle of leadership when Mr Odinga retires to political preservation after the next General Election.
Then there is also the question of what happens in the event Mr Odinga does not run for president next year.
Several politicians are keen to be in the pole position to negotiate on behalf of the community with other national players.
And those around the senator see him as the next leader of the Luo community.
Mr Kenyatta’s camp is reportedly keenly following ‘the war’ in ODM and has expressed concerns with Mr Odinga.
Mr Orengo is said to have been hosted at State House last Tuesday to understand what his concerns were on BBI.
But the relationship between Mr Odinga and Mr Orengo has been put to test on several occasions. They have parted ways during their days in Ford Kenya on who among them was best suited to succeed Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and also in 2002 when he ran for president as Mr Odinga cast his lot with Mwai Kibaki at the polls.
However, it suffices to mention that Mr Orengo was among those who never warmed to the idea of the handshake immediately even though he, later on, embraced it.