Nick Salat: My problem with Gideon and why Azimio will die

Kanu chairman Gideon Moi (right) with suspended party secretary general Nick Salat

Kanu chairman Gideon Moi (right) with suspended party secretary general Nick Salat and other officials during a National Executive Council meeting in Nakuru on February 23, 2017. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Despite the problems he is facing in Kanu, his private office in Nairobi’s Yaya Centre is still decorated with his pictures screaming loyalty to the jaded independence party.

A red tie with the distinctive Jogoo symbol next to a matching cap hangs on the wall and Nick Salat, the embattled secretary-general, proudly points to these images as a sign that he is ‘Kanu damu’ (an unflinchingly loyal party member).

In a tell-all interview with Sunday Nation’s Samwel Owino, the vocal politician, who was recently suspended from his lofty post and faces disciplinary proceedings, opens up on the wrangles, his fight with party leader Gideon Moi, the future of the once mighty political outfit, why Azimio coalition lost the August 2022 polls and his outlook of President William Ruto’s rule 

Why are you being hounded out of office by Kanu?

My suspension arose from a meeting of the party held in Nakuru. In the meeting, I questioned a lot of things, including challenging the leadership to resign due to the dismal performance of the party.

In the meeting, we took stock of the performance of the party in the concluded August polls and I asked what is happening to us because our trajectory has been on the decline since 2013.

A party’s strength is measured by the number of elected leaders it has.

I said in any functioning democracy, those in leadership — including me and the chairman — should not be in the same position. We should resign and leave others to lead the party.

People were shocked because those questions have never been asked before. We have just been sitting and praising the leadership. I said you cannot have a big name and no results to show for it.

I asked the chairman (Mr Gideon Moi) what he has done to ensure the success of the party. In any functioning democracy, you are not allowed to hold office if you are not adding value.

What is the genesis of your problems with party leadership?

I took on what they call the ‘establishment’ which has never happened before and that has got me to where I am today.

There are claims that you have sold party properties worth billions hence the plot to kick you out. What would you say about that?

There is no property that can be sold without the signature of the chairman and secretary-general, that is what our constitution says. I want to be shown a property that has gone through the normal process which is NEC (National Executive Council) approval because it's the NEC that decides what property is to be disposed of, not the secretary-general.

I have warned those pursuing the property route that they should be careful because it will explode so badly on some people and they will be shocked.

You have been summoned by the party disciplinary committee, will you appear to exonerate yourself on the accusations levelled against you?

Yes, I will appear to clear my name. If I don’t, it will appear that I'm running away from accountability. I will face them and tell them the truth. I will challenge them to show me the property that I have sold, where, how much and who bought them because I don't want that assumption to remain in the public domain.

Even if I will not have a relationship with Kanu, I want to clear my name so that the public out there does not have the perception that I sold party properties running into millions.

In 2012, the chairman and I were made the custodians of the party in an NDC (National Delegates Conference), we are, therefore, equal partners and no one can purport to suspend the other.

Kanu performed dismally in the elections. Why?

Running a party requires bringing everybody on board; it’s not a one-man show and our biggest problem is centred on the party under one person.

In the August election, I did not make most decisions that a secretary-general should make because some things are done in people’s houses and private residences and in some retreats that don’t have a party structure.

Those who made it in the August poll using a Kanu ticket never received any support from the party, not even a banner or a T-shirt. We did not even campaign for them. Nobody sat down and said this is how we are going to approach this campaign.

Rift Valley, which used to be the stronghold of Kanu, is now under the grip of President William Ruto. As the last bastion of the party’s support, what next for Kanu?

We let go of what could have been our stronghold because we are not there. It’s like a father who doesn’t come home, you will find your children are not yours.

Apart from Rift Valley, we also had Coast, Western and North Eastern that were purely Kanu but we are not investing time and presence, hence other parties come in to take our place.

This is politics, if you are not there, someone else will replace you. So currently, the President has Rift Valley firmly under him for the next 10 years.

Is the oldest party facing an imminent collapse due to the ongoing wrangles?

The way we are running the party now, the future is bleak. To collapse a party means you are having less and less members in Parliament, if this trend continues, then we will have none eventually.

Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi(left) and his suspended Secretary General Nick Salat

Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi(left) and his suspended Secretary General Nick Salat at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on May 6, 2017, during the Kanu Special National Delegates Conference.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

You are on record saying Kanu will bolt out of the opposition Azimio la Umoja coalition (led by Mr Raila Odinga). Was this just a personal statement and is the plan still on?

I don’t think our future is in Azimio. I played a big role in Kanu joining Azimio, there was resistance from some members but I assured them that our biggest chance was in Azimio but things have changed.

Kanu did not get a single slot in the just-concluded East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) positions. Why was this?

If you are heading a party and coalition partners are deciding who gets what, you are supposed to sit with them and say your party deserves something but if you are also an interested party in Eala, when do you go and defend Kanu?

What is Gideon Moi’s place in Kenya’s politics going forward?

I really miss our second President (the late Daniel Moi, who was Gideon Moi’s father) and I wish he (Gideon) just took even one leaf on how Mzee approached politics.

Unless he decides to make himself present, changes from remote control politics are willing to be tear-gassed and stand for something that resonates with the people, associates with people who can build him not people who just want something from him, then it’s sad that a brand name which has everything is now at risk of fizzling out.

I feel sad that the second president invested everything in politics, it was for him (Gideon) to just step in and take charge and even be better than (former president) Moi.

In your view, why did Azimio lose the August poll? 

Over-confidence, too many centres of power, a know-it-all attitude and thinking it was a done deal yet the left was not speaking to the right. Nobody was teachable; they were all experts.

The campaigns and planning meetings were disjointed, there were no presidential agents. In terms of organisational ability, it was zero.

For instance, in Bomet County, I didn’t even know Azimio campaign agents. They wanted to use my agents during elections but that means double pay because it is double work. So who would have followed the presidential payment after the elections?

Money was available but nobody knows how it was used. I think it ended up in the pockets of a few people.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s allies have indicated that he will soon relinquish his position in Azimio. Will the coalition hold upon his exit?

The future is bleak for Azimio and individual parties under the coalition because the way things are going, each coalition partner needs to make its own party’s decision. Raila (Mr Odinga) has already told his people to work with the government, where is Kanu in all this?

Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat

Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat addressing journalists at the Party headquarters in Nairobi on September 8, 2020.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

So, which way Azimio?

Azimio should realise it will not survive until 2027. It may actually take a new formation. I don't see it holding to 2027 because everybody now is talking about 2027 and remember this time there will be no Uhuru (Mr Kenyatta) to bring Kalonzo Musyoka on board.

Following the ongoing succession debate, should Raila support Kalonzo Musyoka in 2027 or should he be on the ballot again?

I don’t see a situation where Raila (Mr Odinga) will support Kalonzo (Mr Musyoka) — not anytime soon. I was in Nyanza in October and I can tell there is fatigue and the way the current President is aggressive and has been visiting Nyanza, it would change the dimensions of how the politics of the region plays out.

Kalonzo brought in a lot in the last elections and if he realises that Raila has allowed his forces to work with the government and he also wants to be on the ballot in 2027, he will decide to work with the government just to get muscles for 2027.

Will the current wrangles in Azimio over the 2027 presidential candidate affect the opposition’s oversight role?

Yes, because if we start campaigning right now and the election was just the other day, they will not have time to do what Kenyans expect from the opposition — to defend them where they are feeling hurt.

The opposition will be watered down because it is a daily duty; the opposition is supposed to question everything that the government does, including a full stop, until all Kenyans benefit.

There are calls that the August poll should be audited to determine what exactly happened. Do you support this?

If they really wanted to push the audit issue, Raila would have not allowed his people to go and welcome Ruto (during the recent tour of Nyanza) — he would be adamant to push the audit so that there is seriousness in pushing the agenda.

All we need to do is to ensure that IEBC (the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) is reformed so that we address the issues that have led to having every election held since 2013 being challenged at the Supreme Court. Parliament needs to find out why IEBC is not independent as it’s supposed to be: is it the budget, funding, or recruitment process?

The issues that Azimio raised on IEBC should be addressed now and not wait until 2026.

How would you describe Wafula Chebukati’s tenure at the helm of IEBC?

When you have conducted two elections which have been challenged at the Supreme Court (and one nullified in 2017), this is not a good legacy. We need to look at the issues of why the elections he conducted ended up being challenged.

It’s now time to look at the complaints raised in 2017 and 2022 and address them. I wish that on his way out, he would leave a transition document that the incoming team can work on for a better election going forward.

What is your view on the current status of the country’s economy?

The current economy is a reflection of the previous government. Kenyans will start feeling the effects of this government from June when they will have their own budget because a transition economy like the one the current government found is never easy because they were not expected to win, so everything that was done by the previous regime was done without them in mind.

If Azimio had won, it would pick up from where the previous one left; these programmes are not for this regime. The new government came in with a new agenda but in government, there is no divorce in programmes, whoever is in government takes over all the problems of others.

It is so difficult because even the budget they are currently using is not their own but Kenyans don’t want to hear that but want to see things change.

Do you think President Ruto will transform the country?

He is a hands-on person, wakes up early and sleeps late. He is a president whose ears are everywhere; he knows what is happening.

I think he should just address the basic needs of Kenyans first before going technical. He is full of ideas, energetic, and has his tentacles all over the country. Those are good qualities to have but he should address the basic needs of the people first and he will sleep at 8 pm and wake up at 8 am. Kenyans will judge him in 2027 because the clock is ticking each day.

Do you think Kenya Kwanza Alliance will hold up to 2027 or it will disintegrate? 

As a politician, you have to plan for both scenarios because politics is dynamic. So let’s allow the President to plan his government. He has been given the instruments of power which include re-arranging his government.

Parting shot?

The instruments of power are now in the hands of William Ruto, allow the man to construct his ideas around what he coined as a bottom-up approach and Kenyans will know whether it was meant to improve their lives or not. Nobody should wish him failure because doing so would be bad for all of us. So for me, a better Kenya from whoever is bringing it is better for all of us because it serves us all.