Twists and turns in ‘Super Senator’ Sakaja's degree tale

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja.

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja. His rising political star was on June 15, 2022 on the brink as questions over his academic qualifications threatened to derail his bid for governor of the capital city.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The rising political star of Senator Johnson Sakaja was Wednesday on the brink of being dimmed as questions over his academic qualifications threatened to derail his bid for governor of the capital city.

In a dramatic escalation, Mr Sakaja blamed President Kenyatta—the patron who raised him to the national political platform—for his woes, signalling a major falling out between the pair who rode to power on a popular wave through their glitzy party, The National Alliance (TNA), in 2013.

Trouble for Mr Sakaja escalated Wednesday after a letter from the Commission for University Education (CUE) revoking its previous recognition of a degree certificate he had presented for clearance to run for Nairobi governor emerged.

But in a new twist last night, Mr Sakaja got a reprieve after the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission)’s dispute resolution committee dismissed three petitions against him following the litigants’ failure to show up.

The senator also scored another win after the team rejected the bid by the fourth petitioner, Mr Dennis Gakuu, to introduce new evidence, including the letter by CUE denouncing Mr Sakaja’s degree certificate.

Earlier Wednesday, the embattled city senator had posted an angry riposte on his verified social media accounts, accusing President Kenyatta of intimidating the commission to withdraw its recognition of his academic papers.

CUE chief executive Mwenda Ntarangwi had only last week, on June 6, written to the IEBC affirming the validity of his Bachelor of Science in Management (External) degree from Team University in Uganda.

It was also the CEO who had communicated with Team University and Uganda’s National Council for Higher Education, which confirmed that the institution was properly accredited and that Sakaja’s degree was issued legitimately.

Curiously, however, it was not the CEO who wrote to the IEBC reversing the earlier decision, but CUE chairman Chacha Nyaigotti-Chacha. Mr Sakaja seized upon this to respond.

“Treat CUE as an entity, not individuals,” Prof Nyaigotti-Chacha replied to a query by the Nation.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta and the entire state machinery have gone on an intimidation spree against institutions locally and in Uganda to revoke the recognition of my qualifications in a bid to stop me from being the Governor of Nairobi. They have sent officials from the Kenyan High Commission in Uganda to intimidate Team University staff as well as that country’s National Council for Higher Education,” Mr Sakaja charged, alleging a scheme to lock him out of the race to favour his main competitor, Azimio la Umoja’s Polycarp Igathe.

No evidence to claims

The senator did not provide any evidence, but his claims had the effect of escalating the issue beyond the validity of his education to the increasingly bitter war between President Kenyatta and his estranged deputy William Ruto.

The Ruto camp has been blaming most of the woes facing key members, including indictments for corruption and other crimes, on political vendetta.

Prof Nyaigotti-Chacha denied that he had been pressured, saying, the commission acted within its mandate after receiving information concerning how the Senator obtained the degree.

He added that the commission and other agencies are investigating the degree’s validity.

“It’s the recognition we earlier accorded that is in abeyance, not the degree,” he said, but he did not explain why CUE withdrew recognition when the matter was still under investigation and it was not yet determined that the degree was fake.

He also did not explain the nature of fresh evidence that had emerged to prompt the CUE to take such a drastic move.

Efforts to get a comment from the CEO were unsuccessful as he did not respond to messages and calls from the Nation. However, Mr Sakaja alleged that the decision was solely the chairman’s and that the commission had not met.

“The desperate attempts by President Kenyatta and the so-called Deep State will fall on the sword of justice. I have the requisite qualifications to vie for the position of Governor of Nairobi and will be on the ballot,” Mr Sakaja vowed.

Challenge CUE adverse action

Last evening, Mr Sakaja moved to the High Court to challenge the adverse action by CUE.

Mr Sakaja shot into the national limelight on May 20, 2012 when he was introduced as front man for the newest political party on the scene then—Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA).

Rousing speech

The youthful and then podgy party chairman delivered a rousing speech that was anchored on the party’s clarion call: I Believe.

Led by youthful officials, it was branded as a breath of fresh air in the pungent Kenyan political space, long dominated by the same familiar faces.

It packaged itself as the happiest party in the country, identifying with the youth and playing up contrasts between the ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ generations.

The TNA campaign was well oiled, with merchandise, style, messaging and advertising oozing class, freshness and youthful vigour. Mr Sakaja was the face of it all and he hogged the limelight.

In an earlier interview, he told TV talk show host Jeff Koinange that he was one who designed the TNA logo, and together with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, coined the iBelieve slogan.

“I’m very proud when I see it (dove in the logo) on the presidential standard,” he said, expressing joy that their campaign had succeeded in hoisting Mr Kenyatta to State House on his second presidential run in 2013.

Rewarded with nomination

Mr Sakaja was rewarded with nomination to the National Assembly at the tender age of 28.

When President Kenyatta’s TNA formally merged with Deputy President William Ruto’s United Republican Party ahead of the 2017 polls, Mr Sakaja took credit for the new Jubilee Party’s Tuko Pamoja slogan and the clasped hands logo.

He used the Jubilee ticket to rise from a nominated Member of the National Assembly to the Senator for Nairobi County in 2017, earning along the way the nickname ‘Super Senator’ for his high profile both in the Legislature and in the wider political arena.

Mr Sakaja has also been adept at positioning himself, as evidenced with the split between President Kenyatta and DP Ruto after the 2017 elections when the former struck up an alliance with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Refused to show his hand

As the rift grew wider and more bitter and most Members of Parliament begun to take sides by either remaining in the President’s wing of Jubilee or shifting alliance to the DP’s breakaway Tangatanga faction, which eventually became the UDA, the Nairobi senator adroitly refused to show his hand.

It was only as the countdown to the August 9 polls began that he started fraternising with Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who himself was oscillating between running for president, or supporting either the Uhuru-Raila axis or the Ruto team.

When Mr Mudavadi eventually threw in his lot with the DP, Mr Sakaja went along and became a major beneficiary when he was handed the Kenya Kwanza alliance ticket for Nairobi governor as part of the deal.

Interestingly though, he ended up running on the UDA ticket rather than ANC’s.

The 37-year-old cut his teeth in national politics after a stint as an official of the Students Organisation of the University of Nairobi (Sonu) in 2008. As the chairperson of Module II students, he was their representative in Sonu.

He was also part of the Vijana na Kibaki lobby group that campaigned for the re-election of President Kibaki on a Party of National Unity ticket ahead of the 2007 general elections.

A gifted speaker and debater, Mr Sakaja completed his secondary school studies at Lenana School where he scored a mean grade of A-(minus) in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination of 2002.

Embarrassing public relations gimmick

On Tuesday, the University of Nairobi’s Faculty of Technology, which had listed Mr Sakaja amongst ‘notable alumni’ was caught up in an embarrassing public relations gimmick as it edited its web page three times before it finally removed his name.

In one of the posts, it indicated that the senator was its graduate, before editing it to only reflect he was at the university between 2013 and 2016. That is the time he was a nominated MP, years after he had served as Sonu chairperson.

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