ODM leader Raila Odinga’s allies are locked in a furious row with businessman Jimi Wanjigi whose campaign for the party’s presidential ticket has driven a wedge between the bosom friends.
On Thursday, a defiant Mr Wanjigi landed in Kisumu for the start of his four-day tour of Nyanza, despite protests by ODM officials and declared he did not need anyone’s permission to visit the region.
Mr Wanjigi, who backed Mr Odinga’s presidential bid in the 2017 election, after a falling out with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto, whom he had supported in 2013, was initially seen as doing the bidding of the ODM leader.
But what started as a likely friendly match is now shaping up as a political duel.
His latest utterances and actions appear to have jolted Mr Odinga’s allies, with ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya and national chairman John Mbadi now accusing him of running an illegal parallel party operation.
ODM executive director Oduor Ong’wen also insisted Mr Wanjigi shouldn’t portray himself as an aspirant for the party’s presidential ticket since only governors Oparanya and Hassan Joho submitted applications when the party invited hopefuls.
Grassroots party officials
And Mr Wanjigi warned ODM against a plan to handpick grassroots party officials, arguing it could be a ploy to rig the party’s presidential nominations and which would invite a protracted legal battle.
In a letter to ODM Secretary-general Edwin Sifuna dated September 9, 2021, Mr Wanjigi opposed the party’s plan to use consensus in picking branch officials.
On arrival in Kisumu Thursday, Mr Wanjigi vowed to continue with his campaigns for the party’s presidential ticket, arguing he is a life member of the party.
“I saw some letter going round saying ODM officials are not aware of my visit. Why do I need permission to visit Nyanza or anywhere in this country? This is a free country and I am an ODM member who will tour the region and popularise the party the best way I know,” said Mr Wanjigi.
Met ODM delegates
Mr Wanjigi has met ODM delegates in Nakuru, Nairobi and Mt Kenya region where he has also presided over the opening of party offices.
He has said he’s ready to wrest the party’s ticket from Mr Odinga, who he claims lacks the numbers to win the presidency.
Mr Odinga’s supporters had felt the businessman was simply warming the ground for Mr Odinga ahead of his fifth stab at the presidency, but his zeal to win the ODM ticket has now caused apprehension.
Mr Mbadi has accused Mr Wanjigi of illegally operating a parallel party operation.
The ODM chairman said whereas they welcome any move to popularise the party in hostile regions, there is need for proper coordination and consultation with the party headquarters.
“I have never seen him in ODM functions yet he is moving around purporting to be meeting party delegates. We don’t even know who these people are since our officials on the ground are not aware of the meetings,” Mr Oparanya told Nation.
Not party financier
Mr Ong’wen dismissed claims that Mr Wanjigi has been a party financier. “For the record, the only money the party has ever received from Jimi Wanjigi is Sh20, 000 being life membership fee,” Mr Ong’wen told the Nation yesterday.
Kakamega ODM chairman Justus Kizito claimed they were aware Mr Wanjigi was being used by external forces to destroy ODM since he does not support the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
“You can’t join a party yesterday and want to take its leadership. As far as we are concerned, Raila will be our flag bearer and the fifth President of Kenya. Wanjigi should know this,” he said.
But Mr Wanjigi has defended his actions, insisting that his intention is to popularise the party and not to wreck it, even as he declared an all-out war to deny Mr Odinga the presidential ticket.
Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University (USIU) lists three possible scenarios of the Wanjigi-Raila duel.
“It is a real contest that might give Raila a desired exit strategy from politics, but it might also be internal ODM theatrics designed to convince the public that Raila and ODM have changed and are serious ‘democrats’. This might help to reduce, if not eliminate, the ‘Men in Black’ negative image that dogs Raila and ODM,” Prof Munene argues.
He adds: “It is possible that there is serious internal ODM belief that Raila can be ousted because his time is up. This would make Wanjigi the point man in that internal movement. Others are either too scared to come out or are waiting in the wings before joining the bandwagon.”