Japhet Koome
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Why IG Japhet Koome is under siege

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Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

On October 4 last year, President William Ruto received a task force report on police reforms during a ceremony at State House, Nairobi, in which Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome was conspicuously missing.

The team that was led by former Chief Justice David Maraga had looked into the ills bedevilling the National Police Service (NPS), Prisons Department and the National Youth Service and had made a raft of recommendations regarding reforms in the disciplined services.

Among those present at the event were Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki Kithure, Mr Koome’s two deputies Noor Gabow and Douglas Kanja as well as Prisons boss Brigadier (Rtr) John Warioba.

Mr Koome’s absence raised eyebrows amid talk that the police chief had not been invited, but the NPS downplayed the development. NPS spokesperson Resila Onyango at the time insisted that there was nothing unusual. Dr Onyango explained that the IG had travelled to Meru for “a meeting of court users.”

On October 31, the police chief was again absent at State House during a reception for visiting King Charles and Queen Camilla. All other top security chiefs including the then-Chief of Defence Forces Francis Ogolla were present. General Ogolla died in a helicopter crash in April. At the time, State House insiders said the police chief’s days in office were numbered.

But it has been nine months since.

However, the ongoing youth protests against unpopular taxes and runaway cost of living, as well as the NPS’ handling of the demonstrations in which at least 39 people have been killed, have once again revived speculation that the police boss isn’t sitting pretty.

Japhet Koome fires warning shot at criminals as he takes oath of office

Questions are increasingly being raised about Mr Koome’s whereabouts given the unusual absence of regular briefings from Vigilance House. The police boss has only issued one press statement on the national security crisis that has even forced the government to call in the military. His apparent low profile during the widespread protests has raised eyebrows and some have questioned whether he is still in charge.

Before the protests started last month, some senior police officers had complained that the police chief had not convened a meeting of commanders to craft a security response, called an operation order. It is customary in policing that, in the event of a crisis of the magnitude witnessed during the recent protests, the IG should call a meeting of top officials, including his deputies in charge of Kenya Police and Administration Police, the Director of Criminal Investigations and the General Service Unit commandant.

Without an updated operation order, the senior officers claimed, the police were relying on an outdated manual used to quell opposition-led anti-government protests last year. The only problem was that police found themselves confronting a swarm of unarmed and largely peaceful youthful protesters.

But Mr Koome, when contacted by the Nation at the time, insisted that he was on top of things and denied claims that the operation order used to counter the recent protests was outdated.

“We have an operation order that is guiding this operation and we are not doing things anyhow,” he said.

The protests have since snowballed into a security nightmare after goons, some allegedly sponsored by politicians allied to the government, infiltrated the demonstrations, looted property and stormed Parliament.

State operatives have resorted to underhand measures such as the abduction of activists in an attempt to find the planners and financiers of the demonstrations. The clandestine operation, sources say, has exposed the conflict between the police and National Intelligence Service (NIS) amid claims Mr Koome has been kept in the dark.

“You find that the leadership of the NPS and the NIS are not reading from the same script on how to go about some of these things. You will find that the IG may not even be aware of who is being held where,” said a source who is familiar with the operations.

The role of NIS in quelling the protests has also exposed the big rift in the executive after Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua accused NIS Director-General Noordin Haji of sleeping on the job.

“Had Haji done his job, we will not be where we are today,” Mr Gachagua sensationally claimed, further alleging “my boss (President) is exposed.”

The DP challenged Mr Haji to resign.

But as the mayhem and casualties from the protests mount because of the brutal crackdown by armed police officers, some masked and in plain clothes, the police chief is increasingly coming under pressure with critics claiming the blood of the victims is on his hands.

And the calls for his exit are growing louder. This week, even some of the president’s allies raised questions about the police chief’s handling of the crisis. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot cited the police chief’s absence during the crisis and questioned whether he is the right man for the job.

“I once asked; where is the IG? That was in relation to the killings that were going on in Kerio Valley. It has been two weeks of protests. Kenyans have lost their lives; others have been beaten. Police have also faced hostile gangs on the streets. I am yet to hear the voice of the IG. I am deeply troubled by that. It can’t be right,” Mr Cheruiyot said.

He went on: “When we faced the (2007-08) post-election violence, every day, (the then-police boss) Maj Gen Hussein Ali would brief the country and give an update of what was happening. How can we face such a crisis up to this point I don’t know what the IG thinks? I don’t know what is the challenge. We don’t know these things that are being discussed. The question on the back of my mind is that is this really the right man for the job?” Mr Cheruiyot posed.

Senate Majority Whip Bonny Khalwale said: “The President should quickly restructure the security organs by firing people, the IG included.”

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei also criticised Mr Koome, saying he had failed to update the country regularly on the security situation.

“The only time the IG has responded is when he saw allocations of fatalities. He sent a statement,” Mr Cherargei said.

The opposition and its lawmakers have also demanded the resignation of the police chief, accusing him of presiding over a brutal crackdown on protesters that had led to deaths.

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“Talking about incompetence and lack of capacity, the IG is the embodiment of the lack of capacity to lead the National Police Service. Mr Koome must leave office immediately for this country to enjoy peace and tranquillity,” said Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua.

On June 21, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leaders also called on the IG to resign. Addressing journalists in Nairobi, the Azimio leadership said there was a pattern of violence by security officers and that the violence meted on the demonstrators was not justified.

The Azimio leaders also called for the resignation of Nairobi police Chief Adamson Bungei for failing to protect the demonstrators.

The IG cannot be fired by the President as the holder of the office enjoys a four-year security of tenure unless ousted in accordance with the constitution or through resignation.

Four-year term

“The inspector-general shall be appointed for a single four-year term, and is not eligible for re-appointment,” states the Constitution, which also spells out the rigorous procedure for the removal of the IG. The grounds include serious violation of the Constitution or any other law and gross misconduct.

This is not the first time Mr Koome has found himself in the eye of a storm. Last June, Prof Kindiki warned Mr Koome and National Police Service Commission (NPSC) chairman Eliud Kinuthia that they risked being fired over incessant fights.

At the time, Mr Koome and Mr Kinuthia were engaged in a protracted fight over the hiring of civilian staff by the NPSC.

So serious was the fight that 51 civilians who were interviewed and hired by the commission were locked out of their offices. The employees were reporting to their new workstations for the first time after their appointment.

 When they arrived at their Jogoo House offices, they were turned away by security officers who said they were acting on instruction from a security chief.

Mr Kinuthia accused the IG of issuing orders to police officers manning gates at Jogoo House not to allow the new staff to access their offices.

The fight between the two senior officials reportedly found its way to State House. What followed was a series of mediation talks even as some police chiefs impressed on the President the need to deal firmly with the issue.

Will Mr Koome survive this time?