Kenya

Nothing gutsier than facing loss of Sh1m, Chief Justice post

Nothing gutsier than facing loss of Sh1m, Chief Justice post
Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

In the early 1980s, Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia was part of a team that acquired land from a private company for the construction of the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

Back then, he worked in the Attorney-General’s office, which had picked him straight from law school.

Ever since Kasarani was opened in 1987, numerous local as well as international games and races have been staged there. And some of those have seen participants touted as hands-down winners humbled by meeker contestants.

That was pretty much the scenario when the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Tuesday announced it had nominated Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome to be the next Chief Justice.

It was a shocker. All the buzz had been around Mr Ngatia. The stars were aligned in his favour, or so it seemed.

“There is even a joke on social media that ‘if you want to see the next Chief Justice, scratch the card’, then they put your picture,” JSC commissioner Macharia Njeru joked when interviewing Mr Ngatia, drawing a chuckle from the veteran lawyer.

Kenyans on social media also seemed all so enthusiastic about Mr Ngatia that he became a trending topic on the day he was interviewed. He seemed to have the right answer for everything.

Like an athlete backed by uproarious fans, Mr Ngatia must have believed his time to head the Judiciary was nigh – which might explain his reaction to the JSC announcement.

“Four commissioners from Mt Kenya reduced my scores yesterday (Monday) afternoon after they were called by powerful people,” he told the Business Daily. “Without that intervention, I was far ahead of all the other candidates.”

Coming from a man who led the legal team that represented President Uhuru Kenyatta in election petitions in 2013 and 2017, the remarks attracted a “sore loser” tag towards Mr Ngatia, a man who in his JSC interview admitted that much as he has scored victories like having the Kenya-Sudan border in place, there are cases he has lost.

His remarks also seemed to run against what he had said in the interview when asked if it was the right time for Kenya to have a female Chief Justice.

“The most merited person, be it a person with disability or whatever, is what I think JSC would go for,” he had said. “I am not here to say that a lady is not sufficient as a Chief Justice. But I’ll look for a leader, be it male or female.”

In legal circles, a popular joke goes: “You win some and you lose some, but you get paid for all of them.”

Mr Ngatia will probably count this as a loss, not least because he reportedly had to pay Sh1 million to the taxman in preparations to face the team.

Having previously represented clients like the late George Saitoti, controversial businessman Kamlesh Pattni and the even more controversial Artur bothers, not forgetting a host of judges before the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board, Mr Ngatia, 65, returns to his successful private practice with his CJ dream snuffed out.