To some people, Sirisia MP John Waluke is too forthright for his own good. To others, he appears naive. Some think he is crafty and politically adept.
But none of that will help him, after he was convicted of graft and sentenced to 67 years in prison, if he fails to pay a fine of more than Sh1 billion, in relation to a Sh314 million National Cereals and Produce Board maize scandal.
His crimes aside, Waluke, for those who know him, is a down-to-earth, good-natured individual, who, unlike most of his colleagues, eschews ostentatious displays of power. Maybe these attributes emanate from the discipline cultivated in him when he served in the military.
But after engaging the man, one always walks away with a split conclusion about his character: he is either a very honest man or naive.
You see, he is perhaps the only MP who has had the courage to face TV cameras and declare that he received some financial inducement to accept the alteration of a report of a committee on which he served.
Of course, he never revealed the committee or the report, but his open declaration that MPs routinely receive money to act in a certain way in their line of duty was unprecedented and says something about the man.
“Let’s be honest,” he declared on NTV in 2017. “No MP should tell you that he has never received money to alter a committee report. We receive as much as Sh100,000,” he said.
Whether this kind of shoot-from-the-hip confession is honesty or naivety is subject to interpretation, but that is the portrait the man has constructed since he first got into Parliament in 2013.
In the corruption case that finally proved to be his Waterloo, Waluke would, on the day of his court appearance, get out of Parliament and take a walk to the Milimani courts. He would walk through the ever-crowded Uhuru Park, popular with the unemployed. Even though he has the services of a police bodyguard, he never used it.
A video of Waluke protesting the quality of tea served in Parliament’s restaurant did its rounds and attracted all manner of comments. The irony here is that he is a consumer of black lemon tea. Just how the absence of milk affected him to the extent of staging the protest is still a mystery. Another instance of the man’s sense of honesty, or naivety, played out in 2014 just after an Al-Shabaab terror attack that left nearly 70 people dead in Mpeketoni.
While ODM leader Raila Odinga linked the attack to the terror group and asked the government to withdraw Kenya Defence Forces from Somalia, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s view was that the killings were a product of local political networks, targeting one community
An ODM lawmaker at the time, confused glances were exchanged when he showed up at a press conference alongside a group of Jubilee MPs led by then majority leaders Kithure Kindiki (Senate) and Aden Duale (National Assembly). The MPs had convened the briefing to call out Odinga over his demand to withdraw the KDF from Somalia, arguing that it was part of his scheme to undermine national security.
“We have always suspected that ODM is Al-Shabaab and AlShabaab is ODM,” Kindiki thundered as he questioned Odinga’s calls.
“That is not true,” Waluke hit back from the midst of the lawmakers even before Kindiki could complete the sentence. He wasn’t supposed to be there. He didn’t know what their message was. Waluke had just walked with his colleagues to the press conference.
Watching during his sentencing on Thursday, one got the impression that there is a likelihood that the MP could be a victim of a bigger conspiracy, which might have been too complicated for his comprehension. But because he is an honest, if not naive, man, he played along.
There are those who received even larger sums of money in the deal. They were neither in court nor mentioned. Maybe, just maybe, a good man has been forced to carry the cross for other sleek operatives.