Men in black suits posing as security officers destroyed ballot boxes and voting papers yesterday, forcing ODM leaders to call off the party national elections.
The chaos started after nominated MP Isaac Mwaura loudly protested the omission of his name from a campaign flyer believed to have been prepared by Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho and Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba.
Only a handful of delegates had cast their votes when the chaos erupted at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium Gymnasium in Nairobi, the venue of the ODM National Delegates Convention.
Those seen kicking ballot boxes and overturning tables were thought to be informal security staff usually hired by the party to assist the police.
But it was unclear why, despite the heavy police presence, the party still involved the men in black suits.
Delegates scampered for safety moments after chaos broke out in the voting hall.
General Service Unit and Administration Police officers got everyone to leave. A suspected looter was arrested.
Outgoing ODM secretary-general Anyang’ Nyong’o said: “We regret that things have turned out this way. These elections have been called off. We ask the delegates to go home.”
The status of the ODM office bearers now hangs in the balance as Prof Nyong’o and ODM chairman Henry Kosgey had just stepped down and all seats declared vacant.
Mr Mwaura told the press that he was disappointed by attempts to short-change him by the Joho group. “I was shocked that I was campaigning with them all along, but they betrayed me,” he said.
The Joho team appeared to have settled on Mr Peter ole Musei as deputy secretary-general instead of Mr Mwaura.
Mr Joho and his team had received a standing ovation from the delegates as the National Election Board chairperson Judy Pareno read out their names just before voting started.
Some of their opponents in Dr Agnes Zani’s camp were heckled and jeered when board officials read their names.
The event had started off peacefully until the group of men earlier thought to be providing security disrupted proceedings.
Mr Odinga, flanked by top party leaders, later addressed the media and apologised to ODM supporters.
He announced that the National Governing Council will meet on Monday to decide on the next course of action.
“I am really sorry for what happened. It was very unfortunate that the forces of darkness could interfere with this exercise. I want to apologise to all members of ODM and we take responsibility for this act. We will ensure that elections take place as soon as possible,” Mr Odinga said.
He said that plans by the party secretariat to hire professional private security did not succeed and claimed that some external forces could have taken advantage of the situation to sneak in goons.
“We were to bring in professional security but that did not happen and those responsible could be the party’s enemies who could have brought in the mafia,” he said.
Sources said the disruption of the elections was planned on Thursday by a city politician and a senior ODM Member of Parliament, who feared that the Namwamba camp was going to carry the day.
The men in black suits, it transpired, have been used on a number of occasions by ODM leaders to provide security during rallies and various party meetings.
One of them, an ODM lawmaker, who sought anonymity told Saturday Nation, was ferried in from Kisumu. The group was commanded by a burly bald-headed man.
That may explain why members of the group were well-stationed at various entrances during the meeting.
The group, it was said, had been instructed to boo some party MPs, who were not toeing the line, a fact that may explain why Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and some MPs from Luo Nyanza skipped the event.
It may also have been the reason why Kilifi East MP Gideon Mung’aro declined the invitation to talk.
The chaos took place in the full glare of diplomats and invited guests, who had turned up as observers to the elections.
Last evening, Prof Nyong’o directed ODM executive director Magerer Langat to summon governing council members to a special meeting on Monday.
Mr Namwamba described those responsible as enemies of the party while Dr Zani said the chaos had not broken their determination to have new leadership.
Ms Pareno promised that when a fresh date is set they will play their role. “We are really sorry about what has happened,” she said.
Coast delegates had earlier walked out in protest against the expansion of party posts, but coast leaders convinced them to return.
The delegates were annoyed by the decision of the governing council to create seven more positions, which will dilute one of the seats that Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho was contesting.
The party’s secretary for legal affairs Tom Kajwang’ invited MP Peter Karuma to read to the delegates the minutes that were approved by council creating two deputy positions for the post of party leader, secretary-general, chairman, treasurer, and organising secretary.
Also created were positions of secretary parliamentary affairs, secretary for special interest and one other position for the youth.