A parade of top-level government and party leaders on Monday failed to convince Justice minister Martha Karua not to quit government.
Among those who went to see her on Monday to urge her to stay on in government included Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Public Health minister Beth Mugo, both from PNU.
“I felt she was making a hasty decision but apparently, she had made up her mind. She was very good and I felt if she leaves the Cabinet, it will be poorer,” Mrs Mugo said.
A PNU meeting held at Serena Hotel on Sunday after the Kilaguni talks failed, resolved to talk to Ms Karua to welcome her back to the fold. Members felt she could play a key role in their battle with ODM.
Her own party, Narc Kenya, had tried to persuade her not to quit during a morning meeting at its Kilimani headquarters. She announced her resignation from her former office at the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion.
The Gichugu MP, who has also been the Deputy Leader of Government Business in Parliament, has been unhappy that her advice on judicial and other changes has been rejected by President Kibaki.
President Kibaki is away in Lusaka, Zambia, where he is attending a Heads of State and Government summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African countries (Comesa).
Last month, President Kibaki told Cabinet ministers who were grumbling to either quit or risk being sacked. The remarks were supported by Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
At the time, Ms Karua, who had taken a vocal and independent stand on issues, was widely viewed as one of the ministers in danger of being affected in a reshuffle.
She becomes only the fourth Cabinet minister to resign on their own volition during former President Moi’s and President Kibaki’s governments. Others are Mr Kenneth Matiba, Mr Simeon Nyachae and Mr John Koech, all who resigned during Mr Moi’s rule.
Last week, five judges were sworn in without her knowledge though matters of justice are in former docket. Ms Karua has been opposed to judicial appointments before reforms and had said such appointments are not based on competence and merit.
She has also been involved in a war of words with Chief Justice Evan Gicheru, who she has accused of blocking reforms in the Judiciary.
Law Society of Kenya had written to the President asking him to set up a tribunal to try and remove Judge Gicheru for incompetence, a move Ms Karua seemed to back. Recently, the President wrote back to express confidence in the Chief Justice and declined the request to have him removed.
Announcing her departure, Ms Karua said she was not ready to serve while her hands were tied. She said her work had been frustrated by an anti-reform group in government but she would continue pushing for changes from the back benches of Parliament, in forums organised by civil society and as a Narc-K presidential hopeful.
“Today, I have tendered my resignation as minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs. I feel my position is untenable following recent events in the ministry. I cannot go on serving when my hands are tied. I cannot remain in office,” she said.
Her letter of resignation, which the President has the option of accepting or rejecting, was sent to State House, Nairobi, on Monday. President Kibaki returns from Zambia on Tuesday.
“My letter of resignation to the President is equally short and I am not going to explain anything beyond what I have said. I would like to plead for understanding from my constituents, members of my party, Narc Kenya, my family and my friends,” she said.
The Gichugu MP’s decision comes at a time when the coalition government grappling with rising tension between the partners. The weekend’s Kilaguni Lodge meeting brought to the open deep and at times farcical differences between ODM and PNU.
ODM accuses PNU of blocking reforms and PNU hits back by saying ODM is only interested in accumulating more power. Ms Karua, who speaks her mind freely, has made many political enemies in PNU, including Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta, Cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and George Saitoti who have publicly criticised her.
“I have done my best serving in the ministry but it is now untenable. This resignation is about being obstructed from doing my work,” she said.
Ms Karua had objected to the appointment of chief magistrates Aggrey Muchelule, Florence Muchemi and lawyer Abida Ali-Aroni three years ago.
She has also blamed Mr Justice Gicheru of being against judicial reforms, which were identified under Agenda Four of the National Accord.
In turn, the CJ accused Ms Karua of interfering with his work and blocking the appointment of more judges at a time when Kenya’s law courts were being choked with a backlog of cases.
Ms Karua, who strongly defended President Kibaki during the tallying of presidential votes at the Kenya International Conference Centre late December 2007 and led the PNU team during the mediation talks, was not given the position of Deputy Prime Minister, as some expected. She was also initially left out of the top level team charged with managing coalition affairs.