The ruling by Justice Mumbi Ngugi barring governors facing criminal charges from accessing their offices has heightened rifts between the county chiefs and their deputies.
The rifts have also been fuelled by fears that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is plotting to exploit the ruling to lock out of office several governors facing charges in court.
The requirement for governors facing criminal charges to keep off their offices started when Justice Ngugi upheld a decision of a magistrate barring Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal from accessing his office.
The judge ruled that the governor can only access his office with written permission from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
And this week, Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu was dealt a blow after the High Court dismissed a bid to review his bail terms in the Sh588 million corruption case against him.
Justice Ngenye Macharia on Thursday declined to reduce the Sh15 million cash bail granted to Governor Waititu as well as suspend orders barring him from accessing office until the case is heard and determined.
The ruling sparked an all-out feud with his deputy James Nyoro who had assumed office in Mr Waititu’s absence, exposing the fragile pre-election arrangements between county bosses and their assistants.
The political fights are reminiscent of the power struggles between the governors and their deputies in the first phase of devolution between 2013 and 2017, where a lack of clearly defined roles gave governors a leeway to sidestep their principal assistants in the running of the county affairs.
Before the 2017 election, many candidates for governor picked technocrats as running mates because of their solid backgrounds in management of public resources.
Many were drafted into governors’ campaign teams to provide the expertise lacking in the politicians.
But to guard against political ambitions and efforts to outshine them, some resorted to choosing “political weaklings” as their deputies whom they could control, to the detriment of the county.
Others candidates raided the academia, private sector and global philanthropic organisations to find their deputies.
Dr Nyoro was one such deputy. When he was chosen as Mr Waititu’s running mate, it was so that he provides what his boss lacks in management skills and experience.
He is a seasoned agricultural expert and former Rockefeller Foundation managing director, Africa.
He also ran for the Kiambu governor’s seat in 2013 and managed a second spot. In 2017, Mr Waititu picked him as his running mate.
However, that political marriage has not lasted the turbulent local politics because of betrayals and alleged bad leadership.
Also at play is the 2022 power games, with the governor making it clear that the wrangles are playing out because he is planning for his re-election bid, saying he was aware that Dr Nyoro and other leaders will seek to oust him.
While it is not lost that some governors see their deputies as competitors rather than partners, the office of the deputy governor carries a major responsibility in that if a governor were to resign, be impeached, or die while in office, they take over for the remainder of the term.
Deputy Governors Forum chairman John Mwaniki told the Sunday Nation that they are critical cog in the wheels of devolution.
“There are governors who are working very well with their deputies. Kudos to them. However, a majority have fallen out with their principal assistants because of selfish interests by governors. Those are enemies of devolution and history will judge them harshly,” Mr Mwaniki, who is also Laikipia Deputy governor, said.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that jostling for lucrative contracts has opened old political wounds and created bad blood between county bosses and their assistants.
These political wars have sucked in county executives, MCAs and MPs. “That is a fact. Where you find these differences and bickering it’s because of tender wars of payments to suppliers, which are twisted for selfish and personal gains,” Mr Mwaniki said.
Isiolo is one such county where deputy Governor Abdi Issa is reported not to see eye to eye with his boss Mohamed Kuti.
The relationship between the two leaders has been cold, with Dr Issa claiming he has been sidelined in the running of county affairs.
Observers see this as a replica of the previous county administration whose top leaders were publicly known to read from different scripts.
According to him, officials in the county were assuming some of his responsibilities for publicity sake at the expense of his office.
“It has been two months now. No communication. Nothing. My only concern is that county tenders are awarded in an open and transparent manner for the betterment of Isiolo people and not in bedrooms,” Dr Issa said on Saturday.
“When he is away I should also be in charge. But he (governor) has bypassed that and goes directly to the county secretary,” Dr Kuti did not respond to our queries over his deputy’s claims.
Recently, Garissa Deputy Governor Abdi Dagane reconciled with his boss Ali Korane, who he had accused of locking him out of key decision-making.
Mr Dagane had sensationally lashed out at his boss, accusing him of running the county in isolation in a statement he posted on his Facebook account in June.
In Vihiga, Deputy Governor Patrick Saisi is fighting for space after falling out with Governor Wilber Ottichilo. “I did not leave Moi University where I was lecturing to become a flower girl. Some chief officers are being used to frustrate me. The executives cannot speak because they will be fired,” he said.