Noordin Haji is a man with a white goatee, a man who never smiles — at least not in public — and the man who everyone will watch next year as he attempts to unmask cartels and convict the masterminds.
As the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Haji knows that the collective eye of the nation is on him. It is a bit scary for him, because he likes to keep to himself.
As an intelligence officer, he was your common man on the streets, but, as the DPP, he can’t hide beneath the cloak of anonymity.
Even in his new office, Mr Haji prefers to keep himself out of the way of power brokers and influence peddlers. He only socialises with his family and is careful with whom he interacts to avoid accusations of not being impartial.
“I have made it clear that nobody comes to talk to me about work,” he says. “If you come to the office you’ll encounter a rigorous process before seeing me or my deputy.”
When he entered office some nine months ago, the Malindi-born son of Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji brought back some zeal to an office that had lost glamour over the years, thanks to a cold-war between this office and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
It was public knowledge that the former DCI Ndegwa Muhoro and the former Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko did not see eye-to-eye. At one point, Tobiko formed an independent multi-agency team to probe Mr Muhoro over the disputed Tatu City project and accused the DCI of ordering two probes that had come up with two recommendations.
At the moment, Mr Haji seems to enjoy a close working relationship with the new DCI, Mr George Kinoti. Their collaboration has seen them take on Kenya’s corruption cartels with unheralded determination. How far the two can go remains to be seen, although Mr Haji refuses to be seen as the hope to tame runaway pilferage of public money.
While Mr Kinoti thinks that the Judiciary is not giving the two offices the required support, Mr Haji is playing on the safe side, and told the Nation in an interview that “there is no friction” between his office and the Judiciary, and that they are working well with other agencies, such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
“We believe we will work hard to fight corruption in the country,” says Mr Haji.
But early this month he lost a case at the High Court, where he had sought to block those charged with crimes from accessing their offices. In the case, Mr Haji wanted National Land Commission chairman Prof Muhammad Swazuri barred from getting back to his office.
The NLC chair had been charged in August with abuse of office for, it is alleged, using his position to facilitate Sh221 million compensations to Keibukwo Investment Limited, Dasahe Investment Limited and Olomotit Estate Limited during the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway.
While the trial magistrate had released him on a cash bail of Sh3.5 million, on condition that he cannot go back to his office pending the outcome of the case, High Court judge Hedwig Ong’udi ruled that the DPP had not provided any evidence to warrant locking out Swazuri from office, arguing that that was akin to removing the chairman through the back door.
This line of argument seems to be bothering the DPP, who still thinks that suspects charged with serious crimes should not be allowed to access their offices once they have been charged. Among those who have resumed office include Migori governor Okoth Obado, who was charged with the murder of his University of Rongo girlfriend Sharon Otieno.
“I am frustrated that once I charge certain individuals, I can’t get them to face the law,” he says. “Some remain in office to flex their muscles, to intimidate witnesses and interfere with the investigations.”
During a recent interview with a local TV station, Mr Haji also complained that high-profile individuals charged with graft and serious crimes had been allowed to resume work.
“When we have individuals who have been charged and who happen to be ambassadors in foreign countries asking for bail so they can present their credentials in a foreign country, what message are we sending? The courts need to help us,” he said.
But it is the battle with local lawyers over his appointment of Queen’s Counsel Khawar Qureshi to prosecute the case against Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu that is his latest headache. At one point, he had to appear before the Senate’s Justice, Human Rights and Legal Affairs Committee to explain the reasons. It was not an easy session.
“Are you telling us that this country does not have qualified lawyers to take up that position? That we have to go back to England for assistance?” asked Ms Susan Kihika, the Senator for Nakuru. “The appointment makes me wonder whether you have an office of prosecutors that you don’t trust. Don’t you think you need to boost the morale of your officers?”
By striking at the heart of the Judiciary through a fraud case against Ms Mwilu, Mr Haji had started a fire that had all the elements of a thriller, and which attracted a galaxy of legal and political minds from the opposition Nasa alliance.
Mr Haji has told those who care to listen that the Mwilu case is complicated and, as such, needs an independent person who has no political links or emotional attachment to it.
The DPP hired Mr Qureshi on December 4 to pursue abuse of office, forgery and tax evasion charges against Justice Mwilu, but the DCJ has obtained temporary orders barring her prosecution until a High Court petition she filed challenging the move is determined.
Mr Haji has also gone to court to have senators James Orengo and Okong’o Omogeni barred from defending the DCJ since they have been participating in Senate committee proceedings over the same.
A man whose background is with national intelligence, Mr Haji believes that the country has the capacity to conclude graft cases within months, just like election cases. “If we have decided that graft is a national issue that needs to be tackled, I think we need more resources to make sure graft cases are expeditiously dealt with, both by the ODPP and the Judiciary,” he says.
And this is a conversation he intends to have with the Judiciary in the coming year “to see how best we can expedite the graft cases in the shortest time possible”.
Mr Haji knows that he can only be successful by working close with the Judiciary, and told the Nation once again that he was not fighting the office of Chief Justice David Maraga.
“One thing that I want to make clear is that we all have to protect the independence of the Judiciary, and to us, as prosecutors, that is very important,” he says.
But will Noordin Haji manage to rescue the country from graft cartels the way he was rescued from Westgate after Al-Shabaab guerrillas invaded the Nairobi mall in 2013, killing 67 people and injuring many?
He was trying to help Somalia out of the crisis by collecting information on Jubaland when the raiders struck. He alerted security agencies of the attack and hid inside a washroom until he was rescued.
Additional reporting by Phillip Muyanga and Fadhili Frederick