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Hangers-on worse off as Sonko cases drag on

Monday January 13 2020

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko at the Milimani Anti-Corruption Court on December 9, 2019, where he was charged with graft. His bank accounts were also frozen. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

COLLINS OMULO
By COLLINS OMULO
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That Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko is a man who easily gives cash to friends and others cannot be overstated.

Before his recent run-ins with detectives over corruption at City Hall, Sonko’s private office in Upper Hill was a beehive of activity as friends and hangers-on queued for handouts.

If only the more than 20 security cameras in the office could talk, they would tell tales of politicians, friends, briefcase journalists, leaders of nondescript civil society groups and even goons for hire, whose lives depended on his generosity.

But ever since he was barred from running the affairs of the county government, the once private office has witnessed a big reduction of casual visitors, some of whom must now fend for themselves.

The situation has been compounded by the freezing of Sonko’s five bank accounts last week.

The worst-hit have been politicians who used to make daily pilgrimages to the Upper Hill office to pick up handouts for “a job well done”, or to brief the city county boss on what “his enemies” were planning.

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PRESS CONFERENCES

According to insiders, the governor has locked out many of the politicians — who mostly include former MPs and serving city ward representatives.

He now regularly deals with his lawyers and East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Simon Mbugua.

Mr Mbugua is the man helping the governor out, especially in organising for finances.

An insider, a city ward representative, said Sonko now prioritises meetings with his lawyers.

The source said that although politicians, especially ward representatives, still visit him, not everyone is allowed in.

He said the politicians have resorted to blackmailing the governor by telling him to organise press conferences to dismiss “negative” stories about him.

“The crowds at the gate have significantly reduced. The place used to be very busy, especially Fridays. He has informed his friends that he wants to concentrate on the court cases,” the ward representative said.

“The governor still has a social life mostly as an individual. He is avoiding the cameras now, reportedly under instructions from his lawyers,” he said.

SUPPORT GROUPS

Another Jubilee MCA said ward representatives used to stream to the office for handouts “during the good old times”.

“They used to get freebies daily but that has reduced. He could spend millions of shillings on politicians and support groups,” the ward representative said.

Briefcase lobbies are also feeling the pinch. Many of the youth groups were used by Sonko’s team as mobilisers for political causes.

They include the Ng’arisha Jiji and Beautification teams, his bloggers and even employees whose work has diminished.

Before things fell apart, it was not unusual for not less than three press briefings to be called in a day by briefcase lobbies that included university students’ unions. They “supported” Sonko against “bad” stories.

Between September last year when the governor first appeared before EACC officers at Integrity Centre and this month, only one press briefing by the once commonplace groups has been held. This was at 680 Hotel last week.

Bloggers have seen their work cut down. They used to be paid for every scathing and scandalous post on Sonko’s perceived adversaries.

NO TIME FOR GOONS

Outsourced writers for the governor’s press team are also going through hard times, with allowances and tips no longer guaranteed.

They used to be paid for helping the team led by Director of Communications Elkana Jacob and Richard Bosire for every story they helped to write.

The stories would then be sent to journalists and media organisations and had gained popularity under the “Just In” tagline.

Then there are hired “goons” who have been hanging around City Hall ready for any job.

Theirs has been a tough life as “jobs” have dried up, now that the governor has been barred from office. The courts also directed the county boss to ensure he keeps the peace.

The last job they had was taking part in the chaotic return of Speaker Beatrice Elachi to office in October, when they destroyed furniture at the county assembly.

They also harassed ward representatives opposed to Ms Elachi’s return.

Others are young people who used to hang around the governor in the guise of providing security as he attended events across Nairobi.