Sossion: Why they want me out of the giant teachers union

Wednesday March 18 2020
By VITALIS KIMUTAI
By FAITH NYAMAI

Embattled Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion Saturday spoke for the first time since the palace coup staged against him by the union’s top organ on Thursday night, blaming his predicament on powerful forces within the government.

NEUTRILISED

After stormy three months fight with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), Mr Sossion was finally edged out and isolated in a board room coup of the 193,000-member strong union.

The Thursday night coup happened despite spirited but unsuccessful efforts by Opposition leader Raila Odinga to mediate in the dispute between the teachers’ employer and the union.

In a candid interview with the Sunday Nation, Mr Sossion accused the teachers employer of arm-twisting the Knut National Executive Council (NEC) to kick him out to pave way for the release of the union’s dues from its membership which it (TSC) had withheld since last month.

He accused powerful forces in and outside government of fuelling a narrative that he was opposed to the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) to pit him against the government.

Mr Sossion claims that the narrative that 90,000 members had left the union due to validation with 18,000 recently decamping to the rival Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) was part of a spin to kick him out of leadership — which he claims to have been bought line, hook and sinker by the Knut leadership.

“In the phase two of the salary increment, our members were denied their rightful Sh10,000 increment which they were told would only be released once they left Knut. Sadly, this was their rightful dues from the Collective Bargaining (CBA) agreement which we bargained and duly signed on their behalf,” said Mr Sossion in an interview.

He added: “We are living in very interesting times where the Civil Society has died, the opposition has been neutralised, the independent Commissions are under capture by the state, and next in line is to neutralise trade unions with Knut being the first target … others will follow in due course.”

REPERCUSSIONS

President Uhuru Kenyatta is said to have given an OK for TSC and Ministry of Education to proceed with the coup at Knut headquarters after a series of briefing from top government officials.

Mr Sossion, however, noted that he has no personal problem or issue with President Kenyatta with whom he claims to “enjoy a good chemistry just like with Mr Odinga.”

“It should be remembered that in 2009, it is President Kenyatta and myself who unlocked the teachers’ salary stalemate amicably, and the same happened in 2011 when we terminated employment of teachers on contract,” stated Mr Sossion.

He added: “President Kenyatta and myself also ironed out the standoff over the discrepancies between teachers and civil servants in 2012 and in 2013 strike, which led to the road map for implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with commuter allowance being paid in two phases with a similar scenario playing out in 2016.”

Mr Sossion, however, claimed that some people in the corridors of power had painted a picture before the Presidency that he was fighting the government and out to scuttle the Big Four agenda and Mr Kenyatta’s legacy.

“I cannot fight the President as I do not have the means or the interest. In any event, I am the only one in this country who can tell the President without fear of repercussions when and where things are going wrong. Apparently, many people do not like to tell the President the truth,” said Mr Sossion.

ISOLATION

He singled out TSC Secretary Nancy Macharia for allegedly seeking to wreck the giant union from within by “sponsoring a leadership wrangle, defying court orders, engaging in a smear campaign against the union’s top leadership and starving the union of funds from members.”

The unfolding events saw divisions at the Knut’s top leadership culminating with Mr Sossion’s isolation, ouster and eventual deregistration by the registrar of trade unions with his replacement by his deputy Mr Hesbon Otieno, in acting capacity.

Despite fighting for the rights of teachers for the last 10 years, six of which as the Secretary General, Mr Sossion is now left to battle for survival within the corridors of justice, with his fall attributed to the fight with the Ministry of Education over the CBC, which the government has particularly been keen on rolling out.

The mass transfer of teachers under the delocalisation programme, which included union officials in various branches, the push for promotion of teachers and salary increment in line with the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) are some of the sticky issues he rolled up his sleeve to fight for implementation — from which he met his Waterloo.

RESISTANCE

Mr Sossion, even after being replaced on an acting capacity, is defiant that he is still the union’s Secretary General and spokesperson stating, that it is only an Annual Delegates Conference (ADC), the union’s top decision making organ, that can kick him out of office through a resolution.

It has emerged from multiple sources that Mr Odinga attempted to broker a truce between Knut, TSC and the Ministry of Education to aver the fallout, but the atmosphere was so polluted that the move was met with a lot of resistance.

“TSC and the Ministry of Education had made so much inroads by arm-twisting the Knut leadership that due to the double pronged approach, the government mandarins were assured that they would have their way in the long run and had no reason to engage in talks with Raila,” said a source privy to the intrigues.

Another source stated that Mr Odinga had made a lot of headways towards procuring a deal, but was stopped on his tracks by government operatives who sold him the narrative that Mr Sossion was hell-bent on scuttling President Kenyatta’s legacy by opposing the CBC and fighting TSC over various policies rolled out.

COURT ORDER

 “I have no personal issue with the NEC members who purport to have kicked me out of the union leadership in total disregard to the existing court orders, which they were duly served with alongside the Registrar of Trade Unions who is also in contempt of court by registering the officials as bona fide leaders of the union,” Mr Sossion says.

He added: “It is only an Annual Delegates Conference (ADC) — which is set to meet in December — that can oust me from office and not any other organ. The union leaders are in pure contempt of court. But is must go on record that I am open for discussion as every conflict must be resolved in the interest of the union members.”

The outspoken but embattled Secretary General said for the last ten years, he had led fruitful negotiations with TSC and Ministry of Education, which benefited teachers.

“What the government has done is to ensure they gave a dog (him) a bad name before hanging it. The claims that I have acted alone in most of the issues is a lie as all the actions we have taken had the backing of the ADC whose resolutions is final and binding,” he said.

Mr Sossion has been opposed to the curriculum since its piloting phases to its implementation citing illegality, a position which has been taken as that of the Knut.

BOYCOTT

A source told the Sunday Nation that the Knut leaders engaged in a series of secret meetings with the TSC where they struck a deal to remove Mr Sossion from office to pave way for release of union dues.

Knut chairman Wycliffe Omucheyi defended the decision to suspend Mr Sossion, saying it had nothing to do with external forces as it came out of concerns from teachers and a desire to save the union from collapsing.

“There comes a time when an individual's interests surpass those of an organisation. Through various consultations, we had to suspend our brother for the sake of teachers,” said Mr Omucheyi.

Some executive secretaries and other teachers from the counties were mobilised and mandated to come and camp at the Knut headquarters as the NEC members met at a secret city hotel in Nairobi.

Mr Otieno, after taking over office, recalled a circular issued by Mr Sossion giving executive secretaries direction on the December 1 annual delegate’s conference in Kakamega.

 Mr Sossion’s woes started after he called for teachers to boycott the new competency based curriculum training in April which led to his deregistration by TSC.