The mood was of an uneasy calm as members of a tribunal investigating the conduct of a Supreme Court judge listened to witnesses, took notes and asked questions. The media and the public were kept out of the session.
A road — running from Kakrao trading centre to Rayudhi village in Migori’s Suna East constituency where his rural home is situated — has put Supreme Court Judge Jackton Ojwang at the centre of controversy, and members of the tribunal were at the site on Monday on a fact-finding mission.
Justice Ojwang accompanied the group as it surveyed the road up to his homestead and later left without addressing journalists.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the suspension of Justice Ojwang in a March 29 Kenya Gazette notice and subsequently appointed Justice Alnashir Visram to chair a tribunal to look into the allegations against him.
Members of the tribunal are retired judge Festus Azangalala, Mr Ambrose Weda, a former member of National Environment Tribunal, Mr Andrew Mwamuye, Ms Lucy Kambuni, Ms Sylvia Muchiri and Ms Amina Abdalla.
The tribunal also includes Mr Paul Nyamodi and Ms Stella Munyi as lead assisting counsel and assisting counsel, respectively.
Mr Peter Kariuki and Mr Josiah Musili are the joint secretaries.
Though the tribunal has no specific timeline within which to conclude its work, the gazette notice announcing its creation had asked its members to “prepare and submit a report and its recommendations thereon to me (President Kenyatta) expeditiously”.
The tribunal, sworn in by Chief Justice David Maraga on April 8, started its work immediately. Formal hearings started mid June.
The road in question is just an ordinary rural pathway and residents are happy that movement is now easier as it was recently graded to murram. “The Kakrao-Wasio road is set to be tarmacked,” said an elderly woman.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) petitioned President Kenyatta to form a tribunal to investigate the conduct of the Supreme Court judge. This followed allegations of a close association between the judge and the Migori County government and its Governor Okoth Obado.
One complaint was that Justice Ojwang authored a judgment regarding the Sony sugar belt and in return was rewarded by Mr Obado, who allegedly refurbished the road to the judge’s private home on the outskirts of Migori town. Notably, street lights have been installed on that road.
The JSC had said the accusations against Justice Ojwang formed reasonable grounds to warrant the formation of the tribunal.
It singled out miscellaneous application No 49 of 2014 of the town council of Awendo versus Mr Nelson Oduor Onyango and eight other residents of Migori.
“The petition detailed instances which the petitioners believed constituted grounds of misconduct, impropriety, conflict of interest and breach of the judicial code of conduct on the part of the judge,” the JSC said in a statement.
The statement noted that Justice Ojwang sat with other Supreme Court judges in hearing the matter, “despite being conflicted and closely associated with Governor Obado”.
The JSC said: “The commission found that the petition disclosed sufficient ground to warrant a recommendation to the President to set up a tribunal for the removal of Justice Ojwang and accordingly adopted it.”
Members, led by the Chief Justice, regretted that the judge refused to appear before the committee appointed to investigate the matter.