When Governor Mike Sonko took up the reins at City Hall in August 2017, he did so with braggadocio, promising to “fix” the capital city.
But, as months turned into years, it was clear that rather than fixing the capital city, he was, instead, putting it in a fix.
It started with a falling out with his deputy, Mr Polycarp Igathe, then it went on to wanton suspensions and sackings of employees, followed by runaway corruption and fights with everyone who dared oppose him.
Mr Sonko presented himself as City Hall’s alpha and omega, adopting unorthodox ways of leadership.
The result: Service delivery suffered, revenue collection fell, mounds of garbage continued to deface the city, and matatu madness and congestion in the central business district continued.
The capital city, which controls almost 24 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product, was literally staring at a full-blown crisis after years of running in autopilot mode.
Although the writing was on the wall for the besieged governor from the time he lost control of the county government early last year, he didn’t see it coming.
And, in what State House termed one-of-a-kind landmark pact, Governor Sonko handed over key functions of the county government to the national government pursuant to Article 187 of the Constitution.
The functions include county health services, transport services, county public works, utilities and ancillary services as well as county government planning and development.
“This will ensure Nairobi residents receive services efficiently. The move comes as a breakthrough in the running of county services that had ground to a halt,” said a statement from State House spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo.
Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa chaired the meeting in concurrence with the President. Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka and Attorney-General Paul Kihara witnessed the signing of the agreement.
However, there are potential headwinds ahead with the move splitting political players on what was to follow for city leadership.
Former chairman of the Committee of Experts that crafted the 2010 Constitution, Mr Nzamba Kitonga, said that while it was not barred by the Constitution, the transfer would raise serious concerns.
“There would be questions about the manner in which it was done, especially the lack of public participation or, at the very least, the consultation of the assembly,” Mr Kitonga said.
“If the Devolution minister is going to take over, for example, will he be directing county workers?” he asked.
Even then, the Senior Counsel said the measure could only be temporary.
“I appreciate the situation in Nairobi now with a governor barred from accessing his office in a county with no deputy. Something needed to be done, because impeachment seemed to have been heading to its own roadblocks,” Mr Kitonga said, in reference to the fact that there would have been no deputy to take over in that event.
Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jr said the county was “as good as dissolved.”
“The county government is a shell. The functions surrendered [not transferred] are nearly the entire functions of the county ... The assembly is left without any oversight,” he said.
And, in what might expose another lacuna in the Constitution, the supreme law talks about the transfer of resources to the national government, but that the power remains in the county.
“If a function or power is transferred from a government at one level to a government at the other level, constitutional responsibility for the performance of the function or exercise of the power shall remain with the government to which it is assigned by the Fourth Schedule,” the Constitution says.
It adds: “Arrangements shall be put in place to ensure that the resources necessary for the performance of the function or exercise of the power are transferred.”
For Nairobi, however, this was always in the works.
From the political talk in town, it was not a matter of ''if'' but ''when'' President Kenyatta’s government would strike at the heart of Kenya’s capital.
In 2016, the Senate Deputy Speaker at the time, Mr Kembi Gitura, proposed that Nairobi be placed under the national government manned by a Cabinet Secretary appointed by the President.
According to Mr Gitura, the city was too vital to be left to run as one of the 47 semi-autonomous counties.
The last straw
The leadership problems facing the county and an impeachment motion hanging over Governor Sonko, to be tabled on Tuesday next week, were the last straw that pushed the government to take over the functions.
The county government lacks a deputy governor more than two years after Mr Igathe resigned; and there is no substantive county secretary since Mr Peter Kariuki was sacked in 2018.
Mr Kariuki, a former head of the Presidential Delivery Unit, had been seconded by the national government.
But this move has not come out of the blue, for early last month, Nairobi County Assembly unanimously called for the revival of the Nairobi Regeneration Committee to take over the running of City Hall.
During the special sitting on January 9, the county legislators resolved to have the national government revamp the committee to take over the running of City Hall, while Governor Sonko is still barred from office by the court until determination of a corruption case facing him.
Different people and organisations have called for the head of City Hall to be appointed, and not elected, so that they can be fired if things do not go well.
Moreover, the Building Bridges Initiative task force report was also silent on the position of a governor and a senator for the capital city, sending signals that the county might be put under the control of the national government.
The report had only proposed that the county maintain the wards and constituencies, falling short of calling for the abolishment of the county government.
It recommended that Nairobi be accorded a Special Status as National Capital and seat of UN and other diplomatic representation.