By Francis Ngige
Public servants are leading Jubilee’s aggressive drive to register voters in its Mt Kenya stronghold. The officials have devised controversial ways of registering unwilling voters using state machinery.
In a closely guarded scheme carried out by top government officials, chiefs and their assistants have been given the trench work of leading voter registration within their areas.
The junior administrators have been issued with raw data, possibly from mobile phone companies and Registrar of Persons, capturing details of subscribers that include ID numbers and phone numbers to contact them directly. The chiefs have been given monetary support to make residents register.
Nyeri has lagged behind in the ongoing registration. Figures released by IEBC this week show that Nyeri County had registered a paltry 32,223, about 19 per cent of the targeted number.
Multiple interviews with chiefs and their assistants revealed deep participation of senior government officials who have been holding strategy meetings with them. They confided in The Standard on Saturday how they have been tasked to shepherd residents within their localities to registration centre.
In what could trigger questions about confidentiality of individual information shared with the mobile phone companies and government records at the Registrar of Persons, the administrators have been supplied with raw data for easy identification of their target.
First of all, the chief is given records from the Registrar of Persons showing the location, sub location and village of all residents. It is a tightly managed operation that has seen sieving of records to get accurate data of the targeted group. It appears that all ID numbers from perceived Jubilee strongholds have been run through the IEBC voters register to find out their registration status.
The chiefs have been issued with sheets of papers containing mobile numbers of all residents within their locations and sub locations who are not registered. They have also been facilitated by being issued with airtime of Sh3,000 daily to call all the numbers in their data and are expected to file returns to the Deputy County Commissioners on Thursdays.
Apart from airtime, the administrators get out-of-pocket allowance to pay boda boda fare to ferry potential voters to registration centres. To account for the money, the chief is supposed to file returns of how many people they have registered within a week. The sheets, some of which we have in our possession (we did not publish them to protect the identity of our sources), contain the name of the potential voter, mobile number, sub location, village and a column on remarks.
One list that we obtained had names of 305 residents of Gathehu village in Nyeri while another one from Murang’a had 417 residents of Makeu village. Other lists seen by our crew include Magutu, Nairutia, Kiambiriria all in Nyeri. Before the exercise started last week, the junior administrators were called to strategy meetings, some chaired by Cabinet Secretaries who briefed them on the urgency of the matter. One such meeting held at ACK hall in Nyeri Town last Saturday was addressed by ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru and Senator Mutahi Kagwe.
The data was supplied by an official from the Office of the President only identified as Ms Muriuki. Mucheru confirmed to The Standard on Saturday that he briefly attended the meeting but denied seeing any data being supplied to the administrators. “I was there for 10 minutes and I was introduced to the leaders. I did not see the lists you are talking about or anything close to data. It was just an informal meeting,” Mucheru said. He also denied his ministry was involved in generation of such data. “Where do you get such data? How do we know whether people are registered or not? Who are these people claiming the ministry is involved or it is just people out to tarnish others reputations?” Mucheru asked.
Nyeri County Commissioner Onigoi ole Sosio, who was at the meeting, said the data was given to the chiefs to assist in mobilising voters within their jurisdictions. “We got this data from the registrar of persons and the brief to the chiefs was to ascertain whether these people are registered. I don’t see anything wrong with that. We are not coercing anybody to register,” Sosio said. He added: “I don’t know whether the same is taking place in other counties but as you know, homes are run differently and this is how we have chosen to do it in Nyeri.” Asked about source of the money used to facilitate the chiefs, Sosio said he was not aware of “any money given to chiefs.”
The administrators were invited for the meeting through a text message from their immediate supervisors, who warned them against informing the media or the public. In a subsequent text message, the chiefs were told not to wear their uniforms while attending the meetings so as not to raise any eyebrows.
The chiefs we spoke to said they had not been informed about the agenda of the meeting, with text messages stating “there would be a senior government officers briefing.” “We were shocked that the key agenda of the meeting was voter registration. We were told that the President was very angry that his strongholds were not doing enough in the ongoing registration,” a chief said.
The chiefs said the leaders told them they should play a crucial role to ensure that the president is re-elected. “The message was that this election is a do or die affair and that the government is threatened by opposition unity. Without sufficient numbers, the Opposition will mount a formidable challenge,” said another chief.
The move has irked some residents who have been contacted, with many accusing the government of trying to arm-twist them. An angry Job Kirira said a Mr Chris Mwema, who identified himself as Githima chief, called him. The chief wanted to know why he had not registered and even offered to pay for his fare to the nearest registration centre. “I was surprised how he got my number and also questioned him if it was his business whether I was registered. I used my passport not the ID to register and that is why they can’t find my data with IEBC,” said an angry Kirira.
Emily Wanjiru got an angry call from Majengo Location chief, who wanted to know why she had not registered. Since the exercise began in the middle of last month, leaders have been on the ground pushing for numbers, with growing fears of apathy in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard. The President has personally visited all the counties in the region but his tour has done little to calm the nerves of local leaders.
Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries have retreated to their home counties to mobilise voters. Roads Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and PS Irungu Nyakera have been seen in Murang’a. Jacob Kaimenyi is the leading light in Meru while Sicily Kariuki has been tasked with ensuring numbers are secured in Embu. Devolution’s Mwangi Kiunjuri has been publicly pushing voters to register in large numbers in Nyeri and Laikipia. Asked whether he was not abdicating main duties at his ministry to engage in whipping voter registration, Prof Kaimenyi said it was a key responsibility for any government functionary to ensure people vote in the elections.?
“It is really a concerted effort by all and the CS is not the only employee in a ministry that it would come to a standstill,” he said on whether this extra duty would affect service delivery in the ministry.? In any case, he added, CS are not in office every day. He said they had also gotten a chance to address local matters affecting specific areas they are visiting.