What you need to know about Commissioner Connie Maina, the quite but powerful woman at IEBC
Although she is a communication expert, the little-known Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) vice chairperson Consolata Nkatha Maina prefers to keep her voice low but her actions loud—very much like a submarine.
And it is not surprising that someone cannot pick her out from the team of IEBC commissioners, whose vocal and most visible members are chairman Wafula Chebukati and commissioner Roselyn Akombe.
Behind the media cameras and away from the public, Ms Maina’s clout is increasingly growing within the commission where she is considered to lead a faction that now out-votes the chairman’s side on crucial matters.
And while there have been murmurs that forces opposed to the chairman were revolving around her, few believed this until when the internal memo from Mr Chebukati to IEBC chief executive Ezra Chiloba surfaced.
The memo, which required Mr Chiloba to respond to a chain of concerns over the annulled August presidential poll, brought out the rift within the electoral body.
It is at this point that Kenyans first witnessed Ms Maina exert her powers by publicly contradicting her boss and at the same time sought to reassure the country that “all was well within the electoral body”.
In a controversial statement, a section of the commission led by the vice chair said: “We wish to clarify that the contents of the said memo (to Chiloba) were not discussed and sanctioned by the Commission Plenary. The commissioners came to know of the memo through the media like everyone else. We wish to reassure the country that the commission is in the process of preparing for a fresh presidential election.”
But quick reactions from commissioners Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya, who distanced themselves from the statement, exposed the other unknown side of Ms Maina.
She either bulldozed her colleagues into signing the document or deliberately lied about the authors of the said statement. Mr Kurgat later dramatically retracted his stand.
During the interview for a slot in the commission last year, Ms Maina specifically pointed towards effective management of communication as one of her strengths – that her drive to join the IEBC was motivated by the need “to build trust in an organisation that has often been vilified and liked in equal measure”.
Over the time, though, Ms Maina is increasingly being seen as ‘friendly’ to those who are ‘uncomfortable’ with Mr Chebukati, particularly the Jubilee Party.
Indeed, the vice chair is considered one of the major beneficiaries of the recent amendments to the electoral laws bulldozed by Jubilee legislators despite opposition from Nasa.
The new changes empower Mr Chebukati’s deputy to act in the capacity of national returning officer of the presidential elections and even declare a winner in the said contest, “in the absence” of the IEBC chairman.
Mr Chebukati is the only lawyer in the team — a key qualification for the role— something that has caused some discomfort.
Baringo North MP William Cheptumo (Jubilee), who conceived the alterations and co-chaired the Joint House Committee that fast tracked the passing of the changes into law, maintains the move is aimed at guarding against any eventualities that may impede a presidential election.
But Makueni senator, Mutula Kilonzo Jr (Nasa) plainly claims that Ms Maina is a pawn in Jubilee’s wider game aimed at ensuring a win for Mr Kenyatta.
CRAFTERS OF LAW
“The changes are an obvious case of the Jubilee Party’s plot to install a friendly commissioner, who can pronounce a winner of their choice,” claims the senator.
Noting that the operational phrase “in the absence of” in the said law is open to abuse, vocal lawyer Miguna Miguna adds that if he were Mr Chebukati he would be a very worried man.
The crafters of the new law, he claims, can do anything to justify the chairman’s absence.
Reached by the Nation to comment on the claims that make her a direct subject of the Jubilee-Nasa ping-pong, the IEBC deputy chair through the electoral body’s Communication Manager, Andrew Limo, promised to respond but had not done so by the time of going to press.
Besides proclaiming a winner, in the absence of the IEBC Chairman, the new law also accords Ms Maina and members of the commission a bigger say on the conduct of the presidential poll.
All decisions, including announcing a victor, must be arrived at by way of agreement or vote by all commissioners.
Presently, if the cracks witnessed after the annulled poll are anything to by, the wing allied to the deputy IEBC enjoys wider support among the commissioners than the chairman’s.
Born in 1960 in Meru County, Ms Maina attended primary and secondary schools in Meru and Nairobi counties and holds two diplomas from London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one in public relations and another in business studies.
She also has a Master of Science degree in Public Relations from University of Stirling in Scotland and diploma in public relations.
During the interviews conducted by the by Bernadette Musundi-led panel and later the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, issues were raised about her suitability on account that she lacks a basic Bachelors degree.