BBI Secretariat's Dr Sarah Kilemi, Junet Mohamed and Dennis Waweru on November 30
BBI Secretariat’s Dr Sarah Kilemi, Junet Mohamed and Dennis Waweru on November 30/COURTESY

Deputy President William Ruto has suffered a major blow in his bid to push for consensus on contentious BBI proposals after President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga agreed l to block any amendments.

The Star has established that Uhuru and Raila held last-minute phone conversations on Tuesday and directed the Building Bridges Initiative secretariat to submit the signatures to the IEBC on Thursday.

According to insiders privy to the discussions, the two leaders agreed that any changes could have opened the floodgates for more amendments, especially from Ruto’s wing.

There were also concerns that far-reaching changes to an already-published bill would raise fundamental legal questions, given that signatures had already been collected based on the draft bill.

The Star had on Wednesday exclusively reported a stand-off in the secretariat over ODM’s push to reopen the Bill for amendments.

At the heart of the Raila team demands was a review of the formula for distribution of the proposed 70 new constituencies and appointment of IEBC commissioners by political parties.

The fresh IEBC demands are said to have been strongly rebuffed by Uhuru’s wing, which insisted that the appointment of commissioners to the IEBC should be done by a selection panel.

Fearing a nasty break-up, Uhuru is said to have reached out to Raila on Tuesday and agreed that the document will not be radically amended, save for some slight changes to the annexures.

“The two leaders spoke on Tuesday and it was after their conversation that the secretariat was ordered to take the signatures to IEBC on Thursday,” a source aware of the discussions said.

The move to hand the signatures to the IEBC has thrown Ruto’s camp into disarray, especially after it was reported a team of 12 members from Kieleweke and Tangatanga factions had struck a deal on the DP’s demands.

The team with six members apiece had held at least three meetings and on Tuesday confirmed that a deal was in the offing by Thursday before signatures are submitted to the IEBC for verification.

Ruto had reduced his “irreducible minimum” demands to having a multi-choice referendum and restoration of the election of the 47 woman representatives in the National Assembly to bridge the gender gap.

After days of intense haggling and negotiations on whether or not to open up the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 for changes, no radical reviews have been done.

The Star understands that some of the amendments that had nearly triggered a falling out at the secretariat might be factored in the schedules and not in the main Bill that will be submitted to the IEBC.

This would include the formula for the distribution of the new constituencies and the matrix for gender top-up.

On Wednesday, the High Court declined to grant orders to temporarily stop the IEBC from receiving signatures backing the BBI Bill.

A petitioner sought to stop the signature verification, citing a lack of involvement of Kenyans in the diaspora and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s failure to register the lot as earlier ordered by the Supreme Court.

Justice Jairus Ngaah declined to grant James Gitau’s prayers for stay orders against the processing of the collected signatures. 

On Wednesday, the BBI Secretariat confirmed that a deal was reached not to interfere with the document and announced they will proceed to submit the signatures to IEBC on Thursday.

“We would like to confirm that the Bill that was unveiled on November 25, the day we launched signature collection, will be part of the documents that will be submitted to the IEBC.

“There shall be no changes on the bill by way of additions or subtractions and there is agreement on that,” secretariat co-chairman Dennis Waweru said.

The panel said it will submit 3.2 million signatures to the IEBC for verification, although the Constitution says only one million registered voters must endorse a popular initiative to amend the Constitution.

“The internal verification of the signatures has ended today (Wednesday) and we will submit the internally verified signatures in both manual and digital formats to IEBC tomorrow (Thursday),” Waweru said.

He spoke at a press conference at Daraja House. He was with secretariat co-chair Junet Mohamed and Sarah Mwiria.

They will on Thursday be joined by a host of politicians in a grand march procession from Daraja House – the secretariat offices – to the IEBC headquarters at Anniversary Towers in what will usher in the Constitution amendment process.

Junet hit out at DP Ruto over his recent demands that included postponing the referendum to 2022, holding it on the same day as the general elections and  presenting Kenyans a multiple-question plebiscite.

The Suna East MP said the BBI train had left the station and no room was left to accommodate Ruto’s “unrealistic” demands.

“This is a process that began a long time ago through the handshake, then later went into engaging the people of Kenya for two good years. After that, a report was generated and then a Bill that we are now taking to the IEBC,” Junet said.

He went on, “Those other people who are giving conditions now, it is too late in the day because this process must move forward. Kenyans cannot be held at ransom using this BBI. You cannot say we must continue talking… we have talked for two years.”

He said the DP had two years to give his views and should not be a stumbling block in the path of the law change process after squandering the opportunity.

Junet said Kenyans would be confused if a multiple-choice referendum is adopted, given the amendments are targeting 78 issues.

“The Constitution talked of the bill, not multiple questions. The Bill talks about 78 issues, there is no way you can put 78 questions to the Kenyan people. This is a constitutional amendment Bill. Let us not confuse Kenyans,” he added.