Boxed into a corner in the countdown to the national elections slated for Saturday, Mr Wilson Sossion, boss of the biggest teachers’ union in the country, has opened several war fronts with his opponents and government institutions.
In what is seen as a desperate attempt to claw back the strides made by the top decision making organs of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) – the National Executive Council (NEC) and the National Steering Committee (NSC) – in preparation for the elections, Mr Sossion has fired a warning shot that the elections will not be held without him blowing the final whistle.
And stung by the apparent nod from the ministries of Health and Labour to the union to hold in-person voting at Nairobi’s Ruaraka Sports Grounds, the embattled secretary general wrote a strongly worded letter to the acting labour commissioner, Ms Hellen Apiyo, saying he had revoked the department’s appointment to supervise the elections.
Mr Sossion has picked a fight with Knut’s acting national chairman, Mr Collins Oyuu, who is set to face off with him for the secretary general’s position in what has narrowed down to a two-horse race. The Kericho branch executive secretary Stanley Mutai has settled for the position of first national vice chairman.
Mr Sossion is accusing Mr Oyuu of leading members of the National Steering Committee to a meeting on Monday and Tuesday with Labour ministry officials to plan for the elections without his knowledge.
The secretary general claimed the union was considering appointing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to preside over the polls.
Mr Sossion is accusing the Labour ministry of “dishonesty, and outright biasness in planning and supervision of the election”, and that according to the union’s constitution, elections will be supervised by an accredited government officer and “not necessarily the commissioner of Labour or the Ministry of Labour”.
However, Mr Sossion is increasingly becoming isolated as all union top guns and a majority of branch officials and delegates prepare for the elections expected to usher in new leadership.
It comes as the Ministry of Labour on Wednesday maintained that the elections will proceed as planned and the Commissioner of Labour will oversee them, notwithstanding the objections from Mr Sossion.
“As far as the ministry is concerned, the election will proceed as planned on Saturday as there is no resolution from a Special NEC meeting advising us otherwise,” said a senior ministry official involved in the process.
Should the union fail to hold the elections by June 30, without getting a written extension for the same from the Ministry of Labour under special circumstances, then all national officials will lose their positions.
“We are keen on restoring relations with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and securing a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will benefit teachers who are Knut members,” said Mr Oyuu.
He said the frosty relationship between the union and TSC had been occasioned by blind fights orchestrated by the secretary general without backing from the decision-making organs of Knut.
“Our focus now is the election on Saturday, which will usher in fresh leadership at the top, with branches having picked their leaders,” Mr Oyuu said.
Confusion reigned on Tuesday when Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache gave the green light to the union to hold the election, in what effectively cancelled an early advisory that in-person voting would violate the Covid-19 protocols, with 1,878 delegates from 110 branches expected to meet.
The change of position by the Ministry of Health followed a letter written by Knut Deputy Secretary General Hezbon Otieno highlighting measures put in place by the union to comply with Covid-19 protocols.
“The ministry is in receipt of additional information on the internal measures that the union has put in place to ensure adherence to Covid-19 guidelines and to reduce the risk of disease transmission,” stated Ms Mochache in the follow-p letter dated June 21.
She stated, “In view of the above, the ministry has no objection to the union proceeding with the in-person delegates’ conference as scheduled on June 25 and 26.”
Adequate containment measures
In the letter dated June 21, Mr Otieno informed the ministry that the union had put in place adequate containment measures, adopting a walk in-walk out voting process. Delegates will carry their own pens and each branch will be allocated its own voting time.
Mr Otieno stated that voting will be conducted in an open space with minimum time spent on the process, with no hawking or vending allowed in the venue. Gatherings and speeches have also been banned on nomination and voting day.
During the nominations to be conducted at Ruaraka sports grounds this Friday, candidates will only be accompanied by their proposers and seconders, with campaigns and posters not allowed at the venue.
According to Mr Otieno, enough security officers will be deployed at the venue to enforce the Covid-19 rules, adequate sanitisers and hand washing points will be provided, all delegates must have face masks, there will be no hugging or shaking of hands, and social distancing will be enforced.
Delegates from Nakuru, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nyeri, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu, Machakos, Makueni, Kajiado and Narok will travel to Nairobi on the same day elections will be conducted.