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Meet Samuel Wamathai, the man who took over as Nyeri’s governor

Governor Samuel Wamathai (LEFT) signs his inauguration certificate as Justice Jairus Ngaa looks on outside the governor’s office in Nyeri yesterday. [PHOTOS: MOSE SAMMY/STANDARD]

The new governor of Nyeri is a self-effacing individual who rarely courts controversy.

Samuel Wamathai, 61, was yesterday sworn in as the second governor of Nyeri county following the death of Nderitu Gachagua.

Earlier, the father of three, dressed in a blue suit, had arrived at the county headquarters accompanied by his wife, Leah Njoki Githaiga.

The holder of a bachelors degree in air and space law from McGill University in Canada, Wamathai is locally referred to as “ambassador” because of his long stint as the Kenyan representative at the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Canada.

His diplomatic skills came in handy when navigating the rough political waters of Nyeri county that saw his predecessor narrowly escape impeachment.

However, the new governor has not been above controversy. Last year, a human rights group petitioned the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate his academic qualifications.

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Still, employees at the county government as well as his close friends describe him as an outgoing and modest man who is always ready to listen.

Known for his quiet demeanour, many residents will be watching Wamathai to see whether the trappings of power will change him.

GACHAGUA’S CABINET

But from an exclusive interview he granted The Standard shortly after being sworn in, the new man at the helm of Nyeri is not likely to be different from the one who occupied the deputy governor’s post during Gachagua’s reign.

First, Wamathai promised that, barring any eventualities, he intends to retain the former governor’s Cabinet “to continue with the good work it has done.’’

He was non-committal about whether he would vie for the position of governor in the August 8 election, saying his immediate priority was to fulfil the pledges made to the electorate.

“My main priority is to finish all the development projects that we had started. Our mandate has yet to end and we will be judged by what we did as a government,” he said.

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His decision not to sack Gachagua’s Cabinet and bring in new faces will be a relief for anxious County Executive Committee (CEC) members who were apprehensive about their positions.

“The law provides that a governor should form a new Cabinet but taking into consideration that this would take very long, I intend to maintain the same Cabinet.

“After all, the Cabinet did an exemplary job during Gachagua’s absence and I want to see continuity in terms of service delivery,” he added.

However, he said he had sought an opinion from the Attorney-General whether the CECs would be subjected to fresh vetting.

“The AG’s office has communicated verbally that there is no need for vetting but I’m waiting for this to be put in writing then the Cabinet will be up and running,” he said.

On who will replace him as deputy governor, Wamathai he said he was also waiting for an opinion from the AG on whether he is allowed to pick his assistant from among the CECs.

“Since the Constitution is silent about the vacancy of the deputy governor’s office, we need to get a legal opinion so that we don’t get it wrong,” said the new governor.

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GOOD MENTOR

The soft-spoken Wamathai spoke fondly of Nderitu Gachagua, who died in London, describing him as a good mentor and a public servant.

“He was a great leader who took into account divergent views. I learnt a lot from him and that is why I want his legacy to continue,” said Wamathai.

He said Gachagua’s government had sponsored 16,000 students and provided medical cover for more than 6,000 elderly people.

Wamathai is also hopeful that the relationship between the MCA’s and the executive will improve

“I hope the MCAs will show goodwill so that we can deliver our respective mandate. There is no need for antagonism yet our roles are clearly stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.

In his inauguration speech, the new governor pledged zero tolerance for corruption and promised to complete the  projects initiated by his predecessor.

“I will demand honesty, integrity, accountability, and transparency from everyone as I discharge my new duties as the county administrator,” he said.

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Chairman of Council of Governors Peter Munya, Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe, Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji, County Speaker Mwangi Mugo, and a host of members of the County Assembly attended the swearing in ceremony, which was presided over by Justice Jarius Ngaah.

Gachagua’s younger brother, Rigathi, criticised MCAs who had tried to impeach the former governor.

“All the good things you are saying about him would have been useful and sensible had they been uttered when my brother was alive. It is meaningless since he is dead,” he said.

The family promised to support the new governor, saying he has been a pillar of strength for them.

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