As he jostled for a front-row photo opportunity perch when leaders from Western Kenya went to State House last month to pledge their support for President Uhuru Kenyatta in the fresh elections, Mr Johnson Kavuludi should perhaps have realised the irony of his presence in an event that weaved political sycophancy with kowtowing to the Executive.
But the chairman of the National Police Service Commission (NPSC), which is supposed to be one of the most powerful independent institutions created by the 2010 Constitution, sees nothing wrong with being part of a delegation largely made up of Luhya politicians.
“As chairperson of NPSC, I have a responsibility to the President and to Parliament. I visit and consult with both frequently in the course of my work. My presence at State House is therefore normal, irrespective of who else may be present,” he said, in response to Sunday Nation enquiries about the September 5 event.
Mr Kavuludi added: “I am sure you have not seen me campaign for anyone or political party. I serve the government of the day as provided for under the Constitution and relevant enabling legal instruments.”
With the police on the spotlight over killings and excessive use of force during recent demonstrations organised by the opposition to push for electoral reforms, two agencies created by the 2010 Constitution have not escaped scrutiny.
NPSC and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) started operations in 2012 and there was hope that they would be key in the security sector reforms. But from recent events, little seems to have changed even after the police “force” was turned into a “service”.
Ipoa appears overwhelmed as police conduct continues to slide to levels similar to the Kanu era. The police have been on the defensive over the shooting and injuring of people,including innocent children, when attempting to quell protests.
Such actions led to the killing of 37 people and the injuring of 126 nationwide, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say in a joint report that following the declaration of election results, police killed “at least 33 people, possibly as many as 50, and injured hundreds more in some parts of Nairobi”.
But police Spokesman George Kinoti said that between October 2 and October 16, the number of people killed by officers was four.
Ipoa is, however, still investigating the atrocities, with its chairman Macharia Njeru telling the Nation that there is “very substantial progress”.
“We’re in the process of concluding some of those files and take them to the ODPP (Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions). We must remember also that investigations take time. Because when you’re compiling a file, there are standards that have also been set by the ODPP. We can’t just collect a file and take it to ODPP without ensuring that all the gaps have been filled,” he said.
The civilian oversight body shot itself in the foot recently when it appeared to be reading from the same script as the Executive after the September 28 police brutality against University of Nairobi students.
The agency dismissed some videos of the assault as fake — just like acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had done earlier — before proper investigation.
“Sentiments and conclusions arrived to by Ipoa as regards the events of last week at UoN seem hurried and influenced by some individuals in positions of power,” says Mr Ascon Kamili, a former Accommodation director at the University of Nairobi.
But Mr Njeru says some of the videos were fake and that the authority is not being influenced by anyone.
“ We did not say it was all the video clips. We said that we have confirmed a significant number of video clips and photographs being circulated in the social media, purportedly related to the alleged brutality meted on students, are fake. Did we say that all of them are fake? No,” said Mr Njeru.
Mr Njeru was sworn into office in June 2012 as the first chairman. The Ipoa Act says some of the functions of the agency include investigating complaints related to disciplinary or criminal offences committed by police, monitoring policing operations, reviewing patterns of police misconduct, and conducting inspections of police premises.
While Mr Njeru holds that Ipoa has met the obligations placed on it, some feel the ills it was supposed to cure are still going on unabated, meaning police do not fear facing any consequences.
“The kind of arrogance and dismissal with which the police service treats the authority charged with oversighting them, is informed by the manner in which Ipoa has failed on several attempts to recommend the prosecution of any rogue officer,,” said Mr Kamili.
Mr Njeru thinks otherwise: “I do not believe that there has not been an impact. There is a significant number of police officers who are doing a good job, who put their lives on the line. There are these ones who become rogue and they are the people that we need to continue sustaining the pressure against.”
He noted that in the five years of Ipoa’s existence, it has received 8,042 complaints and completed 595 investigations and conducted 711 inspections of police premises.
“Today, the authority has 50 cases before court,” he said.
In a measure seen as a tactic by the Executive to tame Ipoa, the authority was among those that received reduced budgetary allocations in the 2017/18 financial year. Its budget for policing oversight services was cut by Sh54.1 million, translating to 7.1 per cent. But Mr Njeru does not see it as a measure to emasculate the commission.
“There are no significant budget cuts against Ipoa. That cannot even be an issue of a threat as the budget cuts are across board. It’s all institutions that have suffered,” he said.
Ipoa has, however, frequently come under attack from the Interior ministry over its investigations. Mr Njeru has also previously accused senior police officers of failing to cooperate.
NPSC, on the other hand, was created following findings by various government taskforces among them the Alston, Akiwumi and Waki reports.
The commission was supposed to recruit persons of integrity to serve in the police service, exercise disciplinary control, observe due process among other tasks. However, the powers of the commission best known for vetting police officers have been watered down over time with some ceded to the Inspector General of Police either through legal changes or bullying by the Executive.
CHANGE OF LAW
NPSC is also not operating at optimum capacity. Mr Kavuludi’s deputy, Ms Esther Chui-Colombini, died in November 2013 and is yet to be replaced. Another commissioner, Major (rtd) Muiu Mutia, is said to have missed most meetings due to health reasons. Other commissioners are Ronald Musengi, lawyer Murshid Mohammed and former police officer Mary Awuor. The Inspector-General and his deputies are also full-fledged members after a change of law.
In its 2014-2018 strategic plan, NPSC says some of its achievements include recruiting the Inspector-General and two deputy inspector-generals, recruitment of 7,000 police officers in November 2012 and carrying out a public inquiry against police imposter Joshua Waiganjo. The appointment of the top brass is, however, now controlled by the President.
The document says one of its challenges is “lack of appreciation of the commission’s mandate by some stakeholders”.