Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok. (Photo: Jonah Onyango/Standard)
The discovery of huge oil deposits and underground water resources in Turkana County has naturally generated intense political interest in the mainly arid region.
Colonial and post-colonial governments have marginalised Turkana, condemning it to the vagaries of weather, disease, poverty, hunger and malnutrition, insecurity and high levels of illiteracy.
Turkana politics, is however changing rapidly in the wake of the newly-discovered minerals, with the political fizz coming from the battle that is pitting the National Super Alliance (NASA) against the ruling Jubilee Party. After all, politics is all about the control and utilisation of national resources.
Governor Josphat Nanok is defending his seat on a NASA ticket while Senator John Munyes is out to oust him on a Jubilee ticket. Mr Munyes defected from Moses Wetangula’s Ford-Kenya party where he was the national chairman. He also served in the Kibaki regime as Labour minister.
Mr Nanok has decided to play both national and grassroots politics after he was elected chairman of the Council of Governors, a powerful national lobby.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, together with six Jubilee legislators – James Lomenen (Turkana South), Protus Akuja (Loima), Joyce Emanikor (woman rep), Christopher Nakuleu (Turkana North), Nixon Ng’ikor (Turkana East) and Daniel Epuyo (Turkana West) – have plotted a political onslaught against Nanok. Jubilee forces have accused Nanok of failing to utilise Sh40 billion allocated to the county over the past four years to change residents’ lives.
Nanok, who is the right hand man of NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga, has an ally in Turkana Central MP John Lodepe who recently ditched Mr Ruto’s defunct United Republican Party for Raila’s ODM.
Resource-rich Turkana is also well-endowed in solar and wind energy potential that could turn the region into an economic power house.
Barring the interplay of other dynamics and with six MPs defending their seats on Jubilee tickets after they defected, Nanok has a big fight on his hands, especially with the Deputy President frequenting the county.
The region has 132,000 registered voters against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s expectation of registering 150,000.
“This region received about Sh50 billion in four years from the National Treasury, an amount that has not been seen here since God created the world. But there is no indication how this money was used,” Ruto said during a recent tour of the region.
Nanok has dismissed the DP’s claims as false.
“Devolution has made significant strides in the region. The funds allocated to the county have transformed lives. We have set up various infrastructure projects that have improved livelihoods and those with eyes can see,” he said.
He listed some of his achievements as the construction of 250 Early Childhood Development centres, employment of 300 teachers, sinking of 150 boreholes and rehabilitation of others, new irrigation schemes, equipping of Lodwar Referral Hospital and upgrading dispensaries across the region.
But his critics say the money was not properly used as nothing can be seen on the ground.
Although the supremacy battle continues to split the region into two, the community is mostly concerned about how it will benefit from the oil.
“We will not elect leaders who will exploit us. We are also endowed with minerals such us gold and gypsum which, if tapped, will improve the region’s economy,” said Ms Natabo, a resident.
The sharing of oil proceeds between the national government and the community has caused frosty relations between Nanok and the President. Memories of the two clashing publicly at a baraza in Lodwar are still fresh in the minds of locals. The President insisted they would get five per cent, not 10 per cent, of the oil revenues.
The Amendment of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill sparked provoked Nanok, who claimed the President had some hidden interests in Turkana oil besides development.
The President furiously hit back, accusing Nanok of peddling lies, and challenged him to show how the county had spent Sh40 billion disbursed by the Treasury to the county over the last four years.
Last year, Uhuru returned the Petroleum Bill to Parliament for reconsideration, explaining that the county had no capacity to absorb the proposed 10 per cent oil share considering other Kenyan taxpayers also needed to benefit from the oil.
Nanok however used the opportunity to hit at Jubilee MPs and Mr Munyes, accusing them of supporting the slashing of oil revenue for the community to five per cent.
But the MPs have defended their stand, saying they had backed the 10 per cent share for the community, 20 per cent for the county government and 70 per cent for the national government. They accused Nanok of using the bill to gain political mileage.
“My opponent is an opportunist who wants to use the debate on the oil revenue bill to gain political mileage. We all support the 10 per cent share despite our political differences. As Jubilee partners, we are in serious consultations with the President to consider the interests of Turkana residents,” said Munyes.
The bill has faced a serious setback after Parliament dissolved itself last Thursday. It was expected to be debated again before the election day.
The conflict around the oil revenue sharing formula has been used by NASA presidential hopeful Raila to wage war against the MPs for what he described as the short-changing of Turkana people.
Under the Early Oil Pilot Scheme, the Ministry of Energy and Tullow Oil and its partners plan to transport about 80,000 to 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Turkana to Lamu County for export. Currently, the five wells produce about 2,000 barrels of crude oil per day.