The supremacy battle that has been raging at Turkana University College for over a year now reached its crescendo with the principal Thomas Akuja having been ordered to proceed on compulsory leave to pave way for investigations which have since commenced in earnest against him.
“During a special council meeting held on Wednesday January 29 2020, the Turkana University College Council resolved to send you on compulsory leave with immediate effect to pave way for the relevant government agencies to investigate allegations and/or possible actions of corruption and abuse of office, gross insubordination and conflict of interest,” the letter, a copy of which is in our possession states.
The letter, further accuses Akuja of alleged financial impropriety and/or misappropriations, and flouting of procurement procedures and regulations. It is dated January 29 2020, and signed by chairman of council, Mussolini Kithome, with copies to, among others, cabinet secretary George Magoha, principal secretary State Department for University Education and Research, Simon Nabukwesi, ministry of Education legal adviser Kirimba Machogu.
Others are Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology Chancellor Peter Muthoka and Mmust chairman of council Jeremy Bundi.
And in a swift rejoinder, Akuja, who was directed to hand over the institution management to the deputy principal in charge of academics Fredrick Kassilly acknowledged having received the letter from the council and confided to this writer that he was more than prepared to battle it out. He said as he prepares to hand over, he was consulting with his lawyer on how best to counter the allegations leveled against him.
For more than a year now, the college has been caught between a rock and a hard place following cold war that has been simmering between senior officers of the management and members of university council. A senior academic at the college who talked to the press but declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, was point blank in describing the Kithome-led council as a “rogue council”.
He told your favourite Weekly Citizen that it is a council that does not want to have anything to do with mentoring of an institution. “The council is full of insatiable lust for meetings, yet nothing significant is resolved at the end of the day,” he added.
The academician confided that the fight against Akuja was instigated by the council’s lust to conduct several meetings so as to pocket more allowances, explaining that the principal allegedly fell in trouble when he pleaded with them to reduce the sittings which the budget could not accommodate. He said the council had previously clashed with the founding acting principal Egara Kabaji just because he had told them that the 173 meetings scheduled during the period were too many as compared to available budgetary resources.
Observers opine that members of council under its chairman Kithome, may have panicked and arrived at the decision to bundle out the principal on realising that their contract will be coming to an end in the next two months, and therefore, accelerated their fight with the principal whom allegedly they viewed as a thorn in their flesh to be axed before their term ends in March, this year.
Sources divulge that the bad blood between the council whose members include Justus Wambutura, Nixon Mageka, Salome Mwendar, Sophy Kirorei, Mele Joseph, and Paul Mwangi and the principal started when the latter decided to cancel the contracts of the then acting deputy principal by Stephen Odebero, and administrative assistant, Beatrice Ondago.
Council had in a letter to Akuja dated March 22 2019, warned, among other things, of dire consequences against the principal including disciplinary action for not towing the line as its employer.
The latest communication dated January 22 2020, Kithome further warned the principal of disciplinary action if he will have not complied with a directive from Education ministry that the duo above be reinstated without much ado.
Even as council and Education ministry had been sucked into the matter to have Odebero reinstated, the latter is currently before Employment and Labour Relations Court, Eldoret, Case No 1247/2018, in a case coming up for hearing on February 19 this year. Odebero who was on secondment from Mmust in Kakamega, wants the principal’s letter that sent him packing be revoked to allow him continue working at TUC.
He is represented by Victor Ayieko who in his application filed under certificate of urgency, accuses Akuja of not having locus standi to remove Odebero from Tuc back to Mmust and that the action was discriminatory, an abuse of power and violation of the Employment Act Cap 226 Section 5 (1) viii.
And in an interview with some of the local people who included manambas, motorcycle riders and some of the students, they appeared to have been shocked by the actions taken by both Council and Education ministry, saying they were in total agreement with the decision by the principal to send Odebero and Ondago packing.
The locals said they will not allow Odebero back at Tuc and that they are behind the decision taken by the principal, a scientist by profession, with more than 30 years in the academic world.
And asked for comment, Prof Akuja was conservative with his words. He said apart from liaising with his advocate, he is at the same time communicating with officials in Education ministry and hoped his prayers will be answered, adding that he is a mere victim of circumstances.
“In fact, a female council member is the cause of the problems we are having at TUC,” he told this writer, adding that although with very little understanding of how universities work, the council seemed to rely so much on her, probably because she is a schemer who enables them organise many meetings and pocket more allowances.
The principal said he had differed with the council after realising that most of members of council lacked principles.
“For instance, the chair does not seem to have a stand, cannot call his members to order leaving them to run amok as he does not guide them as to provisions of the law and government regulations,” he said.
He further accused members of council of acting as ‘executive’ or part of Tuc management team and in so doing; they had allegedly been interfering in the institution’s operations by dealing directly with members of staff instead of going through the principal.