, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 19 – President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated Gershom Otachi Bw’omanwa, a Managing Partner at a Nairobi-based law firm, as Chairperson of the National Land Commission (NLC).
Kenyatta also nominated former ministers Kazungu Kambi and Esther Murugi and former Isiolo Woman Representative Tiya Galgo as members of the NLC, in a letter transmitted to National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi.
Reginald Okumu, Alister Murimi Mutugi, James Tuitoek, Getrude Nduku Nduku and Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji were also nominated as members of the Commission.
The National Assembly has 21 days to consider the nominees.
Otachi was among 11 candidates shortlisted for the position of NLC Chairperson which fell vacant in February after Mohammad Swazuri’s six-year term came to an end.
Others who had been shortlisted for the job included former Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) Commissioner General John Njiraini, former Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK) Chairperson Mwenda Makatimo and former lawmakers Tiyah Galgalo Ali (Isiolo Woman Representative) and Humphrey Njuguna (Gatanga).
The selection panel led by National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) Commissioner Priscilla Nyokabi also listed lawyers Hussein Farah, Gerishom Otachi, Naomi Wagereka, Patrick Adolwa, Paul Wambua, Robert Kilimo and Mwenda Kiambi.
Njiraini quit the race for NLC chairpersonship on August 6.
Otachi gained prominence in 2010 when he represented former Police Commissioner Major General (Rtd) Mohammed Hussein Ali at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) after then Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced charges against six Kenyans alleged to have masterminded the 2007/08 post-election skirmishes that claimed 1,500 lives.
The current Solicitor General Kennedy Ogetto who was also Managing Partner at Ogetto, Otachi and Company Advocates represented President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The Kenyans on trial alongside Kenyatta and Gen (Rtd) Ali were Deputy President William Ruto, former police boss Ali, former Tinderet MP Henry Kosgey, radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang, and former head of public service Francis Muthaura.
Other lawyers who represented Ali in the ICC case alongside Otachi were John Philpot (Canadian), Gregory Kehoe (American) and Evans Monari (Kenyan).
Otachi told Capital FM News in February 2012 the case against his client was dropped primarily because the prosecution’s case was fundamentally weak.
“We in the defense were very delighted because it is no mean task to achieve this kind of result, but having said that, I personally had a strong feeling that the chances of success were very high. I was fairly confident, we felt that with the effort we had put in, we had seriously challenged the prosecution case and indeed we were fairly confident,” he said at the time.
Otachi, a soft-spoken individual who has maintained a low profile, will oversee reforms at the NLC, a commission that has faced turbulence since its inception with several of its top officials being arraigned in court on graft-related charges stemming from irregular land acquisitions.
In August 2018, for instance, NLC Chairperson Swazuri was arraigned at a Magistrate Court in Nairobi’s Milimani Law Courts and charged with fraud over the payment of Sh221.3 million for the irregular acquisition of five parcels of land for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway.
Swazuri and then Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) Managing Director Atanas Maina were accused of improperly conferring benefits to three companies whose purported titles for the five pieces of land marked as railway reserve had been revoked.
The prosecution told Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi, KRC essentially paid to acquire its own land.
Dasahe Investment Limited, Keibukwo Investment Limited and Olomotit Investment Limited were awarded various sums of money between October 2016 and February 2017, according to Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.
In April this year, Swazuri was also arrested over the irregular compensation for a parcel of land in Mombasa to construct the Southern Bypass and the Kipevu Terminal link road in October 2013.
The NLC is said to have paid Sh109.8 million to private individuals and entities irregularly.
Recently, a three-judge bench of the High Court found the NLC erred when it advised the Ministry of Education to release Sh1.5 billion for the compulsory acquisition of a 13.8-acre parcel of land in Nairobi’s Ruaraka on which two public schools – Ruaraka High School and Drive Inn Primary School – stand.
Justices Bernard Eboso, Elijah Obaga and Kossy Bor on June 28 ruled the payment of the Sh1.5 billion to businessman Francis Mburu who had laid claim to the land was illegal.
“The compensation claim giving rise to the reference only emerged in 2016 as a historical injustice claim by the two interested parties. In our view the schools have been on the land for the past 30 years without any contestation,” Justice Obaga stated.
The judges also observed that two searches conducted in 1991 and 2018 were contradictory – pointing to the possibly of manipulation of land records
Established under Article 67 of the Constitution (2010), NLC’s core functions include managing public land on the behalf of both the national and county governments, drafting land policies, advising government on registration of land titles, and investigating land-related complaints.
The commission is also mandated “to assess tax on land and premiums on immovable property in any area designated by law; and monitor and have oversight responsibilities over land use planning throughout the country,” under Article 67 (2) (g) and (h) of the Constitution (2010).