The unity of lawyers under the Law Society of Kenya hangs in the balance after this year’s annual general meeting ended in chaos, with tempers flaring and some members nearly coming to blows.
LSK chairman Eric Mutua was shouted down during the AGM after he denied some of the members a chance to discuss the International Arbitration and Convention Centre row.
A group of lawyers led by Edwin Sifuna demanded that the LSK Council address the controversial project before any other matter, and when Mr Mutua objected, mayhem erupted.
And the Office of the President was drawn into the fray with claims by Mr Mutua that a senior official had given a group of lawyers Sh20 million to cause confusion.
Presidential speech writer Eric Ng’eno, himself a lawyer, was present at the meeting.
“The Council has prior to the AGM exercised considerable restraint in light of the devious propaganda campaign orchestrated by an amorphous entity called Okoa LSK that was extremely well-funded and stage-managed the embarrassing disruption of the AGM,” said Mr Mutua.
“We have information that a meeting was held in Harambee House in the office of a senior government official. Some Sh20 million was released to a lawyer who is closely related to a cabinet secretary. This money was used to run adverts in the media, uploading a 10-minute video on YouTube, transporting and accommodating advocates to disrupt the AGM,” added the LSK boss.
Contacted, Mr Ng’eno fired back: “First of all there were no officials of the OP. What earthly reason should OP have in LSK? There were advocates on an equal footing with Mutua. The AGM is a membership organ. There is popular disenchantment with his leadership and integrity. Members of LSK are tired. LSK has been collecting a lot of money and he is not accounting for it.”
At the meeting, the LSK boss initially declined to let Sifuna speak, but following pressure from the audience, he yielded the podium to the Okoa-LSK leader.
Mr Sifuna said no other matter should be discussed until the issue of the International Arbitration and Convention Centre was addressed.
“I would also like to propose that an audit firm be contracted to carry out a forensic audit on the financing of the project so far. We suspect foul play, and the council is trying to downplay it,” he said.
He proposed that LSK secretary Apollo Mboya be suspended while the audit was going on so that he does not interfere with the process.
At this point, Mr Mutua interrupted Sifuna, sparking another uproar in the room with members booing and asking him to let the people speak.
The crowd could not be dissuaded. Even after senior lawyer Dr John Khaminwa implored the members to be respectful, the uproar only got louder.
Eventually, Mr Mutua declared the AGM officially over and the council members quickly left the room through a side exit.
Upon the council’s exit, the society members quickly formed an interim council chaired by lawyer Assa Nyakundi and went on to vote on the issues raised by Mr Sifuna.
Lawyer Jacqueline Manani presented a motion that the construction of the International Arbitration and Convention Centre be abandoned and that an office building for the society be bought instead.
“Our own research has revealed that it is way cheaper to buy a building compared to the Sh1.2 billion that is required to build one. The insistence by the council to build casts suspicions on where this money is really going,” she said.
LIGHTS SWITCHED OFF
The proposed Arbitration Centre has been at the centre of a tussle between the LSK Council and some of the members opposed to the project citing lack of transparency, alleged questionable costing and corrupt management.
The members voted for the suspension of the society Secretary, abandonment of the Arbitration Centre project and the audit of the project’s financing.
Only Charles Kanjama opposed the process — questioning the constitutionality of the motions passed — but he was shouted down.
When he continued speaking, his microphone and the lights in the conference hall were switched off. The lawyers voted for the three motions in the dark hall.
Later in the day, Mr Mutua sent a statement to newsrooms declaring any proceedings after the council’s departure invalid and that the AGM had been adjourned until a date yet to be determined.
“The Council notes with deep concern that despite the adjournment of the meeting by the president of the Law Society of Kenya, one Mr Assa Nyakundi purported to chair a meeting of the amorphous entity known as Okoa LSK,” said Mr Mutua.
He added that Okoa LSK was “extremely well-funded and stage-managed the embarrassing disruption of the AGM”.
Mr Mutua has previously and severally claimed that the construction of the centre is being run in a transparent manner and those opposing the project are moles planted by the Jubilee administration to paint a negative picture of LSK.
Saturday’s incident comes barely five days after the Mutua-led council took the Jubilee government to task over allegations of corruption in the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
According to a lawyer at the meeting, this is the first time the council has ever walked out on an AGM in the many years the society has been in existence.