Judicial Services Commissioner Ahmednasir Abdullahi – comfortable or afflicted?
The Kenya Forum team collectively scratched their heads, searched the Internet and then found the source of a quotation often cited over the years, originally about the role of the press but since applied to those who challenge authority. The phrase was first coined it seems by one Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936), an ‘author and humourist’ from Chicago, USA, and it runs, the role of the press is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
What the Forum is trying to work out is whether Judicial Services Commissioner Ahmednasir Abdullahi should be comforted or afflicted.
As a Judicial Services Commissioner, Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi served on the Commission that in May of this year selected the new Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Nation, Editor of The Nairobi Law Monthly, and according to the Presidential Press Service, ‘a very influential member of Kenya society’.
That Ahmednasir Abdullahi sees himself as one who “afflicts the comfortable”, the corrupt and those that act with “impunity” there is no doubt, and he does so passionately, imbued with righteous indignation and moral superiority.
THE APPOINTMENT OF DR MUTUNGA AS CHIEF JUSTICE
Writing in The Nairobi Law Monthly in June of this year on the subject of the appointment of Dr Willy Mutunga as the new Chief Justice, he declared that his ‘nomination signifies for the first time a bold and successful storming of the fortress of judicial impunity’. Stirring stuff but not over-the-top would you say? Mr Abdullahi was only just warming to his theme, however.
He continued in the next paragraph that Dr Mutunga, supported by the goodwill of all Kenyans, ‘should be able to navigate the trenches lit with burning petrol by the old order, the landmines planted by the anti-reform forces, swim across the rivers infested with power hungry crocodiles and re-take on behalf of the Kenya people a large swathe of territory currently occupied and jealously guided by the corrupt kleptocracy of yesteryear and their shameless apologists’.
You see? Powerful stuff but just a bit too much indignation? A mite too much ‘holier than thou’?
Remarkably the article was entitled, ‘Whatever the grievances, let’s not turn vetting into an inquisition’, but during the Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) questioning of potential Chief Justices, Ahmednasir Abdullahi established himself as the Grand Inquisitor, roasting the applicants (or at least some of them) with searching questions and withering comments.
Perhaps that was fair enough but it didn’t go unnoticed, or pass without criticism.
TOO MUCH LIKE TUSKER PROJECT FAME?
Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo wrote in The Sunday Nation that Ahmednasir Abdullahi ‘should stop humiliating judges’ and complained about his ‘hostile interrogations, intimidations and harassment’.
Nicholas Gumbo wrote about the same subject, on the same day, in The Standard on Sunday (‘Intimidations at interviews for CJ leave a sour taste’), this time also raising the interesting point that perhaps ‘practising advocates [e.g. Ahmednasir Abdullahi] who sit on the JSC must be barred from appearing in any court in Kenya, until their term in the JSC expires, or they should give up their JSC seats’. Mr Gumbo concluded that ‘lawyer Ahmednasir’ should learn ‘to know when to when to sit on your ego’.
This was by no means the only criticism leveled at Ahmednasir Abdullahi regarding his conduct on the JSC.
George Outa, a ‘communications advisor in the Prime Minister’s office’, wrote in The Star that it was some form of ‘modern-day McCarthyism’… the practice of lynching persons and ideas that are contrarian without proper regard to evidential considerations’.
For Sarah Elderkin, a freelance journalist writing in The Star (‘Life in Kenya has become too crude’), ‘watching Ahmednasir Abdullahi [on the JSC], I thought I might have strayed into Tusker Project Fame by mistake, and he was the ‘bad guy’ judge. While this might be fine entertainment in a musical talent contest, it did not look very professional in a senior judicial setting. It was a rather up-market kind of mob justice.’
TRANSPARENCY AND THE JSC
The Kenya Forum was also concerned at the time that perhaps there was a lack of transparency about the manner in which the JSC came to its conclusions. We touched on this in a posting entitled, ‘The sword of justice is mightier than the poisoned pen’ in April, which in turn criticized an article in The Nation by George Kegoro.
Mr Kegoro had written a series of articles for The Nation assessing the various applicants for the post of Chief Justice, at the end of which there was no doubt who was in favour for the post and who not. Again, fair enough by way of comment in the press but George Kegoro doesn’t just write the occasional article for The Nation, he is also named at the top of the list as a contributor to The Nairobi Law Monthly, edited by…Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi.
OUT ON A LIMB?
Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi has even managed to provoke the ‘Presidential Press Service’ to respond with an article in The Nation (something that the Kenya Forum cannot remember happening before) after he had referred President Kibaki subjecting ‘Kenya to nine years of an African version of Voodoo economics’.
So Ahmednasir Abdullahi has upset people (which may explain why the Nairobi Law Monthly offices were broken into in September and computers stolen). That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it might be very good for Kenyan democracy and justice depending on who is being ‘afflicted’ and for what, but it does leave the afflicter out on a limb.
One former practicing lawyer in Nairobi told the Kenya Forum, “He has it coming to him”. It was a sentiment that seems to sum up, however unfairly, many people’s attitude to Mr Abdullahi.
MR AHMEDNASIR ABDULLAHI IN THE DOCK
Last Tuesday’s newspapers all carried photographs of none other than Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi standing in the dock of the Milimani Law Courts. He was giving evidence in the case of a Mr Abdi Hosh Ashkir, who has been ‘charged with obtaining $50,000 (Sh5 million) by false pretences’ (Daily Nation, “Lawyer quizzed over ‘unusual’ land deals”).
Under cross-examination Ahmednasir Abdullahi admitted ‘that he signed a sale agreement for a piece of land in Somalia which did not bear the seller’s passport number or physical address’.
When asked ‘why he did the transactions without verifying the existence of the assets, Mr Abdullahi said Somalis trust each other and this kind of transaction was not unusual’ (Daily Nation).
“Our law firm has done many transactions involving those of land in Somalia and more particularly in Mogadishu”, The Star reported Mr Abdullahi saying.
Now the Kenya Forum is not suggesting that in the case of the Somali land deals Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi has done anything wrong. We do suggest, however, that if a judge in front of the JSC, or anyone accused of ‘acting with impunity’, had used the, “we trust each other” defense, Abdullahi would have laughed them out of court.
The Standard did not cover Mr Ahmednasir Abdullahi court appearance at any length. It just published a photograph of him in the dock with a short caption, under the headline, ‘Nothing… but the truth’.
COMING UP LATER TODAY (5pm Nairobi time), a short posting: The Nairobi Law Monthly, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, Dr Jason Kaviti, the murder of Dr Robert Ouko and Gakiha Weru of the Sunday Nation.