BY DAVID MAKALI
So the police want to prosecute Deputy Chief Justice for gun offences? Wait a minute. Something stinks about this whole saga that we must address. The public has been regaled with a rigmarole of one-sided pity-me accounts of one Rebecca Kerubo at the hands of Deputy CJ Nancy Baraza.
The media has succeeded in whipping up public outrage for an indiscretion that would ordinarily pass without much attention if there were more important things to write about. But rather than spawn a debate on the phenomenon of security in public places and protocol, the reporting has remained narrow and focused on the incident, which in my view, is a small matter that has been sexed up.
While we await the results of the investigations committee set up by the Judicial Service Commission into the saga, there are pertinent issues that arise from the crusade to drive the new CJ out of office for misconduct. First, I have scoured all the laws of Kenya and nowhere did I find it stated that citizens of this country are supposed to be searched when getting into commercial buildings or while going about their private affairs.
Moreso, by private security guards. To that extent, any condemnation of the DCJ based on her refusal to be searched has no legal basis. Security is the function of the Police and other law enforcement agencies. If the police have surrendered the duty of ensuring our safety including in shopping malls and other public places to private security firms, they should say so.
Premises may take precautionary security measures as advised such as now when we are potential targets of terror attacks but that should not legitimize violation of our privacy. I can state here without pretence that I detest being searched by those security guards who require you to leave your particulars all over the place. More subtle security checks can be employed to make our society safe that are polite and respect our free movement.
That is homework for the police and intelligence services and they can ask for help if they need. It is preposterous to criminalise or hound an individual we have only recently appointed to public office after a gruesome recruitment process for every flimsy reason. The elusive facts of this case do not point at an irrational egotistic person on the rampage.
As far as we can tell from the information available, the DCJ was paying an urgent visit to her regular pharmacy. As she is accustomed to when accompanied by her aide, she passed the security desk on her way, advising the guard that she was not obliged to be searched because of who she is.
We have not been told by the media how the guard reacted but following Ms Baraza all the way to the pharmacy to press on cannot pass as a temperate and courteous security practice. Her conduct thereafter also shows someone who wants to exploit the situation. The incident must not be divorced from its context in our thirsty clamour to lynch someone.
Nancy was not sauntering into a bar. The urgency of her mission was such that she had to leave her security escort in the car looking for parking. I have had an experience or two with guards which makes me believe that failure to restrain oneself in the face of provocation is not necessarily a personal character flaw. Public office is a privilege but also privileged. Those who aspire to those offices expect certain modest courtesies to be extended to them in return. Public service is not servitude.
If Nancy must go, let her, but let the truth be told. This is a pretentious nation. The courtesy and etiquette standards being demanded of her are largely absent in our midst. Strangely, the management of Village Market has not taken responsibility for this saga.
A mall that serves the high and mighty in society and diplomatic community cannot deploy some dimwits who can’t tell VIPs of this country; or who would not differentiate between a high ranking judge and a pick pocket. The shopping mall and the security firm cannot hide under generalized checks or claim that everyone has to be searched. People are searched because they are suspected of something ill.
Taking that argument forward, could our deputy chief justice have been suspected of being an Al shabaab or a terrorist or a petty offender carrying explosives? A security search is not supposed to be a mechanical, routine ritual. It should mean something. And whether one submits to be checked or not is a rational conscious decision. A search on my body is discomforting and I don’t know anyone who enjoys being frisked.
But what do we see nowadays? Sham security checks by guards of doubtful training at the entrance of every building or into parking bays with metal detectors, giving us a false sense of security. They ask you to open the boot and bonnet and with their naked eyes, inspect the car for you don’t know what. Which explosives or dangerous weapons can be stored in the engine of the car and how are these people trained to spot them?
It is apparent that there are forces that are trying to capitalize on the incident to fight back reform in this country. Nancy’s infraction was definitely unbecoming of a person of her status, but she has already recognised and regretted her conduct. Yet there are pointers that vested interests are trying to exploit the incident to achieve ulterior motives, including inciting the parties to extract a pound of flesh or humiliate her.
While it is true that holders of public office must conduct themselves respectfully and in compliance with the high standards set by the constitution, we should not expect them to be angels. And if society expects such high standards of them, it should reciprocate by treating them well. It is nonsensical to argue as some have on twitter and the blogosphere that the DCJ should be treated like everyone else because she is not special.
That’s a lie. She is DCJ and you are not. We cannot entrust the security of our vips to some unknown, casual guards, whose recruitment, training, pedigree or qualifications are unknown. Are these not the same guards in whose hands millions of shillings and forex has been disappearing while in transit? The same guards we have to attach Police escort to perform their duties? The DCJ should be asked to apologise. Anything more than that would be humiliation and would set a dangerous precedent.
The writer is the director of the Media Institute: Email [email protected] This article was first published in the Star newspaper and online.