How Governor Ongwae engineered jailing of innocent youth to forcefully take their father’s land

One of the three jailed orphans whose family lost 10 acres of land at Kineni Settlement scheme to governor James Ongwae 24 years ago has recounted how the Kisii County boss father influenced their incarceration to ensure the family did not fight for their land.

Ongwae, through his uncle – the late Onduko Makori, fraudulently hived off the land from Plot No. 50 of the scheme, now Block 1/37 following the 1998 resurveying.

The governor was then head of the directorate of personnel management, while his uncle Onduko was at the time a director of Kenya Cooperative Creameries. Ongwae was elected governor of Kisii County in 2013 and is currently serving his second and final term.

Ongwae’s father, then the executive officer at Keroka Chief Magistrate’s court, gave the three young men no chance to take plea or defend themselves ahead of their being sentenced.

The siblings spent a cumulative 13 months at the Kisii GK Prison for a crime they never committed before being released on presidential pardon after the intervention of their uncle who was then working with Kenya Prisons.

He shares the pain of contracting tuberculosis while in prison, which left him out of school for one more year as he underwent treatment.

The governor neither attended their parents funerals nor did he send condolences and has never got to them to say anything.

Here is the harrowing experience that traumatized the man, now a father of two, for many years; as narrated in a Q & A with Kurunzi:

Question: Tell us what you remember and how it all started

Answer: I can I forget something so traumatic and which has haunted me for all these years? Makori Onduko was a friend of our father’s but we never thought he would turn against us. He claimed our father sold him the land, the 10 acres and there was a case in court which was ruled in our favor. But using his daughter who was then working in the judiciary in Mombasa to force through an appeal.

The High Court in Kisii had ruled that my dad never sold the land but Justice Mbaluto who had just moved from Mombasa without any hearing or further investigations.

Question: So at what point did governor Ongwae come into the picture or what do you remember?

Answer: We came to learn about it when he came to our land, saying he had taken over after Onduko had ceded it to him. We resisted and said that was our father’s land and he had not sold it. That’s how he came to frame us for arrest because he always came there with police. So on this particular day he came with the intention of fencing out the land and when we attempted to ask he ordered for our arrest.

We were taken to Keroka where we spent the night and told we would not be taken to court because investigations were not done yet.

Question: Then what happened?

Answer: At around 11.00am we were taken to the magistrate’s private chamber where Ongwae’s father was. They read the charges to us and even before we could say anything, the judge said we were guilty and he had sentenced us to six years in prison. My brother tried to lift his hand but Ongwae’s father held him down and that was it. We were taken to Kisii Prison without any further word, we had been imprisoned for defending our father’s land.

We really cried and did not know what to do – our life was ruined.

Question: Did you serve the full term of six years in prison?

Answer: I think we stayed in for something like three months then we appealed and we got out pending the hearing of our appeal so it took like six .org nine months and then again we came before Chief Magistrate Mbaluto, who sent us in for three years so it was a reduced sentence but still very painful because this is a crime we had not committed. We were only defending our father’s land.

Question: This time you served your full three years, right?

Answer: No. Our mother or someone told one of our grandfathers who was working with prisons and he pleaded our case to his bosses. We were then released by president (Daniel) Moi under the presidential pardon after something like nine months. It was unbelievable but still the damage had been done to us, our education was really affected and the trauma still lives with me.

Because of my young age and the conditions of being in prison, I contracted TB which kept me out of school for a further whole year as I underwent treatment.

(Governor) Ongwae had taken our father’s land and we were now forever intimidated to question anything and by this time our mother was ailing as a result of all that had happened. She left us soon after and it devastates us to date because we know what led to her death.

Question: But you still have never given him the title deed so technically he has no land here…

Answer: You are wrong because he has a title which we know how he got it from our father’s title because no due process was followed. Our suspicion initially was that during the resurveying of the scheme in 1998, he intimidated the elders using the provincial administration to give fraudulently sun-divide the land and got the title. This was confirmed by some of them many years later they confessed to us that indeed they were intimidated to give him our land.

That’s part of what we want him to explain to the DCI and be charged for forgery or something.

Question: So what exactly do you want now? It has been 24 years

Answer: Nothing but justice for our parents because it was their property he has taken and we want (governor) Ongwae to pay for the atrocities against us. If he were a good man he’d have at least come and talked to us because he knows what he did but now that he has assumed like nothing happened we shall pursue this matter elsewhere.


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