When John Oroo Oyioka passed away this week, his name did not seem familiar in the minds of many Kenyans.
Unlike other showy and loud-mouth legislators, the Bonchari MP was a quiet person — always preferring to work hard behind the scenes while keeping away from confrontations and controversies most politicians are known for.
He, however, never shied from taking on issues of public good as witnessed last July when he rose against exploitative digital lenders that had shackled many households with expensive debt.
Taking advantage of a tanking economy, many predatory digital lenders forced expensive loans down the throats of Kenyans.
Some of the lenders charge up to 520 per cent in annualised interest and used blacklisting on credit reference bureaus(CRB) and public shaming to ensure repayment of loans.
Irked by the menace, Mr Oyiako, stood up against the rogue lenders and sponsored the Central Bank of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that is before Parliament for debate.
A key aim of the Bill, which seeks to empower the banking regulator to supervise digital lenders for the first time, is to curb the steep digital lending rates that have plunged many borrowers into a debt trap as well as predatory lending.
The digital lenders will operate under the same rules as commercial banks, including having to seek the Central Bank of Kenya’s nod for new products and pricings if the Bill becomes law.
Regulation of digital lenders, Oyioka felt, should facilitate fair access to credit where Kenyans repay a fair interest on loans taken as opposed to the predatory interest rates used by the uncontrolled lenders.
Sadly, he died before the National Assembly passed his Bill.
A second Bill seeking to rein in digital lenders has since been tabled by nominated MP Gideon Keter who wants individuals, institution or firms barred from lending money to Kenyans unless licensed by the CBK.
Apart from seeking to regulate charges by digital lenders, Mr Oyioka was also passionate about the environment.
For instance, he pushed for a review of logging regulations to include a mandatory clause that timber companies must allocate a significant portion of their income to the establishment of tree nurseries to provide Kenyans access to subsidised tree seedlings.
“I have in mind companies like Raiply in Eldoret and Pan Paper Mills in Webuye.
“These companies and others, which use wood from our forests should be encouraged or ordered to set aside a kitty for planting trees, where our people can get seedlings,” he said.
Mr Oyioka’s maiden entry into Parliament was, however, dramatic. Running on a Kanu ticket in the 2013 General Election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared his rival Zebedeo Opore the winner of the contest on a Ford People ticket.
Mr Oyioka, a retired teacher, disputed the results and filed a suit in the High Court.
The IEBC had declared Opore the winner by five votes after garnering 8,992 votes against Oyioka’s 8,987 votes. A recount ordered by the court revealed that that Oyioka had garnered 8,967 against Opore’s 8,963 — a razor-thin victory margin of four votes.
High Court Judge Ruth Sitati invalidated Opore’s election on the Ford People ticket and in a historic ruling declared Oyioka the validly elected area MP without a by-election.
The late lawmaker’s victory was, however, short-lived after his rival successfully argued his case in the Court of Appeal.
Mr Oyioka attempted to wrestle back the seat in a subsequent by-election but lost to Opore despite decamping from Kanu to ODM party. Opore won the June 24, 2014 by-election by garnering 10,947 votes followed by Oyioka who received 6,977 votes.
Mr Oyioka stayed out in the political cold until 2017 when he had sweet revenge on his arch-rival Opore — winning the seat by a landslide after garnering 11,963 votes on a People’s Democratic Party ticket.
Attempts to block his victory in the Supreme Court flopped — handing him passage into the august House.
The University of Nairobi alumni taught in various high schools including Kaaga, Cheptenye, Kericho Day rising through the ranks to become an education officer and retired as assistant director of education in 1999 after which he invested in setting up an ECDE teachers training school in Suneka.
The Bonchari MP died at the Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu on Monday after battling a long illness.