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Taxpayers foot Sh888m bill for torture by State

AG Kihara Kariuki
AG Kihara Kariuki. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Treasury last year released Sh888 million to compensate survivors of State torture and cruelty, underlining the heavy burden left on the citizens by overzealous Nyayo-era government officials and security agencies who committed the human rights violations.

Sources at the Treasury and the Attorney-General’s office told the Business Daily that the funds were released between June and December 2019 to cover for 52 cases of survivors who had successfully sued for compensation over inhumane treatment decades back.

Torture victims are required to present all documentation, including judgments and decrees, as well certificates from the concerned ministry before the payments can be released. Upon obtaining a judgment, a survivor serves the Attorney-General with the decree, who in turn writes a notification to the offending ministry or State department as well the Treasury to budget for the payouts. The respective ministry or department then releases the funds for onward transmission to the survivor.

Unlike previous years, ministries and State departments have been depositing compensation funds at Sheria House for quick disbursement to those affected. The sources declined to reveal the identity of the beneficiaries of the Sh888 million, but a review of court cases showed that the list may include prominent personalities, including former Cabinet ministers and politicians.

In March last year, 23 survivors of torture during the Nyayo era, among them former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere, wrote to the Treasury over their delayed compensation. They were demanding more than Sh154 million, which they said they desperately needed to pay medical bills and other obligations. A number of them obtained judgments against the government in 2012 and had waited for years without receiving compensation.

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Other than Mr Wamwere, who was demanding a total of Sh23.6 million, Irene Wangari and six others sought payment of Sh26.6 million, Rogers Godfrey Wafula and others were demanding a total of Sh30 million, while Ruth Wangari Thungu was waiting to be paid Sh3 million.

While awarding some of the survivors, the judges ruled that they were persuaded that the complainants had proved to the required standards that they were physically tortured and subjected to unwarranted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Kuria Chege Wamere, an uncle of Mr Wamwere, who was awarded Sh4 million, was arrested at his home in Engashura, Nakuru, and questioned about his family relationship with his nephew. He was also asked about his alleged visit to Uganda, an ammunition store and his connection to Mwakenya, which he said he knew nothing about. He was detained for ten days at the Nyayo House torture chambers and later released without trial.

Nyayo torture chambers

More than 400 Kenyans have gone to court and successfully argued that they were tortured by State officials or officers during the Moi-era. Among them are lawyers, politicians, journalists, former university lecturers, former student leaders, police and military officers.

During the dark days, the police would arrest persons perceived to be dissidents and hold them in the infamous torture chambers at Nyayo House. Among those who suffered were persons calling for the return of multiparty politics or an end of then President Daniel arap Moi’s rule. They include perceived leaders or members of movements such as Mwakenya, February Eighteen Movement and Release Political Prisoners (which also included mothers calling for the release of their 53 sons). Others who faced the wrath of the government were editors, contributors and distributors of Pambana, a publication deemed seditious by the Kanu administration at the time.

Former Alego Usonga MP and Standard editor Otieno Mak’Onyango was awarded Sh20 million by Justice Kalpana Rawal after he was arrested and detained over alleged connection with the 1982 attempted coup.

Mr Mak’Onyango was arrested on August 17, 1982 by the police and other security officers from his workplace, and the following day, the police officers, without a search warrant, ransacked his residence in Buru Buru, Nairobi, and took away his books, personal letters, documents and passport. He was held incommunicado at the General Service Unit headquarters and while there, he was subjected to beatings, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and threatened with death. He was charged with treason when he was arraigned in court on September 23, 1982.

Mr Mak’Onyango later sued the State and Mr Moi but Justice Rawal absolved the retired president, saying it would be unjust and unwarranted to make a Head of State personally responsible for the failures or misdeeds of State officers without showing his direct participation or involvement.

“The law has given sufficient remedies to a claimant by imposing the liability on the Attorney-General, which takes care of such claims,” the judge ruled.

In October 2011, Justice Daniel Musinga awarded some 21 people more than Sh100 million, with the amounts ranging from Sh1.5 million to Sh6.5 million per person. The survivors included Dr Oduor Ong’wen, James Akumu, Wilson Ang’ong’a, Alogo Raila, Benjamin Andahi, Wafula Buke, Geoffery Kuria, Milton Chege; Gibson Maina and Wanderi Muthigani. Others were journalists Mugo Theuri and Njuguna Mutonya.

While awarding other group, Justice Isaac Lenaola, now a judge of the Supreme Court, said “damages and declarations may never heal the soul but can assuage the lingering pain of the body and spirit.”

Last year, the High Court awarded three former Kenyatta University lecturers a total of Sh46 million for the cruelty they were subjected to after the failed 1982 coup. The three, who were in their late 70s, included Edward Akong’o Oyugi, Kamonji Wachira and Joseph Otieno Malo.

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