By WANJA THUKU
A furtive card game was in progress beneath the huddled luminous green and orange jackets at the side of the intersection of Mombasa Road and the dirt road to Syokimau when police pounced. The riders in colourful flap jackets were fleeing in different directions when Josephat Mwenda(pictured), riding as a passenger on another motorcycle arrived at the scene.
Moses Gitonga revs his motorcycle as recollects that his friend Mwenda was returning from a late lunch to the shed from where they worked as motorcycle taxi operators, known in local parlance as boda boda. He remembers seeing the police stop him and the rider who had given him a lift, and accuse of them of being among the gamblers who had fled.
As Mwenda desperately gesticulated in an effort to prove his innocence, Sergeant Leliman’s gun went off. “We do not know whether he shot him deliberately or the gun went off by mistake, but he was shot in the arm and the bullet grazed his side. He was just standing there trying to explain to the police that he was not one of the card players,” Gitonga says. From that April 10, 2015 afternoon, Mwenda’s life took a dramatic turn and hurtled downhill until his body was discovered at the bottom of the Ol Donyo Sabuk River on July 10, this year. The senior sergeant in the Administration Police then took Mwenda to hospital for the gunshot wound to be dressed before he took him to Mavoko Police Station and booked him for gambling and incarcerated him for a week. “He had a bandage on his right hand on his side where the bullet had grazed him. In that whole week he wore the blood stained clothes he had on when they threw him into the cell. We pleaded with the police to let us bring him a change of clothes, but they refused,” remembers Gitonga.
It would be the beginning of case 44E/77 at Mavoko Law Courts in which Mwenda and three others were charged on April 13 with being in possession of narcotics, gambling in a public place without permit and resisting arrest.
Mwenda’s co-accused, Samuel Mogaka Ondicho, Josephat Kibagendi Mogaka and Jotham Waswa, were unknown to him. Mwenda spoke to them for the first time when they were in the police cells. The case is still in court. The narcotics and gambling charges caught the riders who worked with Mwenda by surprise. They knew the dimunitive rider as a quiet person who kept to himself and did not smoke. His friends raised money to hire a lawyer for him.
“The lawyer was charging Sh10,000 per session, which we could not keep up with, but he managed to get him released from remand so that he could get treatment for his arm, which was then numb,” says Gitonga.
After his release, Mwenda’s brother, who was only identified as Mugambi, took him to the Machakos Level 5 Hospital for treatment. Mwenda was still receiving physiotherapy treatment when he was abducted this year.
“By then he could not move his fingers”, said Mugambi on the phone adding that his late brother had had ‘unsuccessful surgery”. Journalists For Justice attempts to get his hospital report was unsuccessful.
Once out of custody, Mwenda filed a complaint against Senior Sergeant Leliman with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) for the shooting and wrongful arrest. IPOA would refer him to the International Justice Mission, where he was assigned lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, but not before Senior Sergeant Leliman had him in court again on six traffic charges.
On December 13, 2015, Mwenda was in court for a bike-load of charges: carrying excess passengers, carrying un-insured passengers, riding an un-insured motorcycle and without driving licence, a helmet and a reflective jacket.
Journalists For Justice sought a comment from the IPOA for a comment on the case and the exact complaints that the late Mwenda had filed against Leliman. The Director of Communications, Dennis Oketch, said they could not comment on the case since it was on going. However, he said investigations are still on going.
Kimani’s former employer, IJM, also said they could not comment directly on the case for fear of safety for their staff. This was the case whose mention Mwenda, his lawyer and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri had gone to attend at the Mavoko Law Courts when they were abducted on Thursday, June 26. Their bodies would be found a week later found at the bottom of Ol Donyo Sabuk river in Machakos. Kimani’s hands and legs were tied, and Muiruri’s eyes had been gouged out.
The post-mortem examination conducted by Government pathologist Johansen Oduor showed blows to their heads using blunt objects, as well as strangulation. Mwenda allegedly endured extensive brutality which left him with a fractured skull and severe bleeding in his chest and neck.
Gitonga, who was Mwenda’s best friend at Syokimau, says they met three years ago when Mwenda arrived from his rural home 300 kilometres away in Nthara village, Tharaka Nithi County. He had dropped out of secondary school in Form Two for lack of fees and eked a living doing odd jobs around his home before snaking past the bright city lights in Nairobi to find employment as a motorcycle taxi rider. Gitonga, who was from a neighbouring village to Nthara in Tharaka Nithi, became a fast friend. They hit it off immediately, with shared memories of home, determined to escape the poverty they had left behind.
Still, Mwenda spoke so little about himself that all his best friend knew about him was that his mother was deceased, he had a brother in living in Kitengela, and a married sister. In Syokimau, he lived with a woman — only identified as Fortune — with whom he had a two-year-old child.
Gitonga was surprised to learn at Mwenda’s funeral that he all along had a wife at his rural home with whom he had two children and was expecting a third.
Fredrick Leliman is in remand awaiting charges for the abduction and gruesome murder of Mwenda, lawyer Willie Kimani and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, but his name still inspires fear among the boda boda operators in Syokimau. He is being held alongside police officers Stephen Chebulet and Sylvia Wanjiku, who were on duty at the Administration Police camp in Syokimau on the night the three dead men disappeared.
Investigators say they are pursuing three other suspects.
On Thursday, a High Court judge ruled that the police had abducted Mwendwa, Kimani and Muiruri, tortured and brutally murdered them.
Justice Luka Kimaru observed that the officers filed trumped-up charges of drug trafficking and six traffic offences against Mwenda.
The four officers are already charged with murder.