A sombre mood engulfed Olosho Oibor village in Kajiado West sub-county on Tuesday as the man who discovered the body of the late politician JM Kariuki was laid to rest.
Mr Musaite Ole Tunta, who died aged 109, is the popular herder who discovered the body of the President Jomo Kenyatta-era firebrand politician Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly referred to as JM Kariuki, after his alleged assassination.
The death of the father of 14 has reopened the gloomy incident that happened 47 years ago on the morning of March 2, 1975.
That morning, Mr Tunta, then aged 62, never knew he had discovered the body of a prominent figure whose death would make the headlines for many years –and change his life forever.
Mr Tunta was busy grazing his herd of cattle when he came across a badly mutilated body. He then informed the area chief identified as Ole Ncoki.
The duo went to Ngong Police Station where they reported the incident.
Officers rushed to the scene and took the body to the City Mortuary and booked it as an “unknown male adult”.
On Tuesday, as the curtain fell on Mr Tunta, he was celebrated as a hero in the village a status he never got from the government of the former four presidents late Mzee Kenyatta, late Daniel Arap Moi, late Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Silas Koilel, a community elder who chaired Mzee Tunta’s burial committee, took us to the scene where Mr Kariuki’s body was discovered.
He recalled that blood remained visible where the politician was allegedly murdered for years.
“The body was 500, meters away from where we were, that is where we found the body,” said Mr Koilel.
He said that Mr Tunta had on the night when Mr Kariuki was killed noticed that something was not okay as they had heard gunshots.
Mr Koilel, who was 10 at the time, noted that after the incident, life became tough for Mr Tunta as he was threatened and warned not to reveal that he had seen the body of Mr Kariuki who at the time served as Nyandarua MP.
He said that frequently, police officers could stream into his homestead, pick him up and leave with him without saying a word.
“That is how he decided to shift from the village where we resided and went to where his body has been laid to rest,” Mr Koilel said.
According to Mr Koilel, Mr Tunta had a big heart. Despite his tribulations, he held a meeting with other community elders and they decided to gift the government 15 acres of land.
Mr Koilel said that it was the wish of Mr Tunta that a hospital and school be built on the piece of land. That was never done.
“For the last three years, it is today that we have seen rains here, most of our cattle have been dying due to drought,” Mr Koilel said, adding that it was a clear indication that Mr Tunta was a blessed man.
Thicket full of shrubs
Ms Jane Kariuki, a daughter of the late politician, could not hold back tears as she visited the spot where her father’s body was found.
A memorial slab has since been built at the scene. Back then, the scene was a thicket full of shrubs roamed by wild animals.
Ms Kariuki told the Nation that she had never visited the scene since her father died.
“It is sad that the man who knew what had transpired and even saw the body of my father has died with all the secrets. We shall do all it takes to ensure that we start a school on the land that the community gave out at least to ensure that the wishes of the late come true,” she said.
The former Nyandarua MP died a wealthy man –a billionaire who owned parcels of land in Nairobi, Ol Kalou, and Gilgil all valued at Sh4 billion at the current land rates.
When his daughter Rosemary Kariuki appeared for vetting as Nairobi CEC in charge of Business and Hustler Opportunities docket, she put her net worth as Sh550 million which is shared by her family. She added that part of it was inherited from her late father.
Mr Kariuki also had an undisclosed amount of assets. It is reported that he had shares at Rift Valley Agencies, Laikipia Distributors Limited and other major companies in the country.
In May 2019, the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority took over an undisclosed number of shares that the former legislator held in a tobacco company.
In 2017, the same government agency took more than 522 shares the Nyandarua MP held at a top food processing company.
Mr Kariuki was last seen alive at the Hilton Hotel on March 2, 1975.
The first attempt on his life was on March 1, 1975, when a bus he was supposed to travel in to Mombasa was bombed.
On March 2, 1975, his remains were found in Ngong Forest by a herder; his hands had been chopped off, eyes gouged out, his face burnt with acid and left on an ant's nest.
When the news of Mr Kariuki's death broke, University of Nairobi students marched in protest in the streets of the capital.
The march was broken up by antiriot police and the campus was closed, not reopening in the remainder of President Kenyatta's presidency (he died in power in August 1978).
In an earlier interview, Mr Kariuki’s widow Terry Wanjiru Kariuki narrated how she found herself in a Nairobi mortuary looking at his lifeless body one Tuesday afternoon in March 1975.
"His face looked very dark as if something had been poured on it," she said.
But it was the "unknown" tag attached to his foot that shocked her.
Mr Kariuki was an ambitious and popular politician, he had spent time in prison as a member of the Mau Mau, the group that had fought for Kenya's independence in 1963.
As for Mzee Tunta, he remained in good health and died peacefully at his home on December 19, 2022, in what is believed to be a natural death.