'I got a 10-year jail term for owning an AK-47 rifle'

John Akuta, 46 (in uniform) together with his family members at the Nyahururu GK Prison when he was released after serving a 10-year jail term. He was convicted in November 2017 of the offence of being in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Photo credit: Steve Njuguna I Nation Media Group

For John Akuta, owning a firearm was a custom until 2015, when he found himself on the wrong side of the law after authorities arrested him with one.

Mr Akuta, now a reformed bandit was arrested in June 2015, during a forceful disarmament exercise, which had been ordered by the government following one of the bloodiest clashes between illegal herders and private farmers in Laikipia County.

Then, President Uhuru Kenyatta had ordered for the deployment of security troops to the region to restore order.

The armed herders were accused of driving thousands of cattle into the animal sanctuaries and private farms, where they set ablaze buildings in the ranches, looted property and forced tourism businesses to close down. The incidents were also mixed with cattle rustling activities.

Mr Akuta admits that he also dabbled in banditry activities, stealing livestock from the vast Laikipia County and other neighboring regions.

A dozen civilians and security officers were killed during the clashes.

The massive security operation saw successful restoration of calm in the region with security forces recovering a dozen of illegal rifles from herders and arresting several suspects, who included herders engaged in banditry.

Having been found illegally possessing a firearm, Mr Akuta, a resident of Ol Moran in Laikipia County was arrested and arraigned in court.

In November 2017 a Nyahururu Court sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Having served three years in remand, Akuta then 39 was convicted of the offence of being in possession of a firearm contrary to Section 4(1) as read with Section 4(3) (b) of the Firearms Act Cap 114 LOK, an offence that fetches a life sentence on conviction.

The court was told that Akuta was found in illegal possession of an AK47 rifle.

He also faced an alternative count of being in possession of ammunition.

Fast forward March 14, 2023, his ailing mother, brother and three children were ready to receive him at the Nyahururu GK prison after he completed his jail term.

“We are happy to see our father again after being away from us for 10 years,” said Akuta’s elder son Peter. 

Mr Akuta, narrated to Nation how he had bought the gun to help him amass livestock and protect them.

“Owning a gun according to my peers’ then, was an achievement and we would use them to amass livestock which we would use to marry new wives.

“Today I know owning one is a crime,” he said.

Mr Akuta, now a trained carpenter said he was a changed person and would use the knowledge he had gained at the correctional facility to educate his peers.

“I have trained in carpentry while still in prison and I have been awarded the grade three certification in carpentry and joinery.

“I have never blamed anyone for me being arrested and jailed……I promise to be a reformed person and I shall also tell those owning guns to surrender them,” he said.

While affirming that Mr Akuta the Deputy Officer in charge of Nyahururu GK prison, John Kagecha said that Mr Akuta has never had an indiscipline case.

“Since he joined the facility, he has never shown any case of indiscipline and his file is clean,” said the officer who also described Mr Akuta as hardworking and someone who was willing to learn.

Mr Kagecha at the same time asked members of the family and society to embrace the reformed ex-inmate and help him rebuild his life as he returned back to them.

He said that the community usually has a hard time receiving the ex-offenders and, in a bid, to find a way out some of them fail to cope with the discrimination and hence reoffend to go back to prison.

 “We are urging the society to ‘walk’ with the ex-prisoner as he has now reformed. He should be given a conducive environment because this is key for his total transformation,” added Mr Kagecha.

Laikipia West Sub County administrator, Charles Ndegwa, said that the county administration was also seeking to help re-integrate the ex-inmates back into the society.

“We are liaising with chiefs and ward administrators for follow-up to ensure that they are also considered whenever the county government is hiring people for casual jobs.

“We believe that by offering them job opportunities they would easily be re-integrated back into the society,” he said.