Justice denied: Ten chiefs, two men and death by drowning

Chania River drowning victims

Nicholas Maithya, 20, and Asman John Kamau, 18, who drowned in River Chania in Rubiro village, Murang'a County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

On May 9, 2021, the country woke up to news that 10 officers — two chiefs and eight assistants — in Murang'a County had allegedly drowned two youths in a river.

The incident that was reported in Kakuzi/Mitubiri of Ithanga/Kakuzi sub-county in Murang’a resulted in the deaths of Nicholas Maithya, 20, and Asman John Kamau, 18, in River Chania at Rubiro village.

Their bodies were recovered from the river after an eight-day search, resulting in public outcry and calls for the culprits behind the deaths to be arrested and charged.

Now nearly two years down the line, no justice has been forthcoming, even after detectives interrogated all those mentioned in connection with the deaths.

It has been a life of agony for the relatives of the two men.

“We are suffering injustice because we are poor. We are indirectly being told that our sons were no better than stray dogs owing to their poverty, and that their deaths meant nothing to government,” lamented Maithya's mother, Ms Lucy Kanini.

The Gatanga Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) office recorded witness statements from the administrators and witnesses.

The chiefs said that “the two were part of a chang'aa (illicit alcohol) making gang, and upon seeing us approach, they dived into the raging waters to escape”.

The incident report at Ithanga Police station in support of the administrator's version indicated that Maithya and Kamau had been confronted in a chang’aa den and in their attempt to evade arrest, jumped into the swollen river with the hope of swimming to safety.

Nicholas Maithya

John Kamau, who drowned in Chania River in Murang'a County.

Photo credit: Mwangi Muiruri | Nation Media Group

The police report was silent on the fact that it was reported by witnesses, Mr Joseph Ndolo Mbatha and Kamau’s mother, Ms Beth Mumbua Muya, that they saw the chiefs push the two into the river while they were handcuffed.

“I as the mother of one of the victims had accompanied Mbatha who was a witness ... We were seeking help to go and rescue them ... We were told to go back to the river and try to trace them,” Ms Muya said.

She said she was distressed to later hear that police had branded the two as criminals who threw themselves into the river.

The two families said the two men were friends who eked a living as fishermen.

“I can swear that my son was not a chang'aa dealer or consumer. He was a fisherman. They killed my son in a cruel manner and we have eyewitnesses," Ms Kanini said.

Maithya had completed Form Four in 2019 and had been earning a living by hawking fish so that he could enroll for a plant operator course in Thika town. 

Kamau finished Standard Eight in 2017 and did fishing to earn a living, with a plan to join a local polytechnic for a masonry course.

 "I will heal with time. My God will deliver His own justice. The day my son's body was retrieved from that river marked the gloomiest moment in my life. But it is well with my soul," she said.

The police report was confusing as it gave the ages of the two victims as 25 and 43.

A witness statement in the DCI file gives a blow-by-blow account of an alleged encounter between the two men and the administrators that ended in them being handcuffed.

Five witness statements were recorded by then-Gatanga DCI boss John Kanda.

One narrates that “at around 4pm I was in the company of seven others and we were fishing in River Chania along Rubiro village banks”.
He writes that the two victims were among them.

“We ran out of worms to use as bait on our fishing rods and the two went on higher ground to hunt for some more. They were gone for 10 minutes when we heard a commotion and upon moving up to know what was
happening, we saw the two handcuffed by the officers,” he wrote.

Nicholas Maithya, who drowned in Chania River in Murang'a County.

Photo credit: Mwangi Muiruri | Nation Media Group

The witness added that the others ran away in fear but he remained behind to inquire on why the two had been arrested.

“The officers were now beating them, asking them to produce the chang’aa that they were brewing. I told the officers that we were only fishing and we had nothing to do with chang’aa … one of the officers was beating the two handcuffed men with a baton ... another took a stone and hit Kamau at the back of his head and the force pushed him to a free fall into the river, dragging Maithya with him,” he wrote.

In his statement, the witness says he jumped into the river to try and rescue his friends but was overwhelmed by the waves.

“I cried out to the officers to come and help but they laughed their way out of the site,” he says, adding that he can positively identify those who handcuffed, assaulted and pushed the two into the river.

The police file indicated that when the bodies were retrieved from the river, though Maithya having marks around his left wrist and Kamau had similar marks on the right wrist, they had no cuffs on them.

The bodies were retrieved in the night by police officers with the help of divers.

Villagers started holding protest marches, the media started reporting the incident and the police absorbed pressure to a point they started investigating possible murder.

Mr Kanda told Nation.Africa that: "I compiled the investigative file and forwarded it to the County Criminal Investigations officer for forwarding to the Director of Public Prosecutions office. I do not know anything further since I was moved from Gatanga.” 

Post-mortem reports say the two died of suffocation, the bodies were decomposing and had several injury marks on their bodies.

Mr Kanda had told Nation.Africa that in recording the statements from the 10 officers, it had come out clearly that they had gone to patrol without being accompanied by police officers.

He said the chiefs said they did not seek police company
for fear that they (police) would leak information to the brewers.  

This lack of police officers in their company raised the question of how the administrators had handcuffs. 

“The chiefs do not have arresting powers and are not empowered by law to carry arms. The issue of them being reported to have handcuffed the victims was highly interesting,” he said.

Mr Kanda said there were photographs taken by civilians that showed cuffs dangling from one of the bodies. But the photos taken by scene of crime officers had no such evidence.

There were witnesses in the rescue team who claimed that police removed the cuffs in the 10pm incident.

Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) had reported interest in the matter, but abandoned it after it emerged no police officer was involved.

Giving the current status of the case, Ithanga Kakuzi Sub County Deputy County Commissioner Angela Makau said “the issue had so much propaganda and was being driven in a manner to make the administrators look bad”.

Ms Makau said the investigations did not find evidence that the two bodies had handcuffs on them.

“It became hard to connect the officers to the deaths without recovery of the cited handcuffs. But the case is still open," she said.

However, Rubiro Residents Association chairman Paul Kimani told Nation.Africa: “We are better of keeping mum on this issue because all those who spoke to media when the bodies were in the river were victimised.”

He said all those who were seen on TV speaking were later arrested and charged with chang'aa and narcotics related allegations as a way of silencing them.

He said the community had written a complaint letter against to the county commissioner regarding an official’s use of threats, intimidation and manipulation as an administrative technique.

Mr Kimani accused the office of “protecting administrators who murdered two of our boys in cold blood and today, thinks officers’ jobs and freedom are more important than the lives of our two sons".


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.