Maragua town parents will have to wait indefinitely for a new public school near them after it emerged on Tuesday that more than 100 acres of public land meant for it was grabbed by the defunct Murang'a county council.
After the council acquired the land illegally, it is said to have been subdivided among some area politicians, businessmen and power brokers with the help of corrupt government officers.
The land, Nginda/Samar Block 1, was earmarked for a school, government offices, a market, playing ground, dispensary, church, bus park, recreational centre, water point and community centre.
The council was phased out when Kenya adopted the 2010 Constitution, which ushered in county governments after the 2013 General Election.
It had been relegated to irrelevancy in 2002 after the greater Murang'a district was subdivided into smaller administrative units.
It was during this period of packing to exit that it put caveats on some public lands so as to reserve them for corruption.
The Maragua case also affects 20 acres reserved for a Vision 2030 market that was to cost Sh5 billion but has stalled.
Maragua parents have been agitating for a public school in the area because their children must trek more than five kilometres to and from the nearest such school.
"Our little children are suffering walking in a town environment that has speeding motorists and prowling criminals commits and parents must accompany them to and from school,” said
Mohammed Omar Maluki, the residents’ coordinator.
“We have land to build a safer public school that is nearer to us, but today we have been notified that it was grabbed."
Mr Maluki said officials at the lands registry in Murang'a notified them that the land had been transferred to an entity called the Murang'a county council, which does not exist.
"Our understanding is that some officials who served in the defunct council conspired with the Murang'a County government in 2013 to create confusion in public land ownership so as to prepare it for grabbing," he said.
Last month, residents wrote to the area administrators and the Education Ministry requesting surveyors to demarcate and beacon 20 acres reserved for a township primary school. They also asked for the land to get a title deed.
They lamented that grabbers, including some area politicians and businesspeople, had started subdividing the land and selling it.
"This will deny our children their right to basic education ... Our local leaders have not been enthusiastic to have the school built because they want the land to remain unutilised so it can be grabbed," said Mr Wekesa Wafula, chairman of the parents’ caucus.
Murang'a South Deputy County Commissioner Gitonga Muriungi confirmed that grabbers had seized the land.
"It is true that this land meant for a public school appears to have some issues. The area assistant county commissioner has briefed me that the defunct Murang'a county council is captured as its owner and an official search has revealed as much," he said.
He said he had instructed the relevant authorities to ban any development on the land until the ownership issue is resolved.
"I want to assure residents of Maragua and anywhere else that their government will help them not only recover that land but also have the school built," Mr Muriungi said.
He added that County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo had ordered him to follow up the matter in consultation with lands officials, the governor's office and the area’s political leaders and “seize the land".
Parents had been advised by County Director of Education Anne Kiilu to convene a public participation forum and compile minutes endorsing the school to be built.
They were also asked to attach a title deed and a search certificate for the land. Ms Kiilu was to visit the site of the proposed school and determine the viability of the project.
But parents were shocked to find that cartels had grabbed the land.
“We hope that [Governor Irungu Kang'ata and the national government] will help us beat the thieves and have our school land back," said Henry Ruhara, the chairman of the residents.
Dr Kang'ata said he will cooperate with the parties concerned and salvage the project.