Impunity: Sakaja officials injured at illegal construction site

A construction site in Nairobi’s South C on February 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

On February 1, John (not his real name) went about his normal duties as an enforcement officer under the Nairobi City County Inspectorate, not knowing that fate had something else in store that would change his life.

Duty called and John and his colleague were assigned to assess the situation in South C Ward, KMA Estate. Their mission was to ensure that the illegal construction taking place on a disputed piece of land was stopped.

When they arrived at the site in their official vehicle, they went straight to the area and tried to inquire about the supervisors. 

While on their mission to stop the illegal activity, the officers were maimed by a number of youths who were among the construction workers.

"Tulienda kutoa watu kwa hiyo site lakini tulivamiwa na kurushwa chini...miguu yangu ilivunjika na hadi saa hizi siwezi simama (We went there to remove everyone from the site only to be attacked and dragged legs were injured and I can't stand properly)," John said in a brief interview with the Nation, explaining that he didn't want to cause more trouble.

The construction site has turned the neighbourhood into a beehive of activity, with five buildings going up at once.

The victim says they were asked by the county planning department to go and make sure the order was being complied with, only to be mercilessly attacked. The incident has left John with serious injuries to this day, as he uses a wheelchair to get around.

While the county government of Governor Johnson Sakaja remains silent on the matter, investigations have revealed that the lives of the inspectors are at risk as they are deployed to fight the determined land grabbers.

Attempts to get more information from the county leadership about the attack and whether any suspects had been arrested were unsuccessful as calls and messages went unanswered. 

The incident also comes barely a week after two women from the inspectorate were seriously injured in a separate incident in the Kayole KCC area while trying to enforce law and order, to which the county never responded.

A source in the department told Nation that the rest of the officers have since been complaining about the increasing number of attacks while on duty, but the governor has remained silent.

"We can no longer risk the lives of our officers by sending them to these risky areas in the planning department... these are husbands and wives, they have families. It is very unfair to expose them to that kind of environment," the source said.

They added that there is little the inspectorate can do as their job is to follow orders, which means they are in the public eye for enforcing the law and no one is ever on their side.

"The public, the media and the workers should understand that we are also human beings and that when something happens in public we should not be castigated and attacked, but when something happens to us no one talks about it."

On Monday, the County Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) chairman Jared Akama and his planning counterpart Alvin Olando Palapala visited the site only to find that construction had continued despite assurances from the county's top leadership that it had stopped.

"The land has been grabbed and the developer has forged permits. There are allegations that an officer pocketed over Sh600,000 to allow the construction to continue. Even after our people were injured, construction continued, which is a sign of total impunity," said Mr Olando.

Mr Akama said that as Members of the County Assembly (MCAs), they were disturbed to find out that the construction was going on and yet some of the officers had almost lost their lives in the line of duty.

Six supervisors were arrested on Monday and taken to the Central Police Station to assist the police in their investigation.

"This place has been a bone of contention between the KMA, who are the residents of this place, and the developer. They have been complaining and have gone to all the authorities, but to no avail. The construction is taking place at night and the residents are complaining about the permits because they were not involved, there was never any public participation," said Mr Akama.

The six are Mustafa Abdullahi, Ali Nodi Adan, Kevin Mukuru, Abdi Hassan, Salat Abdi and Stanley Ojiri.

Police were forced to use teargas to disperse workers from the site and the site was closed, only for work to resume hours later, raising further questions.

Kileleshwa MCA Robert Alai has also raised concerns about the safety of inspectors.

"This incident highlights the urgent need for reform and accountability in the governance of Nairobi City County. I call on Governor Sakaja to break his silence on this horrific incident and take action to ensure that those involved, from the assailants to any complicit officials, face the consequences for their actions," Alai said in a statement.

Following the uproar, Mr Sakaja has spoken out.

In his statement, the governor said the county had revoked the building's permit.

"We have closed the site at South C, revoked its approval and are pressing charges against the developer. We will not hesitate to take further action against those who violate the laws of the county or use violence against county staff," Sakaja said.

He added that he had reached out to the victims to offer his support and encouragement.