On October 11 last year, 19-year-old James Okello narrowly escaped death in a botched robbery.
But his two accomplices were not as lucky.
They were lynched and their motorbike was torched by boda boda riders who pursued them after the robbery in Lang’ata, Nairobi.
Okello, now serving a six-year jail term, scaled a perimeter wall and jumped into a home to take cover before police arrested him, shielding him from the angry public.
He was handed the sentence by Kibera Chief Magistrate Abdul Lorot after pleading guilty to the charges of attempted robbery.
Okello and his two accomplices had attempted to rob Rose Nduku Kioko of her mobile phone on Kitengela Road in Lang’ata. They also stabbed her.
One of the two was tied to the motorcycle before it was set ablaze. The other was stoned to death by the mob.
The three had blocked Ms Kioko and demanded her phone at around 1pm.
A brave private security guard knocked down one of the suspects with a rungu and rescued Ms Kioko. He was joined by boda boda riders, who pursued the rest as they attempted to speed off.
“The accused is a young man of 19 years. His two accomplices were lynched by members of the public. He is distraught. I believe he will reform,” Lorot said when he sentenced Okello.
“But the offence is as heinous as it is serious. The complainant was stabbed and bled profusely from the stomach and the left lateral side of the thigh. This was nearly life-threatening. The accused will serve six years’ imprisonment. I hope he will learn from his near mis-experience with death.”
A suspect in a different case, Kelvin Njau Ndung’u, is facing the same charges of attempted robbery with violence in a Kibera court.
Ndung’u is accused of attempting to rob motorcyclist John Okene Endesia of his mobile phone while armed with a knife at the junction of Bogani and Magadi roads in Lang’ata on July 21 before other riders intervened.
His accomplice escaped with his motorcycle.
Endesia was riding slowly on the pavement as he made a phone call when Ndung'u, who was also riding a motorcycle, hit his bike from behind.
Ndung’u allegedly brandished a knife and demanded Endesia’s phone as his accomplice, who was the suspect’s passenger, shouted at the complainant.
Ndung’u was detained by boda boda riders at the scene before police were called in but his accomplice sped off with the bike in the midday incident.
Ndung’u denied the charges before Senior Resident Magistrate Charles Mwaniki.
He was freed on a bond of Sh300,000 with an alternative cash bail of Sh150,000.
These are some of the robberies that Kelvin Mubadi, the Bodaboda Association of Kenya (BAK), says are committed by criminals using motorcycles and later wrongfully blamed on his members.
Mubadi said that because motorcycles are now more affordable, versatile and easier to manoeuvre through traffic in Nairobi and other towns, they have become more convenient for criminals as escape vehicles.
He says genuine boda boda operators are blamed for things they have not done simply because they ride motorcycles.
Steal from a commuter
BAK partnered with the Ministry of Interior in 2019, he says, to register all members in the Bodaboda Information Management System (BIMS), launched by Interior CS Fred Matiang’i in November 2019.
The data captures a rider’s name and the county, sub-county and ward they operate from. It includes the national ID and phone numbers of the rider, their next of kin and their contacts and similar details for the registered motorcycles.
“Do you think a boda boda rider who knows the government is in possession of all that information about them can contemplate committing a crime like a robbery, mugging or snatching of valuables?” he said.
“Do you think a rider who operates from a designated stage can steal from a commuter then return to the same stage after taking their client to their destinations?”
Mubadi said boda boda riders are keen to fight off crime in their areas of operations but bad blood exists between boda boda riders and police thus hindering the war on crime committed by criminals using motorcycles.
For instance, Mubadi notes that many of the suspects taken to court for robberies are ‘arrested’ by boda boda riders out to eliminate them from their areas of operations.
Two examples are Fadhili Willliams and Kennedy Omondi, who were cornered on Kipande Road in Ngara by the area boda boda riders on July 7. They were being hunted down after they were spotted a day earlier snatching a pedestrian’s mobile phone before speeding off on Thika Road.
The two were handed over to officers at Parklands Police Station and were charged in Kibera with possession of bhang and retaining a suspected stolen phone, which Williams pleaded guilty to.
He told the court that his accomplice had no idea that he had the stolen phone.
Williams dropped the phone as he fled on foot while Omondi, who was the rider, jumped off the bike and attempted to flee on foot but the riders blocked them.
Omondi, who was also accused of having 20 rolls of bhang, denied the charges.
Cornered by boda boda riders
In yet a similar case, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu's bodyguard, Constable Titus Musyoka, on November 19 last year recalled feigning death to save his life after a hooded gunman shot him and robbed him of his pistol near Marsabit Plaza on Ngong Road on October 4, 2017.
Constable Musyoka was ambushed and shot in the shoulder by the gunman as he collected seedlings for the DCJ at a flower garden opposite Impala Club at around 4pm.
The suspected gunman, Eric Njuguna Kamau, then snatched Musyoka’s work pistol (serial number 44338826) and jumped onto a waiting motorbike before he and his accomplice, James Wachira, sped off, leaving him bleeding profusely on the ground.
Two other suspects, Stanley Muli Kavandi and Joseph Mwangi Mathenge, are also facing similar charges. On May 18, they were arraigned in a Kibera court and charged with stealing Silvia Akolo’s phone worth Sh40,000 as she walked on the busy Ngong Road.
They allegedly attempted to flee on a motorcycle before they were cornered by boda boda riders.
The riders had seen them snatch the phone and they gave chase, catching up with them at Adams Arcade after they stopped to observe traffic lights.
They were released on a Sh100,000 bond each with an alternative cash bail of Sh40,000 each.
In a separate case, three motorcycle riders who allegedly accosted a motorist in Riruta, Nairobi, and stole from him after accusing him of hitting one of them are also facing theft charges in a Kibera court.
They are Anthony Njenga Wamai, Joab Kibet Ruto and Peter Munyu Wairiria.
They are accused of robbing Mbugua of a toolkit valued at Sh11,600 on July 27 in Kabiria.
They had blocked Mbugua, accusing him of damaging the side mirror of a motorcycle belonging to one of them. They took the tool kit and attempted to vandalise his car and remove speakers.
However, boda boda riders intervened and rescued Mbugua, who got the opportunity to flee the scene. The three denied the charges.
Mubadi says despite efforts by riders to keep their areas safe, they are still considered criminals because criminal elements prefer using motorcycles to commit crimes and it is difficult to differentiate between them.
“Despite all these efforts, the suspicion on us persists. It is even difficult to partner with the police because members fear being wrongfully identified,” Mubadi said.
While Nairobi regional police Commander Augustine Nthumbi says boda boda riders may not be criminals, some of them are hired by criminals to help them escape after committing crimes, particularly robberies.
Nthumbi said boda boda riders who help criminals escape do it knowingly because criminals pay more than commuters.
“They (BAK members) are not the criminals themselves but they are helping criminals escape. Criminals know they need to move faster and manoeuvre out of the scene of crime quickly and leave the motorcycles after some time to avoid being traced,” Nthumbi said.
“And since the motorcycles can’t be left in the middle of nowhere, the boda boda rider will drop them at a point after helping them out of the scene of a crime and they will part ways after their payment, which is higher because of the activity and risk they take and that makes the boda boda riders accomplices in the crimes committed in such circumstances.”