Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama dies in Nairobi

Nyamira residents mourn Governor John Nyagarama

Nyamira Governor John Obiero Nyagarama, 74, died early Friday at the Nairobi Hospital intensive care unit (ICU),  where he had been admitted for more than a month.

Reports indicated that the governor suffered Covid-19 complications. His family told the Nation that he had breathing problems after his lungs collapsed.

Governor Nyagarama had been leading campaigns aimed at curbing the virus in his county, urging residents to follow guidelines issued by the government through the Health ministry.

Nyamira Deputy Governor Amos Nyaribo contracted Covid-19 at the beginning of November and was treated at various hospitals in Nairobi for three weeks.

Nyagarama’s first wife, Dorcas Sigara, died in 1998, leaving him with 10 children. His eldest son, George Ndemo Nyagarama died on June 11, 2018 after a long illness. 

Nyagarama later married a woman named Naomi. His other children are the late Catherine, Emily, Kefah, Gideon, Mary, Erick, Isaiah, Sam and Tom.

Matiangi at Lee after Nyagarama death

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i addresses the press at Lee Funeral Home in Nairobi, flanked by other leaders and Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama's family, following his death on December 18, 2020.

Photo credit: Correspondent

Conspicuous absences

Rumours about the governor's state became rife on Tuesday but his family and press team released a statement saying he was doing well.

Nyagarama’s absence from key public functions in the county for the past one month raised eyebrows.

The governor was a no-show at the official launch of the EACC’s month-long awareness campaign early December. County Secretary James Ntabo had to host EACC Commissioner Rose Macharia preside over the function.

Nyagarama’s absence was also felt on World Aids Day, that was marked at the county headquarters and attended by Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache. Health executive Douglas Bosire represented him.

Early December, Chief Justice David Maraga visited the county to re-open the pre-colonial courts at Manga Ritongo but the governor sent his Public Administration executive, Bernard Osumo, to represent him.

Nyagarama's last public event took place about a month ago, when he led a team of Kisii politicians in launching the collection of signatures from supporters of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama

Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama before the Senate's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee on February 20, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Early life

Nyagarama was born in 1946 in the remote village of Nyakemincha in Nyamira’s West Mugirango Constituency.

His was a story of resilience and dedication in pursuit of goals in fields including politics.

Nyagarama unsuccessfully vied for the West Mugirango parliamentary seat in 2002 and 2007.

Trained as a teacher at the University of Nairobi, he loved the arts and dance. He once recited a whole chapter from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to the excitement of those present.

Nyagarama’s teaching career began in 1975 at Nduru Boys’ High School in South Mugirango, Kisii County. He later taught at Nyansiongo Boys’ High School and joined other staff in founding Menyenya High School.

He then quit teaching and ventured into tea farming, later joining the tea farmers’ leadership as a management trainee at the former Kenya Tea Development Authority, now the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA).

Nyagarama rose through the ranks to become a manager at several KTDA branches countrywide. He served as the managing director of the private Sotik Tea Factory from 1991 to 1992.

Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i and Nyamira County Governor John Nyagarama (right) are shown the inside of an ambulance belonging to the National Transport and Safety Authority during the Public Transport Reforms Conference in Nairobi on July 31, 2019.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Other positions

Nyagarama then left the tea industry to join Touchline Press Limited, a private publishing company, as its chief executive officer.

However, his tenure there did not last long. He established a tea export company in Mombasa in 1993 and in 1994, he joined the KTDA board as a director representing the tea zones of Marani in Kisii and select centres within Nyamira County.

Nyagarama held various portfolios as a KTDA national board member from 1994 to 2013.

He also served as chairman of the Kenya Tea Packers Limited (Ketepa) between 1996 and 2002.

Nyagarama was among the pioneer founders of Chai Trading Company in 2011, which he served as chairman until 2013, when he resigned to join politics.

The ODM governor was first elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017.

Nyagarama’s closest challenger, Walter Nyambati, moved to the Supreme Court after losing an appeal that sought to annul his victory.

In January 2019, the apex court affirmed Nyagarama’s win following the August 8 election in which he got 65,161 votes against the 58,936 by Mr Nyambati, a Jubilee Party candidate.

Nyagarama’s work in the tea sector endeared him to farmers who voted overwhelmingly for him when he vied for the governor post.

Nyagarama and Wetangula

Nyamira governor John Nyagarama with Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula at Uhuru Gardens in Nyamira County on October 15, 2018.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Key traits

The governor described himself as an all-round man.

He was an astute farmer with over 20 acres of tea farms, among the largest for private tea farmers in the Gusii region, several herds of cattle, and tea and banana plantations.

Also an entrepreneur, he owned several businesses including the Dorcas Memorial Boarding School, one of the largest academies in Nyamira County.

Nyagarama also served as a board member of institutions including Kebirigo, Kenyenya, Sironga and Menyenya secondary schools.

He often spoke of his humble background and had a humility exhibited by his children, who mingled freely with people from all walks of life despite their father’s position as a politician.

“I walked barefoot to Nyakemincha Primary School but this did not dampen my resolve to work hard and make a difference. In the end, I excelled and joined the prestigious Maseno School and later Kisii School, where I was ahead of my friend and brother Governor James Ongwae of Kisii,” he said at one time.

From the University of Nairobi, Nyagarama acquired a Bachelor of Education degree in English and Literature in 1975.

One of Nyagarama’s supporters, who did not want to be named, described him as a loving and caring but also ruthless politician.

“He would charm you by spending as much time as you wanted with you and listening to you, while plotting his next moves.”