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Stray bullet or assassination? Who wanted Willis Mugambi dead?

Willis Mugambi

Willis Mugambi, the Tharaka Nithi County boda boda riders' association chairman, who was shot dead during demonstrations in Chuka town on April 8, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

Tharaka Nithi Bodaboda Operators’ Association Chairman Willis Mugambi, who was reportedly shot dead by police in Chuka town on Saturday, had been called by a senior police officer in the county to help stop demonstrations, it has emerged.

Mr Amos Mawira, the vice-chairman, told journalists that the officer called Mugambi and sent three police officers to pick him up.

Immediately Mugambi received the call, he informed Mr Mawira of the request, but expressed reservations about going, because of his recent disagreement with the officer, whom he accused of protecting illicit alcohol makers and sellers.

After Mugambi was picked up by police and taken to the demonstrations some minutes past 6pm, he was shot dead moments later, said Mr Mawira.

“He was shot from the back as he pleaded with the demonstrators to stop,” said Mr Mawira.

The demonstrators, most of them mourners from Nkwego village, were protesting the delay by police to arrest and prosecute five people accused of killing Daniel Mutembei three weeks ago.

The protesters, who had been joined by some boda boda riders and other residents of the town, barricaded the Meru-Nairobi highway with stones and the casket with Mutembei’s body, causing a huge traffic jam.

Mr Mawira said on February 13, 2023, Mugambi reported to Chuka Police Station that a woman who distills and sells illicit alcohol at Moi Girls slum in Chuka town, had threatened his life after he reported her to the police.

He said the woman had called Mugambi and threatened to deal with him if he continued to fight her business. That was just a few minutes after she left the police station.

And even after Mugambi reported the threat she had made against him, and recording a statement with police, the woman was not summoned to respond to the accusations.

“Mugambi recorded a statement, and we have the Occurrence Book number. He claimed that the woman enjoys the protection of a senior officer,” said Mr Mawira.

He added that Mugambi had complained that illicit liquor had affected many of his members, and he had vowed to fight it to the end.

During a meeting with the county security team led by the county commissioner, the county boda boda leadership explained the bad blood between Mugambi and the senior officer.

Addressing residents of Chuka town on Sunday, Chuka/Igambang’ombe MP Patrick Munene also stated that in February this year, Mugambi called him, complaining of increased illicit liquor in the town, and accused a police officer of colluding with the sellers.

He claimed that a police officer who reportedly shot Mugambi at close range, was part of the reinforcement team from Runyenjes Police Station in the neighbouring Embu County.

The MP, who was accompanied by his Maara counterpart, Mr Kareke Mbiuki, and some ward representatives during the address accused the security leadership in the county of covering up crime after taking bribes.

“I suspect this was a well-planned execution mission because of his fight against illicit brew, which is a source of money for the corrupt police officers,” Mr Munene said.

He also said those who killed Mutembei were known but were yet to be arrested for questioning.

Reports indicate that relatives gave the names of those who beat up Mutembei, who had mentioned them before he died while he was being taken to Chuka County Referral Hospital. He had been found critically injured by the road on a chilly morning.

The five suspected killers were allegedly assisted to get anticipatory bail from a Chuka court after they paid Sh500,000 to stop police from arresting them.

The MP noted that in the same area where Mutembei was killed, two people were murdered last year in the same way and the killers, who are also said to be known by the villagers, are walking free.

The elected leaders and the county boda boda association officials have said they will continue with the demonstrations on Tuesday if the five suspected killers of Mutembei and the police officer suspected to have shot Mugambi are not arrested and charged.

“We have given the security team up to Tuesday to arrest the killers of Mutembei and Mugambi, failure to which we will lead demonstrations,” said Mr Mbiuki.

Tharaka Nithi County Police Commander Donatha Chali told Nation.Africa that the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa), Internal Affairs Unit and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers were investigating the two killings.

Ms Chali said she had not received a report of death threats against Mugambi and urged anyone with information that could help in the investigations to volunteer it.

“The investigating teams launched an enquiry yesterday (Sunday) and several people have recorded statements, and I urge anyone with information that can help to volunteer it,” said Ms Chali.

She assured those who are afraid to give information of protection by the Witness Protection Unit.

The county police boss urged the boda boda operators, relatives of the deceased persons and the public to remain calm and allow investigations to be concluded.

“We are all interested and determined to know the truth and serve justice. I wish Mugambi informed me of his alleged differences with the said officer and the brewer,” she said.

On Saturday evening, Interior and Coordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki announced that he had sent high-level investigative teams to Chuka town to look into the two deaths.