Charles Mugane Njonjo, a man famed for being forthright in his principles, shocked many when word went out early yesterday that his remains had been cremated just a few hours after his death.
According to his son-in-law Carey Ngini, the centenarian breathed his last at 5:15am on Sunday morning and by 10:30, his remains had been cremated at the Kariokor Hindu Cemetery in a private event.
“He did not want any fanfare, he did not want a lot of what goes with funerals and passing of the people of his stature and was very clear that we must cremate him immediately after his passing and as a family we choose to fulfil his wishes at around 10:30am in the morning,” he said.
How would a man as wealthy as he was touted to be and a statesman choose to be buried quietly without all the speeches and glamour that his ilk is accorded in today’s funerals?
In an interview with Business Daily in 2015, Mzee Njonjo revealed that though he preferred not to entertain thoughts on the topic of death, it does not scare him and his wish was to be interred in a simple way.
“Death is something you can face, why fear it? I do not want anyone to raise money when I die…friends meeting at the Cathedral…I don’t want any collection of money,” he said.
His wishes were honoured yesterday as his remains were cremated just a few hours after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced his demise in a statement sent to newsrooms.
He died peacefully surrounded by family in his Muthaiga home in Nairobi just 21 days shy of his 102nd birthday.
His family said Njonjo had enjoyed good health for the most of his life but started feeling unwell last year and became weak.
A sudden bout of pneumonia then caught him recently and unfortunately collapsed his lungs yesterday.
He will be fondly remembered for his principles and intentional lifestyle that saw him at constant odds with traditional societal expectations.
He got married at 52 to his white wife, Margaret Bryson. His reason for the delay was that he could not find a girl he could live with. When he finally did, at All Saints Cathedral where Margaret was a choir member, he settled down and the couple was blessed with three children.
Mzee Njonjo also donned pinstripe suits (including one which had his CN initials inscribed in the stripes), responsibly enjoyed his bottle of beer even in old age and was nicknamed the 'Duke of Kabeteshire' (coined from his home in Kabete) due to his English mannerisms.
His family said they knew him as a man who knew what he wanted in life and lived a disciplined life.
Even at the age of 95, he would wake up early, don his pinstripe suit and head to his office in Westlands, where he would start off his day by reading the newspaper between 6am and 7am.
At 8am, he would begin his official duties, a routine he had acquired from his days as the country’s first Attorney General between 1963 and 1979.
In an interview with Business Daily in 2015, Mzee Njonjo said he would maintain the habit until his limbs fail him or when he finally dies and gets cremated.
“As long as my feet can carry me, I will come here daily,” he said.
His discipline and sense of duty saw him resign from his Cabinet position as Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister.
“I was blamed for something I had not done and resigned, although it was never disclosed that I resigned. I wrote a letter to the President that in view of what is being alleged in Parliament, I resigned. I walked away and never put my foot in that house again.”
Asked if people of such levels of integrity exist today, he said “I would like to see them.”
While appearing on KTN’s Jeff Koinange show in 2014, he spoke fondly of his memory of a young President Uhuru Kenyatta who he watched grow as he served both in his father’s government and in Moi’s government.
“I am proud that I have watched them grow and I was with Mzee all that time and lo and behold he (Uhuru) is the president today. I think (Mzee) would be delighted to learn that his son is the president,” said Mr Njonjo.
At the time, the country’s tourism sector was at an all-time low courtesy of frequent terror attacks whose management was worsened by a gap in leadership at the Ministry of Internal Security.
As Kenyans reacted on social media calling on the government to guarantee their security, Mr Njonjo silenced critics and said with good collaboration from partners, Kenya is capable of managing its own security.
“Israel is surrounded by enemies all around the country that would want to eliminate it but it keeps a close watch on what the enemies are doing from all corners. We can do it. Firstly, by learning from Israel and other countries which have faced similar problems instead of behaving as if our intelligence knows everything,” he said.
Mr Njonjo’s wish was for Kenya to foster deeper cooperation with other countries especially on matters intelligence sharing so as to overcome the evolving nature of modern day crimes such as terrorism.
“Let us use our friends, let us exploit them for the sake of our safety. It is always very important when you are helped by a friend even if you think you are very strong,” he urged.
His sage advice must have been heeded as the country has experienced reduced major terror attacks in the last two years.