Curtain falls on man who caused security scare by sitting next to Kibaki in Parliament

Peter Manjau Mwai

Peter Manjau Mwai became a national sensation in March 2004 when he managed to secure himself a seat next to the county’s top judges and about six feet away from where then President Mwai Kibaki sat.

Photo credit: File and courtesy

A businessman who once spooked the country’s security apparatus by “sneaking” his way to sit close to the President during the opening of Parliament has died.

Mr Peter Manjau Mwai became a national sensation in March 2004 when he managed to secure himself a seat next to the county’s top judges and about six feet away from where then President Mwai Kibaki sat.

It earned him the nickname “Stranger in the House” which his friends would chide him with.

Until his death on March 26 due to what his family described as a short illness, he was a social man who interacted freely with many people, journalists included.

“He was a very regular guy around Nairobi; very talkative and liked to talk to journalists,” said Mugumo Munene, an acquaintance of Mwai’s and a former editor at the Nation Media Group (NMG).

“He was nicknamed ‘Stranger in the House’ by everybody in town. His friends would call him so and he would answer ‘only one House’.”

The Parliament incident happened on Tuesday, March 30, 2004.

He sat in the special section reserved for judges and was positioned next to then Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi Ndingi Mwana ’a Nzeki. He even attended the garden party that followed.

The following day, when the House convened to discuss the President’s speech, the issue of the “stranger” was raised by then Voi MP Boniface Mghanga.

Then Speaker, Mr Francis ole Kaparo, was shocked by the “terrible security breach” and assured lawmakers that Parliamentary officials who allowed the lapse would be dealt with.

'I have not seen anything like that'

“For the 11 years I have been on this chair, I have not seen anything like that. I am shocked that anything like that could happen,” Mr Kaparo said.

That same Wednesday, Mwai visited the NMG newsroom at Nation Centre to give his side of the story and as he left the building, he was arrested by seven officers in plain clothes.

The Daily Nation would later publish a story headlined, “Scare as stranger gets near Kibaki in House.”

But how did Mwai get there?

In his interview with Nation then, he said he had entered Parliament because he had an invitation card.

The card, he said, allowed him to observe proceedings from the public gallery. But on that day, he was out to seek the Clerk of the National Assembly’s permission to sit in the Speaker’s gallery.

“When l got to (the Clerk’s) office, he was not there and l spoke to an officer who directed me to a room where the religious leaders were waiting. I waited with them for a short while before we were told to proceed to the chamber, take our seats and await the President’s arrival,” he said.

Mr Munene, who later heard the story from Mwai, said the security detail inadvertently mixed him with the clergy and pushed him to the undeserved position he found himself in.

'Go with them'

“He recalled being told, ‘anybody who was cleared to sit here is a religious leader. Go with them’,” Mr Munene narrated.

So, he went in with the clergy but he decided to sit on the bench reserved for judges.

Conspicuous in a pale cream suit, he made it through the security checks and found himself in the back row that was aligned with the President’s chair.

Before taking his seat, Mwai had stopped to shake hands and chat briefly with then Leader of Official Opposition, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya’s fourth president, now retired), whose seat was on the way to the judges’ area.

Mwai, who was an estate agent, was a common figure in Parliament, and he said he was doing business with the Legislature.

That Tuesday, before the Parliament incident, he had had lunch with then Starehe MP Maina Kamanda.

Following his arrest, Mwai later said, he was released without charges.

“They discovered he wasn’t a threat; just a guy with an ordinary story,” Mr Munene recalled.

“He was saying it was just a comedy of errors that caused all that.”

Mwai is survived by his wife Grace Mwai, an evangelist, their four children and five grandchildren.

For now, prayers and funeral arrangements meetings for Mwai will be held at St Andrew’s on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, and at the All Saints Cathedral on Friday, March 31, 2023.


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