Give up land or pay Sh1.7m for junk car, distressed owner told 

Andrew Githinji inspects the wreckage of his car outside a compound at Gwathamaki village in Nyeri county.

Andrew Githinji inspects the wreckage of his car outside a compound at Gwathamaki village in Nyeri county on September 21, 2022. The vehicle was involved in an accident in 2005.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The worthless scrap heap has been a 17-year-old nightmare for Mr Andrew Githinji, 80.
  • It has plunged him into a Sh1.7 million debt hole and his piece of land risks being auctioned if he doesn’t pay up.
  • With the bill unsettled, the garage impounded the vehicle and started charging Sh250 daily for storage.

Samaki village in Kieni constituency is aptly named after a large dam populated with fish —a rare delicacy in this predominantly farming community in Nyeri County.

In a nearby open field is a junkyard filled with wrecked cars, which is an odd sight so deep in this rural setting.

One of the mangled wrecks is a Peugeot saloon car that had seen better days.

But this worthless scrap heap has been a 17-year-old nightmare for Mr Andrew Githinji, 80.

It has plunged him into a Sh1.7 million debt hole and his only piece of land risks being auctioned off if he doesn’t pay up.

“Githinji must pay me, I want my money,” insists Mr Joel Maina, who once operated a garage in Nyeri town, where the long-running feud began. On April 18, 2005, the car that had been damaged in a security incident was brought to Mr Maina’s Nyeri Modern Garage in the town.

The cost of repairs at the time was estimated at Sh40,000.

“I received the car from Githinji and he promised to pay the fee,” Mr Maina told the Nation last week, insisting that Mr Githinji reneged on his promise, forcing him to confiscate the car even as the bill continued to accumulate.

But how did it balloon to Sh1.7 million?

Nyumba Kumi initiative

Mr Githinji says he is paying the price for being a responsible and caring member of his community.

When he got a chance to help curb insecurity in Ihwa village in Nyeri County, he says, he did not hesitate to volunteer to join the local Nyumba Kumi policing initiative.

His woes started on April 18, 2005, when the head of the local Nyumba Kumi was tipped off about an impending robbery.

A gang was planning to attack a women's group monthly meeting to snatch the money members had collected.

The six-man gang was headed by one Fredrick Kari, a notorious criminal.

“When it was my wife’s turn to host the meeting, we received information that Kari was in the area and was planning to rob the women,” Mr Githinji said.

The following day, he went to inform then divisional police boss, Mr George Wafula, about the imminent attack on his home.

“We waited for three hours but there was no response from the police,” he said.

So he decided to drive to the nearby Kinunga Police Post to find out what was happening.

He offered to transport two armed police officers in his white Peugeot saloon car to confront the robbers.

He said they had to seek reinforcements from the local chief’s camp, but they were later ambushed by the criminals, who started shooting at them.

His car was caught in the crossfire and was extensively damaged. Three gangsters were killed and police recovered two loaded guns.

Service promise 

According to Mr Githinji, as a token of appreciation for his role in the security operation, then Central provincial police boss, Mr Njue Njagi, ordered that the wreckage be towed to Nyeri Modern Garage, where police vehicles were serviced.

He promised that his office would meet the costs of repair, which at the time were estimated at Sh40,000.

Mr Githinji was hopeful that the vehicle would soon be restored and he would be on the road to the village, as had been his routine.

Andrew Githinji inspects the wreckage of his car outside a compound at Gwathamaki village in Nyeri county.

Andrew Githinji inspects the wreckage of his car outside a compound at Gwathamaki village in Nyeri county on September 21, 2022. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Instead, his hopes were dashed and he started the harrowing ordeal that has plagued him to this day.

The police did not honour their part of the bargain. And the situation was compounded when Mr Njagi, was transferred. Mr Njagi died in 2019.

With the bill unsettled, the garage impounded the vehicle and started charging Sh250 daily for storage.

“The garage owner refused to release my car and the police were not paying for it. I sought direction from the administrators but nothing has been done so far,” Mr Githinji said.

He remembers those first months, being shuttled from one government office to another. He remembers the many letters he has written in vain.

In 2007, he wrote to the office of the then Internal Security Minister John Michuki, seeking his intervention.

In a letter dated May 22, 2007 and signed by B.J. Leparamai, the ministry acknowledged the complaint.

“This is to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 25, April, 2007 ... on the matter under reference. It is obvious you did put your life at risk in the face of lurking danger to prevent a criminal act. It is, however, regretted that in doing so your motor vehicle was shot by the gangsters and seriously damaged. Accordingly, the matter will be accorded appropriate attention,” the letter read.

At the time, Nyeri Modern Garage had informed Mr Githinji that he owed Sh185,000, including storage charges for 925 days at Sh200 a day plus 16 per cent VAT (Sh29,600).

A year later, the garage wrote to Mr Githinji demanding Sh322,500

“If you will not have settled the storage charges before October 19, 2008, the money will start attracting an interest of 15 per cent per month. We are charging you storage of Sh250 per day from April 21, 2005. If you don’t clear a total of Sh322,500, we will dispose of the car,” it said.

In 2011, Mr Githinji wrote a reminder to the minister for Provincial Administration and Internal Security to follow up on his previous letter. On October 22, 2013, he wrote to the Attorney General, seeking his help.

“I hope you will not allow me to continue to suffer for an act that I took to save innocent women from being robbed and killed,” he said.

With no reply or assistance forthcoming, Mr Githinji resorted to reaching out to the Parliamentary Committee for National Security, to which he wrote in February 2014.

“I have been put to great shame and have become a laughing stock in my home area … May the Jubilee government, which I voted for, give me an answer to my contribution to maintaining peace and security through the swift action I took to defend innocent women,” the letter stated.

Three years later, on May 30, 2017, he wrote to the regional commissioner in Nyeri when he was threatened with the auctioning of his land.

On December 17, 2019, Mr Githinji received a letter from the garage’s lawyers, demanding Sh1,706,331 dating back to 2005.

“Your vehicle ... has been in our client’s storage from April 22, 2005, up to October 24, 2019, a total of 5,349 days. What our client claims against you is 5,349 days by 250, which equals Sh1,337,250 with a VAT of 213, 960. Sh1,551,210 has now become due,” the lawyers said, adding that with their legal fees, the total amount came to Sh1,706,331. 

In September 2020, Nairobi Regional Commissioner James Kianda wrote to his Nyeri counterpart: “I request you to listen to his story and advise him accordingly.”  

Fate sealed

Desperate, Mr Githinji went back to the Ministry of Internal Security, which on August 9, 2021, sealed his fate.

“The content of your letter has been noted, and your act of bravery and self-service is highly acknowledged and appreciated. In the current circumstances, however, the government is unable to assist you in the payment of the various bills that you have incurred. This is, therefore, to advise you to seek alternative means of raising the funds to settle the bills,” said the letter signed by Paul Famba.

Mr Githinji was deflated. The letter threatened to extinguish the hope he had kept alive during the 17 years. 

“I lost my car. I am on the verge of losing my land. And now I am being asked to pay all that money. All in the name of patriotism,” Mr Githinji lamented.

But Mr Maina does not want to be drawn into Mr Githinji’s woes.

“I never had any contract with the government to repair his car; it is him I had an agreement with. We agreed he would pay in two instalments of Sh20,000 each. But after I had used my money to repair the vehicle, he said the government would pay. I had no agreement with any government official,” Mr Maina declared.

The Nation visited the garage in Nyeri and found it closed. Mr Maina said he had relocated.

“After we closed the garage, we had to move the cars. I still have it in my possession in Nyaribo,” he insisted.

Asked why the vehicle had deteriorated to the wreckage it has become, he responded: “We repaired the body and with time, the outer part became weak because of corrosion. And because it didn’t have a windscreen, sometimes the rain and the vagaries of the weather destroyed it. Due to its heavy engine and weak body, it was destroyed during transit. But he has to pay my debt,” he insisted. 

A lawyer’s take on the dispute

According to Kipkorir Shadrack of  Muturi SK & Company Advocates, citizens have an obligation to aid the police in the prevention or suppression of crime. If in doing so any member of the public incurs any loss, then that loss should be  reimbursed. However, the quantum of compensation should be circumstantial.

In the matter of the present case, the repair of a vehicle when taken to a garage can be direct and, in this scenario, the National Police Service should only pay the actual costs of repair.

“Where the vehicle repair is delayed for whatever reason, the garage is entitled to charge reasonable storage fees by contract,” he explains. He adds that the police cannot be liable to pay storage fees for an indefinite period of time.

“The court can find the government liable to pay say three months’ storage fees. This is for a noble reason that the owner of the vehicle has a duty in law to mitigate the loss by undertaking such actions that a right-thinking person would have done in the circumstances,” Mr Kipkorir says.The garage does not escape responsibility.

“The garage has a legal duty of storing the vehicle in the same condition as it was when brought to it subject to ordinary wear and tear. Where this duty is breached, the owner can sue the garage on account of breach of duty. ”


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