When the deal is too good, think twice. This famous adage gained special meaning for Pastor Joseph Onyancha after he was conned out of Sh3.5 million in a military job scam.
The man of the cloth who ministers at Revelation Worship Centre in Ongata Rongai, Kajiado County, could not resist an offer to part with what seemed like an affordable ‘bribe’ to have his 13 relatives join the Kenya Defence Force (KDF).
To his utter shock, however, the deal landed him in police custody over forged admission letters to the KDF Recruits Training School (RTS) at Moi Barracks in Eldoret.
He is among 55 suspects who were arrested in a three-day crackdown carried out by the military police last week as part of efforts to break a cartel behind fake admission letters purported to be from the KDF.
“I could not resist it. The calling letters, according to my link person, originated from the Ministry of Defence headquarters, a clear indication there was no hitch for them to join the military,” said Pastor Onyancha in an interview, shortly after he was arrested when he reported at the RTS with the 13 ‘recruits”.
The pastor said he was introduced by a neighbour to a woman named Susan who reportedly deals in online fashion wear at Githurai market in Nairobi. The woman was said to have connections in KDF and would facilitate the recruitment of the 13 through the back door. This meant the 13 would be spared the arduous physical fitness checks and other exercises that precede one’s selection to join the military. “The link person was my trusted neighbour who assured me that all was well and all that was required was the facilitation fee. The deal seemed too good and clean. I rushed home and mobilised my relatives to hurriedly raise the money and seal it, only to end up in this trouble,” added Pastor Onyancha.
Three of the would-be recruits’ families parted with Sh270,000 each, two others Sh400,000 each and the rest eight Sh300,000.
The cash, totalling Sh3.5 million, was then handed over to Susan, who in turn issued them with the fake admission letters.
“As a lay person, I could not tell that the letters were fake. I was sure the youth would join the military without any problem,” said Pastor Onyancha, who now deeply regrets being involved in a bribery and forgery racket.
“I am remorseful for allowing the enemy of corruption to lure me into such trouble. I thought I was helping my relatives to secure employment in the military but the 14 of us now face possible jail term even after parting with millions,” remarked Pastor Onyancha.
The pastor says this was his first time be involved in such a matter. And he was not alone.
Mr Patrick Manyasi from Navakholo, Kakamega County, sold an acre of land after he was convinced by a local surveyor that he knew an influential person who could assist him secure employment for his son at the military.
“The total facilitation sum was Sh400,000. I made a downpayment of Sh300,000 and I was to clear the balance of Sh100,000 on reporting day, before being issued with the admission letter,” said Mr Manyasi.
He was arrested together with the surveyor and the two now face forgery charges.
“It is a double tragedy. I have lost my land and my son will not get a job in the military,” rued Mr Manyasi.
Hi-tech forgery tactics
Brigadier Peter Muteti, the Chief Recruiting Officer for the 2021 exercise, warned the public that the fraudsters have gone hi-tech in their forgery tactics.
“We have witnessed increased cases of forged documents as the recruits continue reporting. So far 55 suspects have been arrested,” disclosed Brigadier Muteti.
He confirmed that 1,500 recruits had reported to the RTS and were undergoing Covid-19 tests and other health check-ups.
The recruitment took place on February 8 – 19 this year.
Cases of recruits turning up with fake admission letters at the Eldoret-based military school are not new, as some well-connected people bribe their way into the disciplined force.
A Court Martial on February 17, 2021 closed a case involving a KDF soldier who had been accused of receiving money from unsuspecting Kenyans on the pretext he could offer them jobs in the military.
The court heard that during the 2019 KDF recruitment, the accused promised to influence a military job offer for Mr Edwin Murithi at a cost.
With no income, Mr Murithi approached his father, who borrowed the money and transferred the amount to the bank account of the accused.
Murithi’s father, Nelson, discovered later that this was a con game when days lapsed and his son was yet to receive an admission letter to the RTS.
Isiolo Chief Magistrate Samuel Mungai, who was presiding over the case, closed the cross-examination of witnesses and adjourned the court.
Though KDF has continued to enlighten Kenyans that recruitment is open and free, cases of bribery have become the norm during the exercise year in year out.
In most cases, the victims are rarely prosecuted. Some are released from police custody and others forgiven by the court after pleading guilty.
In past KDF bribery cases, investigating officers have often blamed military authorities of being uncooperative.
“The military has always been uncooperative. Once the case is filed, they don't show up. It seems they fear the matter would implicate senior officials who could be behind these happenings," said then Eldoret Chief Magistrate Charles Obulutsa in a case in 2017 that was withdrawn after witnesses failed to show up in court.
Mr Obulutsa expressed his frustrations on similar matters, saying KDF officers never show up for such cases.
Similar incidents occurred in 2018 and last year where 132 and 99 youths – respectively – were arrested.
In February last year, some 71 out of the 99 people arrested at RTS pleaded guilty to two charges of forgery before Eldoret Principal Magistrate Naomi Wairimu.
The court sentenced them to a six-month jail term with an alternative fine of Sh20,000 each.
However, 28 others who denied the charges were each released on Sh30,000 cash bail or Sh100,000 bond.