George Wajackoyah, Robert Ouko murder and 17 dead witnesses

George Wajackoyah

Roots Party of Kenya Presidential aspirant George Wajackoyah.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Prof George Wajackoyah, an eccentric attorney, has been cleared by the electoral commission to vie for the presidency, and he is running a controversial campaign aptly captured by his slogan “shake the tree”.

The Roots Party of Kenya leader, who strode into the Bomas of Kenya on Thursday June 2 to pick up his nomination certificate in a black durag and a jungle green combat attire, is running an unorthodox campaign that has stirred the political scene.

He has a bold plan to tackle corruption – hanging corrupt judges and magistrates – and an even bolder strategy to promote bhang, an illegal substance, as a medicinal plant.

But the partner in the law firm Luchiri and Company Advocates, established in 2018, is no stranger to controversy.

The man, who has had stints as a high school teacher, a spy and now a decorated lawyer, at one point had to flee Kenya to escape persecution by authorities.

His troubles stemmed from his tenure as an inspector in the dreaded Special Branch, the revered intelligence unit in President Moi’s era.

Following the murder of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko in February 1990, suspected to have been orchestrated by rogue government elements, Prof Wajackoyah said, he was among those picked by his boss, James Kanyotu, to investigate the killing that had sparked public outrage. 

Ouko murdered

“When Ouko was murdered, there were a lot of contradictory stories. I was commissioned by Mr (James) Kanyotu, the then director of intelligence, to find out from the system who might have been involved. We did what we did,” Prof Wajackoyah recalled in a recent interview with Nation.Africa.

“Then there was some attempt to cover up the Ouko story and as usual, it was on the system’s side because you cannot alter or doctor the gadgets that we were using, especially the telephone communications that we were using at that time,” he said.

George Wajackoya

IEBC Chairman Mr Wafula Chebukati has today rejected Prof George Wajackoyah's application for clearance as a presidential candidate for failing to raise the requisite 2,000 signatures per county in at least 24 counties.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“And, I’m speaking for the first time because I’m going to be the President of this country and people are going to ask me, like you are, about what I know.

“So when we found out what we found out, those who wanted us to cover up and due to a change of guard in the intelligence service at that time with the retirement of Kanyotu, things went upside down. I was detained and tortured properly.

“With a lot of issues that were going on, sometimes they would blindfold me in a place I didn’t know and open my eyes at the city mortuary at night. That was maximum psychological and emotional torture.”

That’s the reason, he said, he fled and went into exile from 1991 to 2012, with stints in Britain and the US.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which was appointed by President Kibaki in 2008 and handed its report to his successor President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013, cited Prof Wajackoyah as “very vocal in his theories of government involvement in Ouko’s murder”.

And he had a reason to fear for his life. Mysterious deaths were stalking people who seemed to know anything about the murdered minister.

Ouko investigation

Among those who had died was Mr Martin Ochanda, a friend of Ouko’s who worked in the Special Branch.

He died in December 1991, after being reassigned from Kisumu to Nairobi, presumably to keep him out of the Ouko investigation, according to the TJRC report.

Mr Masinde Muliro, then vice-chairman of the opposition Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, died the following year. According to the TJRC report, Muliro had shared a flight to London with then powerful minister Nicholas Biwott, a suspect in Ouko’s murder, and Prof Wajackoyah, the former Special Branch inspector.

On arrival back in Kenya, Muliro suddenly collapsed at the airport and died on August 14, 1992.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg Affair noted the curious arrest on August 19, l992 of a Central Bank official, Mr Francis Lukorito, who later reported that police didn’t seem interested in his whistleblowing on the pre-export financing scheme but rather interrogated him about his connection to the late Muliro.

Lawyer George Wajackoyah

Lawyer George Wajackoyah testifies in the Sh20 billion Kihingo Village ownership dispute at the Milimani Law Courts on January 19, 2021.

Photo credit: Richard Munguti | Nation Media Group

“He was arrested, beaten and injured by the police. He believes that the arrest was because of his stand against the financial irregularities which were going on, and certain organs of government prevented him ever being re-employed,” the commission said in its 2005 report.

“He stated that he was told by the late Mr Joseph Mumelo (chief banking manager) while he was in prison, that his troubles arose from his stand. Nevertheless, he very honestly stated that the police did not appear to be interested in his work at CBK but merely in his connection with the late Muliro.

“Although it must be a matter for suspicion, it has not been proved his arrest was as a result of anything happening in his employment.”

The TJRC report documents the deaths of 17 witnesses that have frustrated efforts to find Ouko’s killers. Here are the excerpts.

1. Mohamed Aslam, then chairman of the Pan-African Bank, died on November 18, 1991 from a sudden-onset illness, right around the time he was due to testify before the Gicheru Commission regarding the Molasses Project, and specifically about the allegation that he had demanded a commission or bribe for his support of the project.

2. The herdboy who discovered Ouko’s body, Paul Shikuku, disappeared and presumably died before he could serve as a key witness before the Gicheru Commission.

3. Oidho Ogalo, one of the Koru farmhands and one of the few individuals who was present the night of Ouko’s disappearance, died an unexplained death around the same time as the proceedings of the Gicheru Commission.

4. James Eric Onyango, a relative of Ouko’s who spoke with him via telephone on the night of the latter’s disappearance, also died suddenly and unexpectedly.

5. Otieno Gor, who visited Ouko on the night of his disappearance, died mysteriously as well.

6. Martin Ochanda, a friend of Ouko’s who worked in the Special Branch, died in December 1991, after being reassigned from Kisumu to Nairobi, presumably to keep him out of the Ouko investigation.

7. Then Superintendent of Police Joseph Mbogo was closely involved with the Gicheru Commission, and died in 1993.

8. Joseph Otieno Yogo, Ouko’s personal driver and bodyguard, died in 1992 from a short illness, having served as a key witness for the Gicheru Commission.

9. Ouko’s own mother, Susan Aloo Seda, died mysteriously while the investigation into his death was at its peak.

10. After the Gicheru Commission was dissolved, Jonah Anguka’s bodyguard Pius Omollo Ngwaye was taken into custody, suffered extreme physical abuse and died shortly after his release.

11. The then senior assistant commander of police, Nehemiah Shikuku Obati, who had spearheaded the arrests and interrogation of prime suspects Biwott and Oyugi, and was demoted to a junior position following his bold actions, died in August 1992 of alleged liver failure, although the circumstances strongly suggest he was poisoned.

12. Muliro died around that same time. He had shared a flight to London with Biwott, and the former had met with former Special Branch inspector Wajackoyah, who was outspoken in his theories about government involvement in Ouko’s murder. Upon his return to Kenya, Muliro suddenly collapsed at the airport and died.

13. Hezekiah Oyugi, the then head of Internal Security and one of the main suspects in Ouko’s murder, had just agreed to testify before the Gicheru Commission before it suddenly disbanded. Oyugi was arrested with a handful of other individuals, including Biwott, held for two weeks, and released for lack of evidence. Shortly thereafter, Moi fired Oyugi in October 1991. Less than one year later, in August 1992, Oyugi died from a rare brain ailment that could have been induced.

The commissioners also made this observation: (There was a rumour circulating regarding a tape recording of Oyugi on his deathbed, in which he implicated certain individuals in the Ouko murder, but the details of the recording are unknown along with its whereabouts, and the recording’s very existence is tenuous at best.) Despite over three decades of service to his country, the Kenyan government ignored Oyugi’s death, rather than reward his service with a traditional state funeral. This ill-treatment may have been due to Oyugi’s willingness to cooperate with the Gicheru Commission and thus was seen as a traitor to a government he was supposed to protect. Alternatively, the government of Kenya may have seen Oyugi’s death as an opportunity to place responsibility for Ouko’s death on one of the main public suspects, and thus put a stop to public scrutiny of the case once and for all.

14. Justice Fidahussein Esmailji Abdullah, the judge at Anguka’s trial, died suddenly in November 1993. He had been involved in a widely publicised trial in 1991 in which he was highly critical of the Kenyan police. His death came on the heels of a speech that was highly critical of the Kenyan political system and the corruption therein. Anguka was the only individual actually tried for Ouko’s murder, and Abdullah’s death came just before a verdict was to be delivered. This resulted in a mistrial. The retrial resulted in an acquittal. Anguka had been detained for just over two years. Upon his acquittal he immediately fled to the US.

15. Philip Kilonzo, the commissioner of police at the time of Ouko’s death, died in July 1997 after his beer was poisoned at a bar in Matuu, Yatta. This was an especially blatant poisoning because there were many witnesses present, although the perpetrators are still unknown.

16. Dr Jason Kaviti, the government pathologist, appeared before the Sunguh Committee in 2005 and renounced the Ouko suicide theory as completely manufactured. He suffered a stroke in 2006, and died from health complications in October 2011.

17. Selina Were Ndalo, Ouko’s maid and a key witness over the years, died in January 2012 after suffering from an unidentified illness supposedly linked to a snakebite he suffered the previous year. After initial cooperation with Troon and other authorities, Ndalo was subjected to such levels of intimidation and threats to her life that she essentially spent the rest of her years in hiding.

The report concludes: “The difficulty in uncovering the identity of those responsible for Ouko’s murder has been largely due to the lack of witness cooperation in investigative efforts. We do not include this section to definitively state that all these witnesses have been murdered, although the frequency and circumstances behind these deaths is certainly suspicious and worth looking into.

Rather, what is equally important is the intimidation effect that these deaths have had on other witnesses, along with the general public, in creating a general atmosphere of fear and mistrust within the investigative process.”