Kenya: Were Saitoti, Ojode killed by drug lords?

Was the June 10 police helicopter crash that killed former Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, his assistant Joshua Ojode and four others the work of drug cartels?

This was the burning question Parliament asked Thursday as it accused the Government of shoddy investigations, cover-up and even outright frustration of the probe team. 

It is also the question that rekindled bad memories of Kenya’s unresolved murder cases, such as those of Dr Robert Ouko, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki, as well as the unexplained air crash that killed former Roads minister Kipkalya Kones and former Sotik MP Lorna Laboso on the same June 10 date in 2008.

Angry MPs pointed fingers at the Government demanding answers to the pending questions on the crash, with one member sensationally telling Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim she had information on the crash that, “could shut down this Government.”

As a result, and probably as a sign the House does not take the claim lightly, Deputy Speaker Maalim ordered that Nominated MP Rachel Shebesh who made the claim, saying she could only share what she knows with a Parliamentary Select Committee, be put under tight security.

The MPs expressed fury at the fact that just about three weeks after the crash that killed police pilots Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi, as well as Saitoti’s bodyguards Joshua Tonkei and Thomas Murimi, the country was still left grappling with speculation over what may have brought the chopper down.  

Moved by the contributions by members, Maalim allowed them to ventilate their concerns and several times had to caution Transport Minister Amos Kimunya to be sensitive to the views made by members.

The minister was responding as Deputy Leader of Government Business in the House, even though his Transport ministry was accused by MPs of not cooperating with the probe team.

So serious was the matter that at one point Maalim directed the office of the Sergeant-at-Arms to liaise with the Parliament Police Station to enhance the security of Shebesh.

Shebesh dropped her bombshell after Makadara MP Gideon Mbuvi Sonko told the House Saitoti and Ojode were killed because of their efforts to fight drug trafficking.

Sonko went on to give details of how former GSU officer Erastus Kitur Chemorei, who was in charge of the storage of the Sh6.4 billion cocaine haul seized by police in a private villa in Malindi, was felled “by 400 bullets” fired by his own colleagues.

He further tabled rulings of a magistrate court in Eldoret that among other things confirmed Chemorei was murdered by fellow cops.

The move caused a stir among members who demanded that in light of the revelations by Shebesh she be accorded more security. Gichugu MP Martha Karua consequently asked Maalim see to it that Shebesh was accorded adequate security owing to the information she had.

Karua further accused the Government of being insincere with the investigations because no preliminary reports had been given since a probe team was launched.

“We do not know anything that has been unraveled in the two weeks the investigations have been going on,” she said. Kilome MP Harun Mwau claimed there was a conspiracy to kill the two.

“The two comrades were serious investigators of drug dealings. There was a conspiracy to silence them, which could go further to eliminate MPs who have information,” added Mwau who, like Sonko and Juja MP William Kabogo, were on a list of alleged drug dealers Saitoti gave Parliament last year. 

Lands minister James Orengo said the Government must listen to all theories before dismissing them.

Orengo explained that having been in some of the previous commissions of inquiry, he had come to realise that several theories were bound to come up, but they should not be dismissed.

He said he still remembers the claims that Ouko and British tourist Julie Ward “had killed themselves then set themselves on fire”.

Shebesh had also on a point of order questioned why Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere, who was among the first people to arrive at the chopper crash site, only stayed for a few minutes, failed to secure the scene and walked away, leaving Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, “with bodies of the two who were his bosses”. Government Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo raised temperatures when he said the crash had all the indications of foul play.

“When it smells like a skunk it is a skunk, “ he said adding that the Saitoti family had been sidelined in the investigations.

Family role
But Kimunya shot up on a point of order and denied the accusations, saying he was in touch with both families and that they were part of the investigation team. But the remarks did not go down well with members such as Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchellah who took on Kimunya saying Saitoti’s family lawyer had complained of the slow pace of investigations.

Konchellah, who was the master of ceremony at Saitoti’s burial, further said the late minister’s family had equally been sidelined in the probe, which Kimunya denied.

At this point Midiwo, on a point of order, told the House that a member of the family had just sent him a message confirming that they were not involved in the appointment of members of the probe team.

“Mr Speaker, I have just received a message from a member of the family which I can share with the House confirming that they have been sidelined in the probe,” he added.

Both Kimunya and his Permanent Secretary Cyrus Njiru were put on the spot with members accusing them of failing to cooperate with the probe team.