|Nicanor Otieno's son PHOTO: COURTESY|
By PROTUS ONYANGO
Kisumu, Kenya: He gazes into the horizon and tightly holds his son’s picture as tears well in his eyes.
It has now become a tradition for Nicanor Otieno, 88, to hold the picture and pray to God that one day, he will be able to see his beloved son.
Otieno’s tribulations began 32 years ago when he heard over the radio that the Government had been overthrown by the Kenya Airforce.
“When I heard of the August 1, 1982 coup, I never knew that it would alter my live for the worse. The truth only dawned on me when I was called to Nairobi and informed that my son, James Odemba Otieno who worked in the Kenya Army was arrested for participating in the coup,” Mr Otieno says.
Then the journey of misery for Otieno who has worked as a locomotive driver and a registration officer in the Ministry of Labour and who hails from Dago Thim village, Nyahera location in Kisumu County began.
“My son’s case, together with 13 others, started in 1982 and ended in 1985 when their leaders Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancras Oteyo Okumu were hanged at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison,” Mr Otieno said.
He added, “My son and his 11 colleagues were given a life sentence and this is what makes me believe that my son who was born in 1955 is still alive.”
Otieno has not seen his son since then. “Once he was imprisoned, Government officials kept changing goalposts and never told me where he was,” Mr Otieno said.
He said he does not believe his son is dead and urged the government to release him.
“My son is the second born in a family of four children (two sons and two daughters) that I had with his mother. His sisters and brother died and now he is languishing in prison. I am also a prisoner. Let him be released for us to meet and wait to bury one another,” Mr Otieno said.
He added, “I gave my son a book and a pen. It is the Government that gave him the gun in 1976 when he joined the army. I know he is old and frail now and he is not a threat to security.”
The octogenarian urged the Government to come clean and tell the truth about his son’s whereabouts. “I am an educated man and know that Ochuka’s hanging marked the end of hangings in Kenya’s history. If the Government killed my son, let me know so that I perform my his burial rites,” the old man said.
His son’s imprisonment has left him a lonely and poor man.
“I was one of the few people here who joined the prestigious Nyang’or High School and got employed. I bought very many household items but all of them were stolen during the time I spent in Nairobi attending my son’s court sessions,” Mr Otieno said.
That forced him to marry a second wife to look after his home while he was away but she perished in a road accident.
“I had four children with my second wife but she died in a road accident, leaving me to take care of our young children. When I think about that and my son’s incarceration, I wish for death,” Mr Otieno said.
He said he was not paid pension because he kept changing jobs and now has no income and only relies on her young daughter to take care of him.
“During our days, people were forced to work and we moved from job to job. If you deserted duty, you were imprisoned for a month and taken back to your job. There was no pension,” Mr Otieno said.
He added, “My imprisoned son is the one who used to take care of me. Now I am helpless. I don’t even get the Sh2000 per month that the Government talks about. My son’s wife left us when my son was jailed. I am told she died but my grandson is alive. Let him come home and inherit my land.”
Anne Awuor, the old man’s 28-year-old daughter from his second marriage is the one who now shoulders the responsibility of taking care of her aging father.
“My father is like a baby now and I have to do everything for him. I do subsistence farming and sell maandazi to get money for our survival,” Ms Awuor said.
She noted that the absence of her brother has negatively affected her dad’s life.
“He keeps talking about him and clutching on his photo. At times he cries, praying to see him before he dies. The Government has authority to pardon my brother. I am sure if he comes now, my father can live until he reaches 100 years,” Ms Awuor said.
She added, “The coup happened before I was born but the way my father talks fondly about my brother, I am also yearning to see him.”