Years of fighting for justice yield zero for former soldier

Elizabeth Akinyi with her husband, Oduor Ochanda, at their home in Umoja, Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]
Elizabeth Akinyi gazed into the empty room.

Then, slowly, tears started trickling down her cheeks. She wiped them with her hands.

“It is God, not a human being. It is only because of God that we are still surviving,” she said.

When she married Oduor Ochanda 32 years ago, Ms Akinyi, like all newlyweds, looked forward to a life of bliss.

And why not. She was working as a teacher and her husband, a young man full of energy, was a soldier and a wrestling and judo expert.

The couple had great plans for their family. But all this came tumbling down only months into their marriage.

“We were about eight months into our marriage. I was barely 25 when he fell,” Akinyi explained, her eyes still teary.

Mr Ochanda fell during a training session in Ruiru for the Kenyan wrestling team that was preparing for the All-Africa Games. He was the coach for the wrestling and judo team.

Twisted neck

Ochanda was trying to save one of his trainees from falling when he slipped, fell and twisted his neck.

"Everything went black," he said.

He later woke up at the Forces Memorial Hospital. This was to be his home for 11 months.

“My doctor told me I would not survive for more than 30 days. Unfortunately, he died (before me)…not that it is a good thing (the doctor dying), but it shows God has a reason for me to survive. All my limbs were paralysed. I even had to be fed,” he said, trying to stretch his right hand for us to see.

When The Standard visited the family's home in Umoja on Saturday afternoon, we found Ochanda watching television in the bedroom.

The 14-inch set was placed on a cupboard so that Ochanda could watch with ease while lying in bed.

The frail body of the once agile wrestler was covered with bedding, which also hid a urine bag. In his right hand was a remote control, perhaps the only control he still has since the accident on May 20, 1987.

“I have had it hard…I have suffered,” he said, stammering. He never used to stammer before the accident.

Many things hurt Ochanda besides his painful body. He is angry that he has grown old in the bed.

He is also unhappy because, as he puts it, he has nothing to show for his life.

"I had land in Migori, but these...these...these expenses on treatment made me sell it. I am so dependent on people...even to visit the washroom," he says.

Due to his ill health, Ochanda was discharged from the military in January 1995.

“This serviceman is entitled for gratuity and payment will be made by military pensions branch,” read the discharge letter.

Ochanda said he received the pension only twice.

This prompted him to seek justice from the courts.

The court ruled in his favour and in March 2, 2011 Justice Kalpana Rawal awarded him Sh6.5 million special damages in respect of medical expenses and Sh1 million for pain and suffering.

On November 2011, the Deputy Registrar of the High Court issued a certificate of order against the Government, showing the total sum owed to Ochanda was Sh22.9 million.

“The Government did not pay the decreed sum despite various demands,” read another court judgement dated December 9, 2016 given by Court of Appeal judges Erastus Githinji, GBM Kariuki, and Philomena Mwilu.  

Ochanda had gone to the court of appeal after the High Court on December 5, 2013 dismissed his contempt of court case against the Ministry of Defence and the Attorney General's office for failing to pay his dues.

The judges allowed the appeal but asked Ochanda to amend it so that it is directed to the responsible office.

Judicial review

The amendment, contained in an application, was later filed in High Court and heard by Lady Justice Roselyne Aburili who on May 24, 2017, found the then principal secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Saitoti Torome, in contempt of court.

“Accordingly, I find the office holder and accounting officer, the principal secretary of Defence, guilty of contempt of court dated November 21, 2012 and issued on November 22, 2012 and convict him accordingly in failing to make payment to the ex parte applicant decree holder in HC 1051 OF 1996 as compelled by the judicial review order,” read the judgement.

Then on October 10, 2017, Justice Aburili gave an order to have Mr Torome arrested. The order was submitted to the office of the Inspector General of Police two days later, but the arrest was never made.

Ochanda has also been seeking intervention of the AG and the Commission on Administrative Justice.

A letter dated May 10, 2016 from the Defence ministry PS's office to the Ombudsman claimed Ochanda was paid Sh79,375 gratuity and continued to draw a disability pension quarterly as the rate of Sh1,891.

However, a letter from the Pension Secretariat in the National Treasury dated September 29, 2017, claimed Ochanda’s pension file could not be traced and ‘actual’ status of the payment could not be ascertained.

Akinyi claimed that a government official had once asked the family to agree to be paid Sh10 million and to forget the rest of the money.

"Surely, what will you do with money that is not yours? I was told back then when I was young and bubbly that we would not succeed in our quest. But look at me now, I am old, I am still alive. My God has never abandoned me," she says.

She added: “It is just so painful what we are going through. I am always on loans. Just to move him from this bed to the court for a case you need at least Sh10,000 to hire an ambulance,” says the mother of two.

Oduor OchandaElizabeth AkinyiCompensation