On March 3, 2001, a former city politician led a group of the then ruling party officials to State House for a meeting whose outcome would have implications decades later.
Resolutions of that meeting are at the heart of a court battle pitting billionaire Mike Maina and the 700 victims of a demolition he ordered on a controversial parcel of land in Kayole, Nairobi.
Mr Maina is also the owner of Marble Arch Hotel near the fire station, whose parking governor Mike Sonko ordered demolished in mid-December last year over claims it had encroached on a road.
How the tussle unfolds could reveal machinations that enabled grabbing of prime city plots by well-connected individuals or how squatters stole from genuine investors.
Buildings in Nyama Villa Estate, worth at least Sh100 million, were knocked down mid last month leaving residents confused and reviving memories of the State House meeting almost 20 years ago.
The late Margaret Katwa, a former senior Kanu official, and 60 others secured a parcel of land through an executive order following the State House visit.
An earlier City Council resolution dated January 21, 2000 set aside the contested land for settlement of squatters and putting up of social amenities, including a police station.
“The Director of City Planning and Architecture indicated the plan for the scheme had been approved by the Commissioner of Lands and the survey plans had also been approved by the Director of Survey,” reads minutes of the 728th council meeting on October 12, 2000.
Godfrey Mate, then Town Clerk, wrote that the site be re-planned to resettle squatters and put up social amenities as resolved in the meeting, in instructions given to the then Director of Planning.
Delays in executing the order informed the need to seek State House intervention.
Stakes were high for the then ruling party, especially in Nairobi which was supporting the Opposition.
Cyrus Maina, then Nairobi Provincial Commissioner, would follow through to ensure the land, then owned by the defunct City Council, was transferred to the intended beneficiaries.
But as the sub-division of the property, part of a bigger parcel registered as LR 11344 got underway, Maina through his firm Muthithi Investments, was working on a different set of ownership documents for the same land.
Maina says he paid requisite dues for the allocation before assuming ownership.
Muthithi Investments has a 99-year lease under LR 23917 issued in February of 2001, in a suspect transaction disowned by then mayor John Ndirangu.
“He denied signing the lease maintaining the signature appearing on the lease and ascribed to him as the mayor was not his,” read court documents, where Ndirangu denies granting the lease to Muthithi or anybody else.
Adjacent plots are numbered in sequence from 22142/3/4 raising a red flag on the authenticity of the property, according to claimants.
It has emerged while Muthithi’s land bears a different registration number, the subject property is the same as LR 13344/R where the “R” stands for “remainder” after prior annexation.
Ongoing investigations are centred on whether there was a council sitting that awarded lease to Muthithi or any other entity as is procedure, as minutes of the supposed meeting cannot be traced at City Hall.
Muthithi also claimed to have bought the land from another firm, Gamex Shelter Hunters Ltd, also associated with Maina.
A witness testifying on behalf of Muthithi told court they were not aware if Gamex Shelter Hunters had been issued a letter of allotment by the City Council.
City lawyer Harrison Njoroge is representing Nairobi County in the upcoming case where Sonko is seeking to dispossess Maina of the 20 acres, which past rulings have upheld as his.
Former Director of Planning, a Mr R M Kibinda, said in the past suit, the allotment letter provided by the squatters “was not genuine and did not originate from their office”. Kibinda’s letter was produced in court as evidence.
That is perhaps what premised Sonko’s recent ugly confrontation with Maina, accusing the billionaire of using fake documents to irregularly acquire the land.
Ndirangu has maintained the signature purporting to be his was a forgery, a claim which could prove pivotal to the ownership tussle.
But he acknowledges allocation of the land before he became mayor, a grant whose issuance is contested in the absence of documents on the supposed council resolution.
At least 23 people testified in a case pitting Maina against the squatters.
However, over half of the defendants in the suit number 498 of 2004 were either already dead or fictitious – according to surviving trustees of the Embakasi Njiru United Self Help Group consisting of the squatters.
The other half who included Mr Andrew Kyego and Mr Bernard Maina said City Hall had allocated them the parcel of land in a letter dated June 15, 1998, on a consideration of Sh775,300.
A portion of the amount was paid to City Hall into an account that has since disappeared from the system.
Some of the squatters showed The Standard what they claim to be the physical original receipts issued against the payments – ranging about Sh5,000 per plot.
Muthithi has won in multiple suits on the premise of the allotment and withdrawal of a suit by City Hall contesting authenticity of February 5, 2001 lease to Maina.
Reasons for the flip-flop by City Hall regarding the allotment will be among questions that would be up for determination, besides who actually issued the lease to either Muthithi or Gamex.
In one of the rulings, Maina was awarded Sh1 million in lost revenue and damages arising from the illegal occupation of the land where he envisioned a gated community which his firm intended to develop and sell, to earn him up to a billion in profits.