Mathira election petitioner in civil jail for failure to foot Sh9.5-million-legal bill

Michael Gichuru at King'ong'o Maximum Prison after being sentenced to one-month civil jail by a Nyeri Court on March 19, 2019. [Kibata Kihu/Standard]
David and Goliath with a twist aptly captures Michael Gichuru’s legal battle to have Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua’s election nullified.

Whereas in the biblical story David triumphs over Goliath, Mr Gichuru’s case is different. The uneven match-up of pockets and legal manoeuvering was not as reliable as Gichuru (pictured) hoped.

When Gichuru started his legal battle, immediately after the 2017 elections, all he hoped for was justice in what he felt was not a fair contest.

Never in his wildest dreams did he think that what he was starting would leave an indelible mark on his life and condemn him to prison.

The 34-year-old village photographer, from Karatina, is now languishing behind bars at King’ong’o Maximum Prison in Nyeri town, after he was unable to raise Sh9.5 million to settle the legal bill from the case.

Police cell

For a man who had never spent a night in a police cell, Gichuru now mingles with convicted criminals at the prison, thanks to the jail term sanctioned by a Nyeri court.

Nyeri High Court Deputy Registrar Nelly Kariuki this week jailed Gichuru over his failure to settle the Sh9,518,972 bill that arose from the petition.

According to the law, in a civil matter, the losing party bears the costs of the suit.

Call it naivety or bravery but the father of a boy and a girl, decided to take on the moneyed Mr Gachagua head-on not knowing that the end result might be disastrous.

He is now scratching his head with the hefty bill hanging over his head, never mind that he has never handled a million in cash.

Gachagua’s lawyer Wahome Gikonyo sought orders to have Gichuru compelled to pay the amount and the prayer was granted.

Yet for his woes, Gichuru does not believe he defied conventional wisdom when he chose to challenge the election.

“I consider myself as a voice for the voiceless and since I was aware of so many irregularities that went on in that election that not everybody knew about, I decided to act,” he told The Standard at the imposing King’ong’o Maximum Prison.

The Herculean task that Gichuru took up goes against his nature. He is discreet and worked as a videographer and graphic designer before he was jailed.

Gichuru was represented by lawyers from Rachier & Amollo law firm.

When The Standard visited him at King’ong’o Prison on Tuesday, he walked into the visitors’ room clutching a copy of the Constitution he had borrowed from the prison library. When the conversation between us lulled, he idly flipped through the pages.

In the sweltering late afternoon heat, he had on a thick grey sweater over his stripped white shirt.

His first words to us were a passing comment about his size. “I know you expected that I would be bigger,” he said. Gichuru is diminutive and can barely pass for a 34-year-old.

He is also quick to make light of his predicament. “When I came here on Monday, an officer joked that I had chosen the day inmates were served meat,” he said, chuckling.

“The only reason I am here is that I was not served with the documents on time. I was aware of the costs but I was waiting for the process to proceed in the right way.

“My lawyers were not involved in the taxation and the same way I was served with the notice to show cause why I should not be jailed was the same way I should have been served with the bill of costs,” he said.

His argument, however, fell short of convincing the court that he was committed to settling the bill.

Baffled many

The deputy registrar observed that Gichuru had not provided a breakdown of how he will make the payments.

Submitting on behalf of Gachagua, Wahome said that Gichuru had been served with the bill of costs through his advocates and that is why the matter proceeded to taxation.

That Gichuru was not a candidate, nor did he have any other interest in the case beyond conducting his civil duty, baffles many.

For his reformist ideology, he is modest enough to admit he might not be the headline, but is determined to be more than a footnote. He vehemently denies he was a proxy for candidates that lost that election.

“I was not acting on anyone’s behalf,” he said, “I was an administrator during the election but that only gave me an advantage to know what was going on, on the ground and act.”

Locked out

“I am on record as informing the electoral commission returning officer that a number of agents were locked out of the polling stations and the process could never be free and fair,” he said.

Although he would not say, The Standard is aware, from court records, Gichuru was employed as an agent for Phyllis Wambura, who came second in the election. Gachagua garnered 52,757 votes against Wambura’s 28,893.

“I know I am not alone in this because I was speaking for a large number of people who still believe the election was not free and fair. I can still go back to them (to help raise the money),” he said.

He added: “Most of the voters encouraged me to continue doing what I was doing.”

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David and GoliathMichael GichuruMathira MP Rigathi GachaguaElection Petition