How Kiereini almost wiped top security commanders

Paul Walsh (right), Diageo CEO, shares a light moment with Jeremiah Kiereini, chairman of EABL in August 2000. [File, Standard]

In one red blaze of fury, former Head of Public Service Jeremiah Gitau Kiereini, who died on Monday evening, almost plunged the country into a security crisis had he followed through his plot to shoot patrons at a city restaurant who included Kenya’s top three security commanders.

Overcome by rage at epithets hurled at him by a reveler, Kiereni reveals how he contemplated going on a shooting spree that could have easily eliminated the then Commissioner of Police Bernard Hinga, the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Director Ignatius Nderi and the General Service Unit (GSU) commandant Ben Gethi.

His friendship at the time with the then Attorney General Charles Njonjo had sparked the argument that quickly went out of hand and got him into a murderous rage. 

His autobiography

The revelation is contained in the Kiereini’s autobiography, A Daunting Journey, published in 2014.

That Saturday afternoon, Kiereini had met Edward Kariuki wa Kimani, who was then Njenga Karume’s business associate. Kariuki and Karume had purchased the Agip Motel (now Jacaranda Hotel) and the adjoining Pizza Garden.

Senior civil servants often met at the Pizza Garden on Saturday afternoon, sitting out on the verandah, having snacks and drinks. He recalled that Saturday afternoon, they were only with Kariuki at the restaurant.

He recalled asking his friend: “Are we going to sit here, just the two of us, as though we are outcasts?” His friend reluctantly agreed that they head to Mayfair, which Kiereini noted “usually had a good crowd and had excellent steaks.”

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At Mayfair, they found Hinga, Nderi, Gethi and Harun Muturi, a businessman. The previous week, MPs had been severely critical of Njonjo over the allegation that he had land in Surrey, England, and “therefore he was not regarded as a true, patriotic Kenyan,” according to the book.  

Kiereini says that Muturi, “who was often careless with his talk and did not stop to weigh the consequences of his words” provoked him and grossly insulted him. This was after Kiereini had tried to stand up for Njonjo, with whom initially they had a frosty relationship that later thawed and they became close to the extent Njonjo was his best man when Kiereini remarried in 1971.  

Offensive remarks

“You and Njonjo should be kicked out of Kenya. You should go and live in Surrey. Thii ukeere murumeguo Njonjo niguo ndoiga (Go tell your “husband” Njonjo that I have said so),” Kiereini quotes Muturi making the offensive remarks directed at him. Seething with rage, he stormed out and walked towards his car to fetch his pistol.

“I was so enraged at Muturi’s foul and vulgar insult that I decided that I would shoot him… I realised that none of the group knew that I had a weapon, and for a second, I even considered shooting them all,” Kiereini writes, revealing that he only changed his mind once he was at the parking lot, figuring that what he was about to do was “stupid” and he would never go unpunished for it.

Kiereini, a former holder of the powerful position of Chief Secretary — the position anchoring the headship of civil service — and the man credited for shaping the blue-chip status of the East African Breweries Limited (EABL), died at his home aged 90.

Yesterday, his family announced he had died peacefully at home in the presence of his immediate family.

The family said the late Kiereini will be interred in a private ceremony tomorrow. A memorial service shall be announced at a later date.

Kiereini held positions of honour in the civil service, culminating to the powerful position of Chief Secretary in 1979, where he served until 1984 when he retired, before venturing in business, again emerging a sterling performer as he served as the Director and Chairman of EABL and CMC holdings, among other ventures. 

In the book, Kiereini also talks of a love-hate relationship he had with Njonjo, while they were both in civil service, revealing how it got frosty to the extent of him banging the telephone receiver on the former AG, after a heated exchange. 

While Njonjo was the AG and Kiereini serving as the undersecretary in charge of Provincial Administration, then under Duncan Ndegwa who was the Head of Civil Service, he says he found himself caught in between perennial fights between the two.

But Kiereini revealed that he and Njonjo later buried the hatchet and became good friends and business partners. The former AG would in 1971 become his best man after he remarried. 

And though Kiereini makes some revelations about his life in the civil service spanning 30 years before he retired in 1984 after attaining the then retirement age of 55 years, he says that what he gives in the book is short of some serious revelations he could give as “there are truths not ripe for revelation”. 

“I have no desire to to attain the short-lived fame that accompanies the loose disclosure of scandal and gossip,” he says in the prologue to the autobiography. 

He takes this position given that he was in service at the time when the country faced a number of challenges and mysterious assassinations that have never been resolved. 

Apart from the bloody struggle for freedom, Kiereini was in civil service and senior position during Kenyatta’s tenure when the country was shocked by the assassination of Pio Gama Pinto and Tom Mboya. He was also in the senior position during the failed 1982 attempted coup on retired President Daniel Moi’s government.

Sensitive facts

“In some cases, I feel the sensitive facts are not mine to tell, as they concern so many family descendants. In others, I was simply not privy to the facts, and the speculations I might occupy myself with serves no purpose. I am still guided by the trust, confidence and loyalty that was once placed in me as a civil servant, and now as an elder in the community of Kenya,” he says appearing to dash the hopes of his readers that while he knew more, he was constricted to revealing the entire truth.

Kiereini, who was appointed to head the Public Service after Moi ascended to power makes glowing tributes to the manner the retired president steered the country after the death of President Kenyatta.

He said he had earned the trust of Moi when he served as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, revealing how the then Head of State would consult him before making any appointments, which would be announced through the public broadcaster during the 1pm news. 

But Kiereini says that Moi changed after the 1982 attempted coup and was ruthless in his sacking of civil servants he considered errant. 

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Head of Public Service Jeremiah Gitau KiereiniAttorney General Charles Njonjo