Appeals Court upholds Sh500m award to ex-soldiers jailed over coup

 Former president Daniel Moi meets the Cabinet at State House after the coup attempt of 1982. [File, Standard]

The Court of Appeal has upheld the Sh500 million award to 280 former Kenya Air Force servicemen who were fired and incarcerated following the 1982 attempted coup.

Justices Hannah Okwengu, Agnes Murgor, and Jamila Mohammed unanimously upheld the judgment issued in favour of the officers led by Warrant Officer 1 Samuel Gitau six years ago.

The trio found that Justice Nduma Nderi accurately tabulated the amount each officer is owed by taxpayers based on the unfair sacking, pain, and suffering in the hands of the government.

The Sh500 million award is the highest amount given by Kenyan courts for the atrocities suffered by the former soldiers.

Justices Okwengu, Murgor, and Mohammed observed that the officers were kept hungry for days, denied sleep, physically assaulted, whipped, burned with cigarettes, and pricked with pins.

The three-judge-bench further noted that other officers were hose-piped or kept in water-logged cells while naked.

They said this was cruel and inhumane treatment by an employer.

“We do not think that the amount awarded by the learned Judge was based on the wrong principle or was inordinately too high to invite this court to interfere with the same. Accordingly, we see no reason to interfere with the same and uphold the trial court’s award as granted,” the bench headed by Justice Okwengu ruled.

The Attorney General filed the appeal arguing that the case was defective as it had been filed out of time.

The government legal advisor argued that the Employment and Labour Relations Court has no powers to hear cases emanating from violations of human rights and wrongful imprisonment.

The AG said that Justice Nderi erred by giving a global award as he did not appreciate the differing and unique circumstances of each soldier.

In the case, perhaps the youngest of the servicemen was Charles Kanari. At the time the case was filed, he testified that he was 62-years-old.

Kanari said he was enlisted in the military on July 2, 1974, when he was 22-years-old. During the attempted coup in 1982, he was 32-years-old.

On the fateful date, Kanari recounted that he was at the Agricultural Show of Kenya (A.S.K) in Nyeri assisting his sister-in-law who had a stand.

He spent the night in Nyeri town. On July 31, 1982, Kanari returned to the showground and stayed until evening when he went back to the hotel room.

The court heard that on August 1, 1982, as he left the hotel for the showground he found people talking in low tones and upon asking what was going on he was informed that the Government of Kenya had been overthrown by the military. Shortly thereafter, Kanari heard an announcement over the radio to the effect that all military personnel should report back to their base.

On reaching Eastleigh Airbase, Karani found the gate open with soldiers walking around. He proceeded to the billet where he was advised to go to the armoury. However, he testified that he did not get any arms so he went to the officer’s mess.

At around 4 o’clock the same day, Kenya army officers started shooting in the air telling people to raise their hands and surrender. Kanari surrendered, knelt down and together with others were ordered to move on their knees on the tarmac for about 600 yards. After about one hundred yards, his knees started bleeding and he could not move any further.

The officer said his colleagues hit them with gun butt on the cheek and he lost teeth. He was stitched and was taken back to the barracks where he was stripped naked, locked in a room where together with others, they were not given bedding, food nor water.

From the barracks, they were taken to Kamiti Prison where he and 17 others were locked up in a cell without bedding. They were denied toilet facilities save for a bucket which they would use for the said purpose.

They stayed in Kamiti Prison for 3 months before they were transferred to Naivasha Prison where they were locked up in similar conditions. Kanari was then taken for interrogation where he was given a statement which he refused to sign. He was subsequently locked up in a pitch-dark room with ankle-deep smelly water for 4 days and denied food and water.

Kanari further testified that he was taken back to the interrogators who gave him a statement to sign failing which he would be locked up again until he died.

He refused to sign the statement but this time he was locked up in a normal cell together with other servicemen.

On December 5, 1982, they were charged at Langata Barracks and jailed for six months.

He testified that at the time of discharge, he was a Corporal earning about Sh1,600.  The win now drowns the pain and suffering, coupled with 28 years long wait for justice.

 The servicemen first filed the case in 1995. The initial list had 60 officers. However, Justice (Rtd) Jackton Ojwang opened the doors for a class case against the government.