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Dramatic arrest and detention of Seroney after House debate

By Kipchumba Some | November 22nd 2015
Former Tinderet MP the late Jean-Marie Seroney

On Friday, a book about the firebrand Tinderet MP Jean-Marie Seroney was launched in London. Titled Just for Today: The life and times of Jean-Marie Seroney, the also details his entry into labour movement, his years as a public servant, entry into politics, detentions, and questionable death in 1982. Seroney is remembered for his “there is no need to substantiate the obvious” statement about former Butere MP Martin Shikuku’s statement in Parliament in October 1975 that the ruling Kanu party was “dead”. Within days they were arrested within Parliament and put in detention for three years. We bring you an excerpt from the book about the drama that characterised their arrest.

The issue that was being debated in the House on October 9, 1975, was in fact not a very important matter.

On the table was a Motion recommending action against nominated MP Philip Njoka, for calling the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the death of Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki “a bunch of rogues.”

This incensed members of the committee which included Jean-Marie Seroney. Just when (Martin) Shikuku began to speak, the Speaker (Fred) Mati stepped down from the chair and word reached Deputy Speaker Seroney who was on the floor to replace him as the Chair. Shikuku’s speech defended the dignity of the House which he said must never be lowered. The following is the discussion that soon breathed life in to the debate.

Shikuku: All Kenyan citizens have faith in Parliament, wherever you go in whatever part of Kenya, they have faith in Parliament. And anyone trying to lower the dignity of Parliament is trying to kill it the way Kanu has been killed.

Clement Lubembe (Assistant Minister, Tourism and Wildlife): Point of order Mr Deputy Speaker, the honorable member has said clearly that somebody wants to kill this Parliament just the way Kanu was killed. Can he substantiate that Kanu has been killed in any way and by whom?

Deputy Speaker (Seroney): According to Parliamentary procedures, there is no need to substantiate what is obvious.

At this point Shikuku was having a hard time getting a hearing. Most of the Frontbenchers clearly outraged by Shikuku’s “Kanu has been killed remark” and Seroney’s ruling to stand down “Points-of-order” began streaming out after the Vice President.

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The Motion calling for the censure of Njoka passed. Not long afterwards, Juja MP Muigai Kenyatta,  who had earlier walked out of the chamber returned. He drew Seroney’s attention to the fact that there was no quorum in the House. This was after the Motion had passed. Seroney informed him that he was time barred.

On Friday October 10, 1975, when the House reconvened for the morning session, Kerio South MP Stanley Kurgat tabled a Motion calling for the setting up of a select committee of the House to look in to the transfer of land in the Elgeyo Marakwet District from the County Council to the Central Government.

The Kurgat Motion was put to a vote and adopted. At that point Speaker Mati left the chair and was replaced by Seroney as Deputy Speaker. Almost immediately, a group of MPs started leaving the chambers. “You are protesting again,” shouted one MP who did not leave, bye bye see you tomorrow...” he said. Cabinet Ministers and backbenchers walked and soon there was no quorum!

Seroney then adjourned Parliament until the following Tuesday, October 14, 1975. Seroney was now in the middle of what had become a well-orchestrated move to finish him. There was more support for Seroney that Saturday when a group of MPs held a press conference to denounce the walkouts. The MPs included George Anyona of Kitutu East, Peter Castro Oloo Aringo of Alego, Justus Kitonga of Kitui North and Chelagat Mutai of Eldoret North. According to the four MPs, Shikuku was not the first to say Kanu was dead.

The same weekend, the minister of State in the Office of the President Mbiyu Koinange warned elected MPs and councilors to fulfill the promises they made to electors or else they would be “cursed”.

On Monday October 13, 1975, Seroney came back to Nairobi ahead of the next day’s sitting. Meanwhile in Kapsabet, the Kanu Nandi branch met and formally resolved to expel Seroney. The following day Tuesday, October 14, 1975, the Assistant National Organising Secretary Jesse Gachago told a press conference that the party headquarters had accepted the resolution passed on the Nandi Branch on Monday.

On October 15, 1975, Seroney again was the Chair and the debate took unusually long. Earlier in the day, Eldoret North MP Chelagat Mutai had warned the House of the presence police officers in Parliament. Speaker Mati declined to issue any orders to have the matter addressed.

Debate went on until 6:30pm when he adjourned the proceedings and went to his chambers. Suddenly two strangers bumped in to Seroney’s office and when he asked them who they were, they said they were police officers and had come to pick him. Shikuku on his part went to the Members Room only to emerge smiling and waving to those who were present. Like Seroney, he was allowed to say farewell before he was whisked away.

Shikuku then made for the beer counter where Speaker Mati sat silently sipping his beer fully aware of what was happening in his House.

The following morning the newspaper headlines announced the arrest.

Just two days after Seroney had been arrested, Clerk of the National Assembly Leonard Ngugi, who was at one time his great confidante, announced in the Press that the position of the Deputy Speaker was now vacant. Just a day after the arrest of the duo, the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, told The Nation, that it was waiting for a writ from the Speaker so as to release the programme for by-elections. It is therefore clear that the authorities knew they were not coming out soon, their detention was meant to replace them as MPs.

Seroney arrived at Nairobi’s Spring Valley Police Station where he was booked in for the night. The following morning, he was woken up at about 5am and bundled in to a waiting car. They headed for Wilson Airport and took police aircraft to Manyani Maximum Security Prison in Tsavo. Earlier Shikuku had been taken to Manyani. Seroney arrived at 9am and was placed in Cell No. 12 while Shikuku was in Cell No. 7.

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