Businessmen watched helplessly as investments worth more than Sh500 million were demolished on Kenya Railways land in Nakuru yesterday.
Despite an eviction notice, investors continued to pump in millions of shillings in permanent buildings, some of which had opened for business for only two weeks while others were still under construction when they were brought down.
The eviction became a reality on Saturday at around 2pm when Kenya Railways employees accompanied by police officers marked buildings for demolition.
Muktar Golicha, a manager of a petrol station that had a restaurant and a block of shops said the premises were marked for demolition.
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“They came to our business at 2.30pm. After condemning the buildings, they told us we had up to 8pm on Saturday when they would have bulldozers flatten everything on the railway land,” he said.
Investors started removing furniture among other moveable items that they could save before the bulldozers arrived.
“We had just restocked the petrol station. The underground tanks are full and we have no fast means to empty them. We moved our property until midnight but much was still inside. This is an investment that was worth over Sh300 million,” said Golicha.
David Wambugu, the manager of Grill Park and Lounge said he only managed to move drinks, furniture and car wash machines with the assistance of 200 employees.
A contingent of police was deployed to the scene at around 9pm before the power line on the affected stretch was disconnected.
At around 11pm a flatbed truck delivered an excavator belonging to the National Youth Service.
The investors worked past the curfew hours to salvage their property before the excavator started pulling down buildings at 1am.
The demolition targeted restaurants, shops, petrol stations, night clubs, matatu Sacco offices, car wash and car bazaars.
The exercise continued until 5am when the excavator left the scene after bringing down more than 300 business premises that for the past two years have been paying Sh50 million in rent annually to the State corporation.
Hell broke loose at 7am when a crowd outnumbered the officers and carted away metal bars, windows, doors and iron sheets.
“I am at pains. The police were unable to control the crowd from stealing my property. Thugs carted away windows and flush doors from our new building, which was partly demolished,” said Wambugu.
Traders said the demolition was overseen by the Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya.
“Senior administration officials supervised the demolition. They refused to hear our pleas,” said a Mr Towett, an investor.
Given enough time
Natembeya said they had instructions from Kenya Railways to provide security after the traders failed to heed a notice issued three months ago.
“Ours was to provide security to Kenya Railways to demolish the structures that had encroached on the narrow gauge railway that is currently under rehabilitation,” said the administrator.
Former Nakuru Mayor Mohammed Suraw claimed they were not aware of the eviction notice.
“I spoke to senior Kenya Railways management and none seemed to know where the eviction order came from. We have been faithful tenants paying our dues to the corporation on time. We should have been treated much better than this,” said Suraw.
But Kenya Railways management said they issued an eviction notice to investors in March. Kenya Railways Estate Manager Patrick Nzomo, in a recent interview with The Standard, said the corporation had given the tenants enough time to vacate.
Nzomo explained that the terms of the contract were, “The Kenya Railways may repossess the land after giving a notice of 90 days. This we have done and the period has expired”.
Joseph Karanja, the proprietor of Joska Lounge, said he lost property worth more than Sh20 million.
“I have a huge loan to service. I have suppliers to pay but have no money. I had 200 employees who have been rendered jobless. I don’t know what to make of this tragedy that has struck me twice this year,” said Karanja.
According to Kenya Railways documents seen by The Standard, the land in contention, which spans over 400 metres along Geoffrey Kamau Way, was leased to six investors for 25 years.
Companies and individuals who had leased the land from Kenya Railways are Falcon Service Station, Nicholas Njau Kiarie, Casuarina Limited, Nakel Investment Limited, Flagon Limited and S K Towett.
The lease was signed in 2018 paving way for 300 investors to put up business premises that were valued at more than Sh500 million, according to Suraw.
He argued that although the property belonged to the corporation, the businesses had not encroached on the railway line.
The demolitions follow plans by Kenya Railways to rehabilitate the Nairobi-Nakuru-Kisumu meter gauge railway, a project being undertaken under the Presidential Delivery Unit with engineers from Kenya Defence Forces providing technical support.
Plans to expand the Nairobi-Nakuru highway into a dual carriageway from Rironi in Kiambu to Mau Summit junction in Nakuru also informed the decision to fast track the eviction of investors from the property.