February 2019 remains the worst investment memory for Elizabeth Gatwiri, 86, from Kirinyaga County.
This is when she got news that the Sh120,000 she had saved from a dowry payment from her in-laws had sunk with Gakuyo Real Estate.
Ms Gatwiri, whose husband died in the attempted 1982 coup, had received Sh150,000 as dowry for her daughter.
Since she was living with a grandson from her other daughter, she decided to buy land to guarantee him inheritance. The boy is an orphan.
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Gatwiri lives on a 50 by 100 feet plot in Kirinyaga’s Ngurubani town, the only property she had and which she wanted to expand with the Gakuyo promise that she would to get an acre of land in Thika.
“I heard about Gakuyo from a local vernacular radio station. I was convinced by the assurance from the company’s chairman Rev David Ngari whom I had seen on television exorcising demons from people at Calvary Chosen Centre Church in Kiandutu slum in Thika. I discerned that this man of God was genuine in his promises and I deposited Sh120,000 with his company in 2014,” she says.
“Now he has killed me as the government remains a spectator. It means he is the one who benefited from the dowry of my daughter, yet he is not the father or even a relative.”
Ms Gatwiri learned of the Gakuyo Real Estate collapse from a publicised report on how the man of God had allegedly siphoned more than Sh1 billion belonging to 78,000 members, many of them peasants, for his personal and family benefit.
An audit report, carried out by the then Commissioner of Co-operatives Mary Mungai following complaints from members, detailed what transpired.
The promise was that the firm would, through its affiliate Ekeza Sacco, help members acquire land, homes, houses and other assets. The report said Ngari had used the money to buy prime properties for his family and lend to cronies.
The damning report had indicated that about Sh1.5 billion was unlawfully transferred to his accounts and those of his wife Hannah Wachu, who doubled as a co-director.
In the cry that ensued, the government - through Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i - came out guns blazing and promised the victims that they would not lose their money.
Dr Matiang’i was hosted in the same vernacular radio station that had been used to campaign for the Gakuyo scheme and he promised “total government hard action aimed at ensuring no one lost out in the Gakuyo saga.” That is as far as it went.
A year down the line, Matiang’i is yet to translate his words into action.
A besieged Rev Ngari then went to the courts. As he remained safe through a court order that he got against his arrest and prosecution, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations released further findings that Ngari had used some Sh99 million to purchase a Sh200 million personal house — LR Number 12241/37 and 12241/38 — at Nyari Estate in Gigiri, from former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama.
Another Sh87 million and Sh41 million bought land for Gakuyo Real Estate at Mavoko Town-block 3/23242 and 3/23243 and Mitubiri/Wempa block 1/6824 in Muran’ga and whose cost price was Sh86 million and Sh242 million respectively.
After Ngari came out of the courts armed with the injunctions, sleuths on his case retreated even after they had summoned all the victims to record statements at their Kiambu Road Mazingira House headquarters.
An uncontrollable crowd of about 15,000 members had showed up on day one armed with documents supporting claims of dealings with the Ngari companies.
State relaxed on probe
As the fiasco intensified, the government relaxed operations against Ngari companies and in May 2019, allowed them to resume full operations. This was, however, with strict monitoring where all its financial transactions were subjected to approved by the government.
Ngari now says he has a plan to refund members. He says he had issued credits worth Sh1.5 billion, which he now says he is pursuing to have serviced by the loanees, only that these loanees, ironically, as captured by the audit report are him and him only. He says he will dispose of some of his assets to raise funds to refund members in five phases.
“The time plan maps all members whom I owe Sh5,000 downwards and forms phase one of the refunds. In the second phase those owed up to Sh20,000 deposits will be refunded, followed by those with up to Sh50,000, then those with up to Sh200,000,” he said.
He says he anticipates the drive to take a maximum of two years given the nature of liquidation strategy he is implementing.
But as he makes the promise, some of the victims have formed an association dubbed Gakuyo Victims, led by Mark Muriithi, to lobby both Ngari and the government to get their money back.
“Most of the members are young middle-income earners who strained to save the money they saved in this Gakuyo scam. For Ngari to go scot free and the government watch by is a conspiracy that is blatantly evil,” says Muriithi.