The life and times of this man Opiyo

Busia

By Kipchumba Some

The son of a carpenter, Opiyo was born in 1945 to a large peasant family. He is the chairman of the Onyango Abungo clan, a sub-clan of the larger Kogelo clan — US president Barack Obama’s father’s clan.

He went to Ranen Intermediate for his primary education and then proceeded to Kisii High School for his secondary education. Upon completing his A-levels in 1970, he joined the Survey of Kenya and was based in Siaya.

In 1971, he joined the police force as a cadet, and was deployed to the Special Branch, then headed by James Kanyotu — Kenya’s all-powerful spy chief from 1965 to 1990.

He served as an intelligence officer in Nyanza Province before being transferred to Nairobi in 1978.

His rise in the police force has been attributed to his close relationship with the late powerful Internal Security Permanent Secretary Hezekiah Oyugi, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1992.

OYUGI’S FUNERAL

Apparently Oyugi’s father married Opiyo’s cousin. In turn, Owili, his eldest brother’s son, married Oyugi’s sister, thus strengthening family ties.

But it was his close relationship with Oyugi that brought him problems, albeit briefly, when Oyugi died. Proving that blood is thicker than water, Opiyo attended Oyugi’s funeral, which was boycotted by top Government officials, including President Moi.

"On the day of the funeral, Special Branch officers from Homa Bay came and took away his official car," explained a relative. "It was one of the lowest moments of his life. We also feared that something bad could happen to him like the rest."

Consequently he was transferred to Kakamega as the Deputy Director of Security Intelligence in 1992, where he served until 1994 when he was recalled to Nyati House, the headquarters of Special Branch.

In 1996, he was promoted to Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police and awarded an MBS Head of State commendation. In January 1999, he was promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Police and posted to head intelligence operations in North Eastern province. He retired from the force four months later.

He was trained in espionage in some of the world’s top spy capitals among them Russia, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Britain, and the US.

He is a polygamous man with three wives and a father of six — five boys and a girl. His second wife Emmy, the mother of five of his children, died in December 2008 on arrival home in Ranen, from a trip. She was a primary school teacher.

The third wife, Eunice, a former sleuth herself, we were informed, has the last word on who gets to see him. She came back to Kenya in 2001 after a long stay in Germany where she was working.

A relative confirmed to us that she organised for Opiyo’s 2005 trip to Germany for treatment. She has also been instrumental in organising her husband’s tight security.

Only one child has followed the father in to police. His third born is a police inspector.

Despite the ogre-like image most of his victims paint of him, one of his sons, Keith Opiyo, 31, described him, naturally, as "the best father in the world".

"I would not exchange him for anyone else," said another son who requested his name be kept private for the sake of family ties. "He is the most understanding man I have met. He thinks before taking action," he said.

His hobbies include reading historical and espionage books. He is an ardent football fan. His favourite meal is traditional vegetables, especially osuga and ugali. He stopped drinking in early 1990s due to his medical conditions, his son informed me.

GOOD LIGHT

But the accusations against his father shocked him and indeed the family. "I swear to you that we never knew he was doing that. We learnt of it from the Press, but even then, I doubt those accusations.

"When we asked our father about them, he simply told us to forget about them. He said those were lies. Even today, he never discusses that aspect of his job with us or with anyone else," he said

Prior to his retirement, neighbours in his rural home in Ranen say they saw little of him, although most of those we talked to speak of him in unusually good light.

"He came may be twice or thrice in a year. And it was usually at night and late in the evenings," said another neighbour, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He continued: "Mostly he had huge security detail which scared most people who would have visited him. He mostly visited his father Obunge. But he was not harsh to us. He assisted some of our sons be enlisted in the police force."