By Kipchumba Some
The name James Opiyo evokes bad memories for hundreds of victims of Nyayo House Torture chambers. He was the person in charge of a unit within the special branch charged with extracting information from political dissenters in the 1980s.
In the execution of their duties, Opiyo and his team of 20 officers is accused of randomly arresting hundreds of people and subjecting them to torture and inhumane conditions.
For this reason, his name has become synonymous with torture, murder, and gross violation of human rights during the Kanu regime. His victims call him "torturer-in-chief". Yet despite the huge publicity around him, Opiyo has incredibly remained a mysterious figure to the public. Consider that before this report, there was not a photo of him in the Press despite serving the police force for about 30 years.
In this two-part series, we tell you of the personal and professional life of a man generally considered to be the most cruel officer of the past regime as told by close family members and former colleagues.
But even in retirement Opiyo, as we found out, is not an easy man to get. Now sickly, the former deputy police commissioner maintains a tight security around him.
From trying to change his identity and fleeing to a neighbouring country, he has taken desperate steps to remain a mystery and avoid public scrutiny.
The son of a carpenter, Opiyo is said to have risen through police ranks chiefly due to his wide training in intelligence, and partly due to his family ties with former Internal Security Permanent Secretary Hezekiah Oyugi.
Trained in intelligence matters from some of the world’s top espionage capitals, including Russia and Britain’s Scotland Yard, he is described as a brilliant man.
Despite the ogre-like image portrayed of him by his victims, one of his sons describes him as "the best father in the world" and would not exchange him for another even though he kept the nature of his work secret to his family.
Opiyo and his men changed the lives of the men and women who passed through their hands in fundamental ways. While some have successfully recovered since then and picked on with life, others simply never rediscovered the rhythm of their lives.
Statistics from the National Victims Network indicate that nearly 300 people were arrested in connection with Mwakenya activities. Thirty of them convicted died during incarceration or immediately after they were released.
Yet more than 20 years after that end of that dark period, none of the Nyayo House torturers has ever been prosecuted. But that is not to say his victims have given up on justice.