It was around 4.30pm on October 1, when Kevin Jumba received a call from his friend, Ibrahim Omoto. Omoto told Jumba he had clients who wanted to hire his Toyota Prado for three days. He wanted Jumba to be a witness. Both are taxi operators in Kakamega town.
The clients told Omoto they wanted to use his car to attend a wedding in Lugari. They asked Omoto to first drive them to Chemelil in Kisumu County to pick their relatives who were also headed for the wedding.
Omoto knew Jumba would also help him assess the clients.
“As is tradition here, taxi drivers call a friend to witness any deal involving driving a client a distance of more than 50 kilometres. Through the help of colleagues, we have, at times, been able to identify fake customers. Sometimes, we accompany each other on such trips, for safety purposes,” said Jumba.
Omoto and Jumba drove to Kakamega County Government headquarters where the clients were waiting for them.
“The clients were a beautiful young woman and two men. They got into the car and negotiations began. They were well-groomed and appeared to be good people,” Jumba told The Sunday Standard.
They made a down-payment of Sh10,000, and gave Omoto another Sh3,000 for fuel. In total, Omoto was to earn Sh30,000 from the deal for the three days. Omoto asked Jumba to accompany him on the trip to Chemelil, but he couldn’t because he had some business to attend to.
They agreed to remain in communication throughout Omoto’s journey. Unfortunately, that was the last time Jumba saw his friend alive.
Jumba sensed danger when he tried to call Omoto, but he was not answering his calls. Initially, he did not read too much into it. However, after 12 hours of calling and no response, Jumba became jittery.
Omoto’s boss, who had also tried to reach him in vain, called Jumba to find out if he had spoken to him.
“He told me some of the documents that Omoto had in the car had been recovered in Nandi Hills but he was missing. The car, too, was missing,” said Jumba.
He added: “I knew all was not well. Omoto’s boss called the car tracker dealer. The car was traced to Malaba border in Busia County.”
“We rushed there but it was too late. The car had already crossed into Uganda. The following day, we set out to look for Omoto. I led one team to Malaba and Omoto’s brother, Ismail Saleh, led another to Nandi Hills. We all hoped to find him alive,” said Jumba.
Soon after, they received shocking news from the police in Nandi Hills. The officers told them the body of an unknown man had been discovered in a sugarcane plantation.
“We were asked to go to Nandi Hills hospital mortuary,” Saleh said adding; “I easily identified my brother. His hands and legs had been tied together. His face had bruises. A post-mortem showed he was killed by strangulation.”
The Prado would soon be discovered in Tororo town in Uganda after the tracking company immobilised it. The woman and the two men who hired Omoto’s car are still at large.
What puzzled them was the fact that the car had already been issued with a one-year accident cover from a Ugandan insurance company.
Omoto’s father, Saleh Akumba, said the Sh10,000 the ‘clients’ gave him as a down payment was found in his pocket, along with his phone.
“The death of my son has hurt us a lot. He was taking care of us. He ensured we lacked nothing. The killers have shattered our world,” the 72-year-old said of his lastborn son’s death.
Omoto’s mother, Mwanamisi Engera, is still too weak to talk about his killing.
This is just one of the many cases of car theft that have been reported in Kakamega. It has become worse over the past year.
The Sunday Standard has established that the situation got worse from mid last year when the government declared a curfew to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The thieves, who are believed to be operating in a gang, took advantage of the lockdown to steal people’s cars as no one would chase them.
Lately, they have made taxi drivers and private car owners their main targets, leaving behind deaths, injuries, destruction, and pain.
Residents said many cases of car theft were reported in August. The gang is so daring that some of the cars are stolen in broad daylight.
The police have been accused of doing nothing about it, with claims they may be part of the car theft syndicate that has unsettled motorists.
Most of the stolen vehicles, reports indicate, are driven to Uganda, through Busia and Malaba borders, along the border points of Sofia, Buteba, Adongos, and Machakus.
Most of the stolen cars are then dismantled and sold as spare parts to those looking for cheap car parts.
The thieves are said to be working in cahoots with some spare parts shop owners along the border, in Kampala, Mbale, Tororo, Entebes, and Jinja.
There are reports the syndicate involves senior police officers from Kakamega, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu, Siaya, and Busia.
Police officers in these regions have been accused of providing the criminals with security and also mapping out escape routes for them.
The officers are said to be working with other government officials to ensure stolen vehicles being crossed into Uganda are cleared at the Busia Cross Border point as fast as possible.
“This could be the reason some of the officers who have been here for too long are unwilling to be moved. They have always resisted their transfers. Some have found their way back even after being moved,” said Gilbert Alushula, a taxi driver.
The former chairman of Sheywe Sokem Taxi Drivers Association said they suspect powerful businessmen running garages and spare parts shops in Kenya and Uganda, together with rogue government officials at the border point, are working with the criminals, providing them the market for stolen cars.
Witnesses claimed that young and beautiful women are used to lure taxi drivers, especially during the day. They pose as customers before leading them into their traps.
Alushula said at least 13 people, including his colleagues, have lost their cars in the last two months.
The car models mainly targeted by the thieves, according to Alushula, are Probox, Toyota Allion, Belta, Toyota NZE, Toyota Premio, Nissan Caravan and Toyota Prado.
“We do not know how they access the cars. We suspect they have master keys as they do not break-in. They just open the car, start the engine and speed off,” said Alushula.
He added: “The gang is also working with rogue mechanics and garage owners. If your car is not recovered within 12 hours, you can as well forget it.”
Alushula said most of the stolen cars are recovered in Uganda. “How they quickly cross the cross border point that is under 24 hours surveillance has always been the question.”
“A new Toyota Fielder goes for Sh1.6 million. However, if you go across the border, you can buy all its parts and assemble the car at a cost of Sh700,000. An 1800cc engine and the gearbox go for between Sh450,000 and Sh550,000 but in Uganda, you will get the same between Sh150,000 and Sh200,000.”
He called on the police to raid the spare parts shops and demand shipping documents from the trader.
Kakamega County Police Commander Hassan Barua said: “I am only aware of one case and it is an isolated one. I can’t say much about the matter now unless we carry out investigations first.”
Kakamega Central Deputy sub-county police boss Daniel Mukumbu said they are investigating the matter.
“Don’t run the story until we conclude investigations. If you run the story, the suspects will escape. We will call you for a briefing on the matter,” he told The Sunday Standard 11 days ago.
Peris Kimani, the Western Regional Police Commander, termed it an issue that needs the involvement of the various security agencies, including Interpol. “For now, I cannot comment on the issue, I have not been briefed,” she said.
Western Regional Commissioner Esther Maina said car theft is rampant in the region and warned police officers who may be involved of dire consequences.
“Most of the stolen cars are taken to Uganda, which makes it hard for our officers to recover them. And we have received reports that some police officers and government officers are involved. Let them know their days are numbered,” Ms Maina said.