The day the mighty Njonjo ate his own words

Guns were presented as evidence to the commission of inquiry that Njonjo was involved in a plot to destabilise Kenya. [ Archives, Standard]

On August 2, 1984, lawyer Lee Muthoga deployed 26 different but related questions to squeeze out the truth on claims that former constitutional affairs minister Charles Njonjo bought off former Kikuyu MP Amos Ng’ang’a from his elective seat. 

In all those instances, Njonjo, who died on  Sunday, January 2, 2022, remained constant as the northern star, using several terms to deny the allegations:

“Mr Ng’ang’a was never paid any money in consideration.” “No money at all, it’s an outrageous suggestion.”

He added: “My Lords, Amos Ng’ang’a was paid no money at all, no money. I paid Amos Ng’ang’a not a shilling as is being suggested.”

At some point, the inquisition veered off to a discussion of ice cream. Njonjo’s lawyer William Deverell wanted Muthoga to be more precise, saying the broad phrasing of the questions roped in instances where Ng’anga may have been paid for or sold ice cream.

Chair of the Commission Cecil Miller was not amused, telling him off after he took on Commissioner Effie Owuor’s explanation that Muthoga had added the words “in consideration” at the end of his questions:

“You go on making your jokes. You, Mr Deverell, keep on making your jokes. In the long run, you may find it is not going to accrue to your credibility and your status before this inquiry,” Miller warned him.

“You keep on making your jokes. You take out your ice cream and push it in your mouth. Proceed, please,” he added.

Muthoga changed tac and asked whether any other person had paid off Ng’ang’a in consideration of relinquishing the seat.

“I am not aware of anybody paying Mr Amos Ng’ang’a any money to relinquish his parliamentary seat.”

Muthoga kept pushing, rephrasing the wordings, until he cut the chase: “Mr Njonjo I put it to you that you did pay him Sh160,000. Did you?”

“My Lords, I do not recall paying Mr Ng’ang’a Sh160,000 or any money at all to do with relinquishing his seat,” Njonjo replied.

When Miller followed up this response with the question as to whether Njonjo paid Ng’ang’a that sum of money for any other purpose, the man on the cross went categorical:

“I do not remember, my Lords. I helped Mr Amos Ng’ang’a since I became an MP. Really not to help him personally, but to help the people in his area, and one of them was to do with a water project.”

Muthoga picked this up, asking whether he paid him the Sh160,000 for any other purpose. Njonjo thawed:

“I said, My Lords, I may have given him some money to do with water projects in the area.”

“160,000?” Muthoga pressed him. “No, my Lords, I do not think I have given Mr Amos Ng’ang’a that amount of money,” Njonjo replied.

Gone with his secrets: Njonjo is cremated at the Kariokor Hindu crematorium, hours after his death on January 2, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“Sh200,000?” Muthoga further pressed: “My Lords, do not put it up. In fact, I would say it is less,” Njonjo responded.

He was beginning to capitulate.

Ng’ang’a had been elected MP for Kikuyu in the 1979 election and was also an assistant minister in former President Moi’s government. Sometimes in April 1980, he resigned after striking a deal with Njonjo.

At the inquiry, Muthoga sought to know whether the kind of assistance he claims to have offered to Ng’ang’a was offered during April when he resigned.

“No, the money I recollect was paid when I was a member of Parliament,” Njonjo retorted.

The following day, Njonjo applied to correct his evidence, saying he may have given the wrong impression courtesy of the wordings Muthoga gave to his questions.

He now said indeed Ng’ang’a was paid some money, and it was indeed on the April of 1980, the timing Muthoga was interested in. However, he could not remember how much, nor state by whom.

“It could be the figure your leading counsel suggested; Sh160,000 or Sh170,000 or even less. My memory, my Lords, is vague about this. I am being asked questions about events that took place four years ago and, I cannot claim that my memory is clear about events that place so long ago,” he said.

Still, he went to declare that Ng’anga was indeed paid in April, and to recollect that Ng’ang’a had agreed in March 1980 to resign his seat.

On account of his evidence, and on account of Karisa Maitha who claimed Njonjo’s friend had told him way back in 1979 that a constituency was being arranged for him, Njonjo was convicted of this count.

“We find the following facts established; that there was an agreement between Njonjo and Ng’ang’a for Ng’ang’a to resign, that Ng’ang’a agreed as a result of overtures made to him by three of three of Njonjo’s friends acting as his emissaries.”

The commission also affirmed that “Njonjo corruptly made payment of Sh160,000 in his office to Ng’ang’a upon his reporting to Njonjo that he had handed in his letter of resignation to the then Chief Secretary.”

When the inquiry was closing down, Miller went for Deverell yet again saying he needed to deal with “inexplicable, but disrespectful and distasteful episode” the lawyer had involved himself in during the proceedings.

In cross-examining Francis arap Mutwol, a former MP Kerio Central, Deverell had made remarks which Miller interpreted to mean that President Moi was only the President of the Kalenjin tribe.

When Miller challenged him, Deverell engaged in what Miller described as “tangled words and circumlocution.”

He would eventually pass a harsh indictment of the lawyer.

“I am forced to observe, with profound respect, that in my little personal book of honours of barristers of Kenya, Mr Deverell up till this inquiry, his name took place as on the first fourteen. Alas! Alas! That is what has been done in this inquiry to the head of state,” Miller said in his closing remarks.