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Meet Meru’s Omtatah Salesio Thuranira

By Phares Mutembei | October 26th 2021

Thuranira Salesio, also known as Okiya Omtatah, in Meru County. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Salesio Thuranira cuts the image of a friendly man at ease with ordinary wananchi as well as politicians. But beneath the friendly stance, the man is known as ‘Okiya Omtatah of Meru’ due to his penchant for taking the Meru County Government to court on public interest matters.

The county government, several other groups and individuals have also found themselves the target of various court cases, and Thuranira says his work is to protect the rights of the downtrodden.

Thuranira has never met the real Okiya Omtatah, a renowned activist who is mostly found in the corridors of justice, seeking intervention on matters of public interest. Thuranira is a darling to various groups in Meru, among them 291 casual workers hired by the county government and who he fought to be put under permanent and pensionable terms.

In the case of casual workers, Thuranira first petitioned the County Assembly to compel the Executive to put them into permanent employment. The Assembly agreed with him and asked Governor Kiraitu Murungi to heed their call. But the Executive would have none of it.

His intervention for casual workers having hit a dead end, Thuranira went to court, but to his disappointment, he lost at preliminary objection state, with costs.

He was shell-shocked when the governor sent him a bill of Sh5 million. Thuranira objected to the figure in court and sought a fresh costing, which brought down the original figure. “The court finally ordered that I pay him (Kiraitu) Sh345,000, but the governor never applied for its execution,” said a relieved Thuranira. He says he uses his resources in the suits against the assembly, Executive and other groups.

The Executive is not his sole victim, as he has also trained his guns on the County Assembly a few times.

In one of the court cases, he went to court to compel the former clerk Justus Arithi to vacate office.

The activist argued that Arithi was in office illegally, having reached retirement age.

Thuranira had feared that Arithi was a politically well-connected clerk and it appeared the forces in the county were looking the other way as his term was illegally prolonged, preventing other prospective candidates from rising.

The matter was settled out of court, and Arithi vacated office, getting appointed later a member of the County Public Service Board.

His other brush with the assembly was when he took it to court through Douglas Bundi, arguing that the post of deputy speaker (held by Elias Murega) was a creation of the Assembly, thus illegal.

For some time the post remained vacant as the case progressed, but the issue went to the Court of Appeal, which reinstated the position.

He also sued the assembly for including nominated MCAs in committee leadership positions and won.

So is he a hired gun, as some people have labelled him? “People are allowed to think anything. The money for filing cases is usually my own and the lawyers involved do it on a pro bono basis, and I am grateful to them. Activism is a sacrifice because we want to see a just and law-abiding society,” he said.

With the government and other agencies reluctant to give him information he needs in some cases, he depends on the Ombudsman, which has authority to facilitate the acquisition of the information.

Thuranira studied Theology and has graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Urbania University (Rome). He has a Bachelor of Education from Kenya Methodist University. “My role models are Governor Kiraitu Murungi and Okiya Omtatah because they push public interest,” he said.

It is for the same reason that he did not have qualms taking Kiraitu to court. “I’ve never met Omtatah, but we communicated on phone and regularly meet in various High Court virtual attendances,” he said.

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