Collins Oyuu: The man who traded rosary and the gun for chalk

KNUT Secretary General Collins Oyuu addresses the press at Kisumu International Airport during his homecoming ceremony on July 1, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The call was holy and irresistible, or so the young boy thought. But four years was enough to ditch the rosary for the gun, and ultimately the chalk won. This is the extraordinary journey of Knut’s Secretary-General Collins Oyuu, who at one time worked as a tout and is now expected to steer the union into prosperity.

And what a journey it has been! Oyuu changed his mind from becoming a priest at Queen of Apostle seminary after four years of his high school studies and drifted some 150km to Kenya Police Training College in Kiganjo.

“I was a serious seminarian for four years (1979-1982) and Father Wamugunda was my teacher. I proceeded to Mabanga Senior Seminary but did not take long before I crossed over to be a police officer,” said Oyuu.

With one collapsed dream, Oyuu’s quest to become a police officer saw him join the police training school in 1983, but only for a day.  He bolted out because he had a bad leg and could not withstand the morning run. That is how he ditched the bullet and police baton for a chalk and ended up at Shanzu Teachers Training College in Kilifi.

“I had a bad foot but the officer could hear none of it. He insisted that I go for the daily morning run but I ran away, literally, never to return and joined teaching,” said Oyuu.

In an interview with The Standard, Oyuu then opens up on his long journey to leading Knut.

In 1987 Oyuu, who was a talented basketball player and popular student leader, completed his P1 teacher training at Shanzu TTC. His College principal at Shanzu wanted him posted to Nairobi. “He thought I would hone my skills in basketball because I had played with Kencom Lions and Barclays,” said Oyuu.

But TSC officers had other ideas and sent him to Nduara Primary School in Asembo, Siaya County.

Betrayed and frustrated for being sent to the village, Oyuu immersed himself in union politics. “My going back to Siaya changed me. I would have been teaching in Nairobi... But in Siaya I developed an interest in union leadership.”

But he paid the ultimate price and ended up being a tout. As headteacher of Pala Kobong between 2003 and 2005, Oyuu was interdicted for two years for playing union politics. “My mistake was that I was a union leader and advocating a lot for the members,” said Oyuu.

He was reinstated after 24 months to the same position of headteacher.

During those two years, he became a matatu driver and tout with a PSV license. However, even during the interdiction, he was still Knut Bondo branch chair, and he was reelected in 2006 as Executive Secretary in Rarieda when it was split from Bondo.

Born in 1964 in Uyoma, Rarieda, Oyuu started his education in Nairobi at Kasarani Primary School in 1972.

He says he is a student of former powerful Secretary-General Ambrose Adeya Adongo, the longest-serving Knut Secretary-General, who revolutionalised and humanised teaching. 

In 1991, Oyuu tried his luck in Knut politics but was turned down as he had not met the mandatory five years teaching experience as per Knut constitution. The same year, he joined Aduoyo Primary School as deputy head teacher. He later headed many other schools.

In 1996, about 10 years after graduating as P1 teacher, he was elected for the first time as Siaya branch executive committee member. This was Adongo’s home branch.

“That was the actual turning point of full teaching to half teaching and Knut politics.”

In 1999, Siaya was split to create a new Bondo branch and Oyuu was elected branch executive committee member. However, in 2001 he contested the Bondo branch secretary but was floored by the late Ojwang’ Adede, who was then a member of Knut National Executive Council.

In 2003, during a branch by-election in Bondo to fill the national chair’s slot, Oyuu won. He was 34. When Bondo was split to create Rarieda branch in 2007, he was elected the first Executive Secretary.

“I then moved from this level to a regional leader as a member of NEC, representing Nyanza in 2013 during a by-election conducted in Nakuru.”

He rose to national union politics in 2015, when he was elected assistant secretary-general, but in 2016, when some union officials retired, he moved to the first vice national chairman slot.

He climbed the ladder again in December 2019, when he replaced Wycliffe Omuchei, who retired, as national chairman of Knut.

“But my ambitions were to be the union spokesperson. And in 2011,  I contested alongside Wilson Sossion for the Secretary General. And I am now seated here fully as union spokesperson,” said Oyuu.

Proud of his past, Oyuu now says his first agenda is to restore industrial harmony with the TSC.

But with only 16,000 members raking in Sh12 million down from 187,000 members that brought Knut some Sh141 million, Oyuu has his work cut out.

“We have a good strategy of bringing back members including asking TSC to restore our register as it were in June 2019.”

He said building strong union structures and rolling out negotiation skills, which was lacking in the previous administration, will be the unions' road to success.

“We must work with the government of the day to seek benefits for our members. We have managed to do this and we are systematically gaining ground,” Oyuu said.

He said under his leadership, strikes and court battles will be replaced by mutual talks.

“We do not want unnecessary confrontations with the employer and government by extension. Strikes are and must remain the last option. We also do not need to go to court all the time and we are working on withdrawing all court cases against TSC,” said Oyuu.