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Tribute to Magoha, a Professor who tickled but wore a stone face


"...Karibuni UoN. Now the three last speakers are all doctors and Professors. This university is led by madaktari.

Prof. Peter Mulwa Felix Mbithi is the Deputy Vice Chancellor Admin & Finance. Huyu ni daktari wa ng'ombe. ( to mean Professor of Veterinary Surgery)

Professor Jacob Thuranira Kaimenyi (DVC - Academic Affairs) ni daktari wa meno. (Professor of Periodontology)

Na mimi Magoha son of Magoha (VC) ni daktari wa makende"... (to mean Professor of Urological and Transplant Surgery).

I was dead! Imagine this was Prof. Magoha's intro to us! TRUTH!

Professor Magoha was hilarious and would tickle you with his words, but mostly wearing a stone face after cracking those mad jokes.

I first encountered the towering Professor while I studied at St. Mary's Yala, where he served as a member of the Board of Governors. Strict and tough-speaking, he would never shy away from asserting his beliefs upon us. With expensive jewelry (and he ensured we knew it wasn't cheap), Magoha would walk around the school inspecting projects and asking questions. He was keen on the school growth and progress and on students' success.

Fast forward, I joined the University and here was the same man, now leading the region's largest university. He had a reputation for being no-nonsense. His frown (which was his natural face) alone sent jitters down the spines of both students and lecturers. Sometimes he would be too harsh. He called himself a buffalo: ruthless and relentless. Yet beneath that veneer of brute, lay a man so gentle and so fragile. Beneath the bulldozer frame, lay a harmless man. Just a common brilliant human being, touching lives with his excellence, firmness and aspiration.

Magoha was uniquely gifted. He was a thorough administrator and also a cunning and shrewd politician. He knew when to treat students as his children and when to use threats. And by the way there are times those threats were not empty but were brutal. When I was elected SONU President and by dint of that election served as member of the University Council, the apex body governing UoN, I had frequent interactions with Prof. Magoha.

Our interactions swung from contentious to hilarious. I remember being inducted by outgoing student leaders about how he threatened a former SONU Chair who went to threaten him with potent strike so that the leaders accesses TMF (I won't tell you the meaning of this till my book is unveiled).

Magoha understandably stood up advancing towards the student leader saying, 'Kijana I will shoot you and remove that bullet in 60 seconds to prove to you that I am a surgeon. Don't fool around with me.'

Magoha was rabid. Yet after those threats, I was made to understand that he would enjoy a laughter from time to time, to celebrate how close he came to a contest with students.

When I was elected, I pursued two things. First was ensuring we had an accountability framework that sought to open up SONU funds for audit. I needed to show that we were not being wasteful but frugal and objective. I tripled bursaries to reduce on wastages of the funds. Man! I made a few enemies with this move. The decision for transparency was not too famous, but it was obviously the right one. Today we laugh with some of my greatest opposers then when we were younger. Such is life. We all grow.

Secondly, I pursued WiFi connectivity to all hostels on campus. I argued that it was necessary for students to enhance their class capacity. We had run-ins with him as he said there were no resources. He insisted that wifi in the libraries and select classes was enough connectivity, but I opted to meet and let him see my sense in the insistence for connecting hostels too. Eventually, he caved in and voila! We had a massive rollout of internet in all hostels.

Yet Magoha was also feared by cartels. He didn't start dismantling them at KNEC. Stories are told of how when he became Deputy Vice Chancellor for Admin and Finance, he brutally stopped a cartel involving a gentleman who would supply a carpet to be used at graduation square each year. The gentleman charged 2 million for each graduation day. And you know what, it was to be HIRED and returned at end of day. Magoha cancelled that tender and opted to do Cabro at the graduation square, with an amount that would have been paid for two graduations, ending that circle of wanton looting. So much to say.

Prof Magoha's brilliance was globally acclaimed. His 91-page CV is testament to this. You may never know but Magoha never did his PhD degree. His Master's degree thesis was sooooo good that it was recognized as a PhD thesis at the University of Lagos. The man was so brilliant that though he constantly said he wasn't good looking, he still ended up marrying the daughter of a Nigerian Chief, Dr. Barbara Odudu Magoha, a gynecologist. And just know that this is not like your chiefs in the village. This equates to a rank above our governors but below President.

Did I tell you that he wore Brioni suits and ties? I admired his silk pocket squares and I must admit that my standard silk pocket squares with my suits are an influence from him.

In 2021 February when I joined government as CAS, I met Prof. Magoha at my first official event at Kasarani stadium where #MbeleNaBiz awardees were being invested. We sat together with him and CS Betty Maina. He turned to CS Maina my boss and said, 'This was a true leader from his days as a young star. I am proud to serve with him. Osiany, sit here with us. Let's have some tea. Now you are a big man'. And laughed at the joke. He always had a way.

Let Magoha rest. His impact is written all over his years of service. His name remains one of the African names embedded on the research work that birthed Viagra as a globally acclaimed drug. Yes, I mean it. His fight for truth and the right things may not have made him the most famous, but they certainly made him the most respected of his peers.

Listen again as I say, IMPACT IMMORTALIZES A MAN. Magoha's rich history and impeccable impact, will outlive the pain of his death.

The grave may swallow his massive frame and take away his tough speech, but it cannot swallow the great deeds of this wonderful man.

For all his flaws, he was a highly impactful patriot. A memorable human. A fighter. A truth seeker. A brilliant surgeon. A revered educator. A paragon of excellence! Magoha son of Magoha. Or as he preferred to be called, George Albert Omore Magoha son of Magoha.

Rest mwalimu.

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