A 21-year-old woman who suffered burns from boiling oil during a confrontation involving hawkers and Uasin Gishu County enforcement officers in Eldoret town is now demanding justice.
Linda Bunei was heading home from work on the evening of July 27, when she was caught up in the confrontation.
An enforcement officer is reported to have knocked down pans containing hot oil, used by some of the hawkers who were frying and selling fish near a matatu stage along the Eldoret-Iten road.
As businesspeople scampered to avoid arrest, the county askaris allegedly began pouring their cooking oil and hawkers’ merchandise on the ground, oblivious of the danger their actions were posing.
“I was at the stage around 7pm. I wanted to board a matatu but there was a long queue so I decided to take a boda boda ride. Suddenly, there was a commotion as county askaris pursued hawkers who sold deep-fried fish. An officer hit a pan with hot oil and I slid and fell down. More oil was poured over my body,” said Bunei.
She said she suffered burns on her hands, thighs and abdomen.
“It was a painful moment as my sweater and trousers that had soaked in hot cooking oil were difficult to remove. I called for help for about 15 minutes but my pleas fell on deaf ears,” said Bunei.
Bunei said that all the time, the county enforcement officer who had hit the pan leading to the accident looked at her and offered no help.
“It only took the courage of one woman who defied the county askaris instructions to leave the area to save my life. The Good Samaritan removed my clothes and called an ambulance that took me to hospital,” said Bunei amidst tears.
She was taken to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) Eldoret emergency section and quickly attended to.
“Doctors tore my clothes, cleaned my wounds, oiled and bandaged me. I was in pain. More than a month later, I am still in hospital and unable to fend for my family which depends on me,” she stated.
Ms Bunei said her parents later reported the matter at the Central Police Station in Eldoret but no action has since been taken.
“I remember the face of the askari who splashed the oil. I could hear people call his name asking him to help me,” she said.
Bunei’s mother Caroline Bunei said: “My daughter did not have to go through the pain. The county officers only needed to do their work diligently.”
“We cannot afford to clear the hospital bill. She is yet to be discharged since her health is still delicate and she is still on medication,” said Caroline.
Dr Mildred Odembo from MTRH who has been attending to Bunei said that the patient is stable and is set to undergo skin grafting before being discharged.
“Bunei sustained burns on her abdomen, back and upper limbs. She sustained about 30 per cent burns, second-degree deep. She has since received treatment and is set for a second surgery for skin grafting,” said Odembo.
Human Rights defender Kimutai Kirui condemned the incident and called for justice for Bunei.
“The brutality meted on Kenyans by county enforcement officers is disheartening. We call upon Governor Jonathan Bii to rein in rogue employees and ensure that they are trained on how to handle the public,” said Kirui.
Elijah Kosgei, the County Executive for Public Service and Devolution, said his office had been briefed about the matter and that investigations are ongoing.
“We are conducting investigations to establish facts of the matter before any necessary action can be taken. We will brief the media about the outcome of our investigations,” Mr Kosgei said.
Last month, an Eldoret court found a senior county officer from the County with a case to answer in an assault case he has been facing since 2019.
Principal Magistrate Mogire Onkoba found that Jeremiah Cheruiyot, an enforcement officer the Department of Public Health had a case to answer in relation to an assault case filed by a trader.
According to the charge sheet, Cheruiyot attacked Albert Chabaka, a butcher who was found wrapping meat in banned polythene bags during a crackdown on May 15, 2019, at Kipkaren estate in Kapseret Sub County.
The court heard that the accused, who was in the company of eight other county enforcement officials, attacked the trader before subjecting him to grievous bodily harm.