Philip Murgor, 51, has swam in the rough and tumble world of local and international litigation, gaining invaluable experience as a state counsel, private practitioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions. He told his story to Peter Muiruri
He is akin to a walking encyclopaedia going by his comprehension of matters legal in Kenya for the last two decades.
Born in Iten on July 4, 1961, Philip Kipchirchir Murgor learnt to play hardball from an early age, perhaps following in the footsteps of his father, Charles Murgor, who served in the provincial administration as Provincial Commissioner and later as MP for Eldoret South constituency.
Due to his father’s tour of duty, Philip grew up in Kiambu, Kisumu and Eldoret. By the age of 13, Philip was already operating heavy farm machinery in the family’s farm in Moiben, Uasin Gishu during his school ‘working holidays’. He has his late mother to thank for the tough regiment.
When other students looked forward to touring the city during school holidays, Philip would head straight to Moiben At Lenana School where he enrolled both for his O and A-levels, Philip achieved a first division and four principals respectively. .
“Lenana School exposed one to a fairy rough indoctrination into teenage life and if one survived this mine field in one piece, then they would certainly be equipped for life,” says Philip.
For his excellent academic performance, Philip was invited for further studies at a university in the UK, but declined, choosing instead to enrol at the University of Nairobi so that he could support his mother and five siblings.
The University of Nairobi was at the centre of an attempted coup in 1982 where a group of students appeared to support the plotters.
Although he denies taking part in the ensuing demonstrations, Philip, together with other students, were arrested, charged with sedition and remanded without bail for six months. Others in jail or detention at the time included Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and Willy Mutunga.
Despite this hiccup, Philip managed to graduate, as scheduled, with an Honours degree in Law, followed by a postgraduate diploma from the Kenya School of Law. He later did his pupillage at Hamilton Harrison and Mathews Advocates where his mentors included retired Judge Richard Kwach, Paul Ndungu, Joe Okwach and Richard Omwela.
Upon admission as an advocate in 1986, the young attorney did not seek employment in the private sector that offered better terms, choosing instead to serve as a public prosecutor at the State Law Office.
“The government interviewing panel was quite surprised by my application, as they were used to dealing with those who could not find a place in the private sector. After appointment, I immediately started handling significant criminal and civil cases, while my contemporaries who had gone straight into private practice spent years in the lower courts before any client would entrust them with a major case,” says Philip.
Philip would later serve at the Provincial State Counsel’s Office in Nyanza and later in Nairobi for the next seven years, leading or assisting in prosecuting a number of high profile cases that included murder and treason.
“I was handling cases that should have been handled by officers beyond my job group. This included holding briefs for the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Bernard Chunga. I had to prepare well and articulately present my arguments before the courts,” he says.
In 1992, however, Philip found it impossible to survive on the meagre salary of Sh5,000 with a young family.
“My wife Agnes was also a state counsel. Our salary could not sustain us. We had the choice of either going into the matatu or kiosk business, or leave with clean consciences. We opted for the latter,” says Philip who, together with Agnes, quit the civil service in 1992 to start their law firm, Murgor and Murgor Advocates.
Surprisingly, his first major brief was to represent the then President Daniel Moi in an election petition filed by his opponents in the first multi-party elections in Kenya.
Among other famous briefs was representating Central Bank of Kenya in its bid to recover billions of shillings lost in the Goldenberg scandal.
However, the job that was most problematic was the unexpected and unsolicited appointment as the DPP in 2003 by President Kibaki. Philip maintains that he never applied for the job. His selection, he says, was informed by his exemplary and steadfast performance in the Goldenberg cases, including the refusal to be cowed by threats from powerful individuals.
“The DPP’s position is the most difficult assignment in Kenya. One ceases to have friends. Can you imagine defending graft suspects in court, socialising with them and then having to prosecute them later as the DPP? They ones will expect favours from you. If you cannot change your lifestyle, turn down the appointment,” he says.
Philip says he had observed the lonely life led by Chunga and would never have wished it on anyone. Philip reluctantly accepted the appointment after he was assured that he would have a free hand to reform public prosecutions and negotiate his terms and conditions.
But the honeymoon was short-lived. A year down the line, some powerful individuals in government detested his zeal. The ghosts of Goldenberg, Anglo-leasing and the Sh6.4 billion cocaine cases cast deep shadows within the inner circle of the administration. Philip seemed to exhibit no sensitivity for the politics of the day with some describing him as being “out of control”.
“Six months before my sacking, people were being interviewed for the job. Rumours of my sacking were floated every week to try and force me to resign. A month before I was removed, I offered to the President, through Ambassador Francis Muthaura, to resign, but it was rejected,” he says.
He was inexplicably sacked in May 2005. Philip maintains that the straw that broke the camel’s back was his insistence on a transparent and accountable investigation and prosecution in the Anglo Leasing and cocaine cases, among others.
Being a managing partner at his firm, Philip attended to urgent matters throughout our lengthy interview at his office.
He has since completed his Masters degree in Law at the University of Nairobi, specialising in International Trade and Investment Law and is currently a member of the London Court of International Arbitration. He is also an authorised practitioner at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Given his relative youth and vigour, one gets the impression that you have not seen the last of Philip Murgor in public office.