By PETER ORENGO
The children sat next to or on the laps of their widowed parents, the grief of a lost father or mother searing and unbearable.
But some of the children, left either motherless or fatherless, following last Sunday’s chopper crash in Ngong, were too young to comprehend the grief masking the face of their surviving parents.
They also could not understand why tears flowed down the cheeks of the adults, who usually exhort them not to cry. All around the Holy Family Basilica, where the requiem mass for late Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti was held last Friday, the sense of loss hung in the air as eyes remained riveted on the four caskets bearing the remains of the two sets of pilots and bodyguards who died with him.
It was the country’s turn, as well as that of top public leaders, who on Saturday buried Saitoti in Kingela, and Sunday bade farewell to his former Assistant minister Joshua Ojode, to join the families of the other killed in the crash for prayers.
Bedecked with flowers, their caskets on top of which stood their portraits taken while on duty and in full police regalia including epullates and medals of rank and honour, were arranged in a line in the front of the church’s pews.
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Two caskets bore the remains of Captain Nancy Gituanja and Captain Luke Oyugi, the two pilots who went down with the secret of what befell their helicopter on the flight to Ndhiwa on June 10.
The other two bore the mortal remains of Inspector Joshua Tonkei and Sergeant Thomas Murimi, the two expert VIP guards assigned to Saitoti, and who went down with the man whose life they were tasked with securing.
Grief-struck well wishers, top Government officials, members of the public and police officers joined bereaved families of the four officers who perished in the crash.
Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and a few cabinet ministers also joined hundreds of mourners at the church service.
The interdenominational mass was conducted by Right Reverend Bishop Philip Anyolo of the disciplined forces, while hymns were led by the General Service Unit (GSU) training school choir.
During eulogies, the congregation was told how in a gesture of primonition Inspector Tonkei a week before his death gathered his close family members and told them that he had survived two plane mishaps and was sure he could not survive a third one.
“He told them how he had served the country with humility and even survived two plane crashes. The faimily were taken by surprise since they could not comprehend the meaning of that speech. A week later he was dead in a helicopter crash,” said Martin ole Kamuaro, who read Tonkei’s eulogy.
Kalonzo, who led the Government delegation at the funeral mass delivered President Kibaki’s speech.
The President was due to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20).
Speakers praised the four officers as hardworking and dedicated public servants.
“These officers had a good heart. That is why they had to die the way they did in the line of duty. They are not the only ones, we have others stationed across our boders to make sure we are safe back at home,” said the President.
He said the Government will set up a special fund to educate children of officers who die in the line of duty.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga appeared briefly and delivered a 10 minute speech before leaving to attend other official duties and assured that investigation into the crash will be done to unravel the mystery behind the crash.
“We have decided to hold a public investigation because we feel as the Government that every individuals life is important. We dont want to see this happening again. For the family I want to say that life must go on,” said the Prime Minister.
Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka cautioned against speculation and instead said security organs should carry out thorough investigations.
“We will go an extra mile to know what happened. Right now we must stand in solidarity as a country with the families of the departed,” said the VP.
Kalonzo, who chaired the funeral committees appointed to organise the burials of the six, announced that MPs and well-wishers had been able to raise over Sh15.1 million for the education of the children of the police officers and the pilots.
Heritage minister William Ntimama, who spoke as the Narok MP, where inspector Tonkei hails from expressed gratitude to the Government for taking care of the funeral arrangements and the help accorded to the widows.
“This is a good gesture that is not only appreciated by the family but by all Kenyans,” he said.
Internal Security Assistant Minister Simon Lesirma, who spoke on behalf of the ministry, praised the two pilots and the security officers saying they were well respected by their colleagues and friends.
“These were trusted officers who served the ministry with dedication. They were also known and trusted within the VIP circles. That is why they had to die with their bosses,” said Lesirma.
Naomi Shaban, who spoke on behalf of MPs, asked the Government to curb catastrophies in the country’s aviation industry, roads and building sectors.
Among MPs present were Lands minister James Orengo , Maj Gen (rtd) Joseph Nkaissery, Kabando wa Kabando, Rachel Shebesh, Dr Joyce Laboso, Jakoyo Midiwo, Johnstone Muthama, Charles Kilonzo, Ferdinand Waititu. Others included former minister Nicholas Biwott and Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere among others. Sergeant Murimi, who was Saitoti’s bodyguard, will be buried today in Nyankore village, Kuria.
He leaves behind widow Leah Nchawa and two sons Nicholas and Maurice. Tomorrow, Captain Nancy will be buried in Kiiri Village in, Kandara Murang’a. She leaves behind widower Peter Gitau, two daughters Sharon, Diana and son Wesley. Tonkei, who was Saitoti’s long serving bodyguard will be laid to rest on Wednesday.