It could be 38 years since the 1982 abortive coup architect, Hezekiah Ochuka, was condemned to death by the court-martial sitting at Langata Barracks, but the search for his remains continues.
On April 18, 2007, then Commissioner of Prisons Gilbert Omondi said Ochuka’s body was dealt with as per the provision of section 332(3)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code (cap75).
Omondi was replying to letters from then Nyakach MP Peter Odoyo and 20 groups of human rights activists demanding the release of Ochuka’s body.
“If the sentence of death is to be carried out, the warrant shall state the place where and the time when execution is to be had and shall give directions as to the place of burial or cremation of the body of the person executed,” Omondi stated the law.
But the letter did not diminish the activists' demands on the State to hand over the body or clothes of the deceased to the family as spelled out in law.
They argued that the move would put to rest the rumours on Ochuka’s death and detention that started immediately after the coup plotters were defeated by the loyal forces.
From a past interview and according to letters from the Ochuka family, the first rumour was that he was among the soldiers killed during the coup on the streets of Nairobi.
“We were told that he was among the soldiers killed on August 1, 1982. We went to the mortuary to search for his body,” reads a letter by the family dated August 8, 2006.
Signed by Ochuka’s half-brother, Robert Onyango Akuro, the letter states: “Tears rolled down our faces in 1984 when we heard that he had been repatriated from Tanzania. He even arranged for some family members to visit him at Kamiti.”
But their joy was short-lived. The family says at the end of 1984, they started to face hostility from prison officers while reports swirled that Ochuka had been transferred to other detention stations.
Reports indicate Ochuka was condemned to death after he was found guilty of 31 counts after the prosecution, led by a Maj Kitur, paraded 33 witnesses in a trial that lasted 12 days.
“By the end of 1984 reports emerged that he had been moved to Naivasha prisons or to an unknown location. Others said he had been hanged,” said Akuro in the letter.
Since then the family has never stopped looking for Ochuka, his body, or proof of his death.
In 2006, former MP Odoyo and the rights groups started to agitate for proof of death.
This is after Narc came into power in 2002 and some activists began to hail Ochuka as one of the fighters of the second liberation or democracy.
They claimed the execution was done without the knowledge of the family, and neither his clothes nor other belonging handed over to the family as required by the law.
According to the rights groups, Ochuka's body deserved a “decent burial” at his home in Nyakach Constituency, Kisumu County or if he was hanged the State should give the family the proof.
Caleb Ng’wena, a human rights activist, who is leading a team of 20 groups in the push for the release of the bodies of the coup planners, says the State has been frustrating their efforts.
“In 2006, we got the family’s permission to petition the State to release his remains for a decent burial because we believe his action ignited the fire of democracy,” said Ng’wena.
“When Narc came into power we thought the late Ochuka’s issue would be addressed. To our surprise even lawyers were not willing to take up the case.”
Akuro said they want closure in the Ochuka story and continued detention of his body has caused them psychological trauma.
“In 1984, we tried to get the body from Kamiti so that we could perform ritual rites as required by the Luo but we were arrested. The family has suffered enough,” he said in a letter.
Akuro said since the coup, Ochuka’s family has been subjected to public ridicule, adding that in 1984 when the news of Ochuka’s death was made public, his father died of shock.
“Mzee Nyambogo Ochuka died out of shock in 1984 after he learned that his son could not be traced in Kamiti after the arrest. His brother Enock Akuro who was at the forefront in the search of his body also died in 1996,” said Akuro.
Ng'wena said the sentenced coup plotters were brutally and inhumanly executed by being hacked at Kamiti between July 9 and 10, 1995.
Ng'wena's letter states, “We demand that these bodies be immediately exhumed and handed over to their beloved families, but we also demand that a postmortem be performed to ascertain the manner in which they were executed.”