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Kamiti: Witness paints picture of prison break that brought Commissioner Ogallo down

By Kamore Maina | Nov 18th 2021 | 4 min read

Former Commissioner General of Prisons Wycliffe Ogallo with Brigadier (Rtd) John Kibaso Warioba (Right) who has been appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta as the new Commissioner General of Prisons. [Kenya Prison Services]

It was a day of high drama at Magereza House offices yesterday afternoon when a contingent of officers stormed the prisons headquarters. The officers, in uniform and civilian wear, and under the command of Nairobi Area Head of Operations John Njoroge, arrived at around 4.30pm in a convoy of police cars.

They proceeded to the sixth floor, where Wycliffe Ogallo’s corner office is situated. Moments later, the officers emerged from the building with Ogallo sandwiched between them.

He was bundled into his official car and driven to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters, escorted by Anti-Terror Police Unit officers and investigators.

A few minutes later, the second group of officers emerged from the same offices with Charles Mutembei, the commandant at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

He was whisked into a police car alongside another man said to be his aide, and also driven to DCI headquarters for questioning.

A short while before this, State House had sent out a statement replacing the prisons boss with Brigadier John Warioba, who was sworn in soon after. 

“The appointment follows the briefing to the Head of State from the ministry responsible for Correctional Services regarding the security breaches that led to the escape of three inmates,” read the statement from State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena.

Before the decision to bundle Ogallo out of his office was reached, he was scheduled to address journalists together with the incoming prisons boss.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i was also to appear at the briefing, but he did not show up following the change of events.

Last evening, National Police Service Spokesman Bruno Shioso issued a statement saying the police had not arrested Ogallo, but “only facilitated a smooth and seamless handover of office and escorted the former commissioner-general to his home.“

At the time of going to press, Ogallo and Mutembei were still at DCI headquarters.

These events unfolded on the day DCI officers uncovered the depth of laxity at Kamiti that made it possible for three terror convicts to escape. The officers pieced together a statement from a cellmate who was left behind.

The man, who is also incarcerated over terror-related activities, told the DCI the three fugitives broke out of the prison at around 1am on Sunday. 

It was the culmination of a month of planning.

They created lumps under their blankets that duped prison guards into thinking that they were in there, asleep.

Wardens only learnt of the escape on Monday at around 10am.

It is believed that the convicts set up their escape route during routine maintenance work carried out in the cell block they were being held in. The three men climbed out of a hole in the wall.

The witness to the escape told officers he did not leave the prison because he was optimistic an appeal against his conviction, which is pending before the High Court in Nairobi, would succeed. Some investigators are, however, not convinced about his reasons for staying behind.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, as the details of the statement have not been released to the public, an investigator told The Standard that the man had an injury on his right hand, which would have made it difficult for him to scale the prison’s high walls.

Officers believe the drilling of the hole in the wall, which the three fugitives are believed to have used, may have started over a month ago, when some inmates in the masonry department were contracted to carry out maintenance work on Block 6A, where the three were being held.

No debris was recovered from outside or inside the cells when crime scene investigators arrived at Kamiti earlier this week.

At the time, the block received a facelift, with the cells repainted and white wallpaper added.

Police believe the fugitives knew of the structural gaps and exploited them to escape.

Investigators added that the three men used blankets to make a rope, which they anchored with broomsticks, to scale the prison’s walls. They further believe the escape could not have happened without the knowledge of some prison wardens.

DCI has placed a Sh60 million bounty on Joseph Odhiambo alias Yusuf, Musharaf Akhulunga alias Zarkawi, and Mohamed Abikar.

Odhiambo was convicted in 2019 of attempting to join the Al-Shabaab terror group. Akhulunga was arrested in 2012 over his role in a failed attack on Parliament, while Abikar was convicted in 2019 for abetting the 2015 Garissa University attack that killed 148 people.

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