Without a trace: Agony of Migori families whose kin went missing

Sarah Otieno holds the picture of her missing husband Paul Odhiambo who was allegedly abducted by police officers at Suswa in May this year. [Jesse Sikali, Standard]

When her husband left home in May this year to go to Migori town to run a few errands, Judy Odhiambo knew he would be back within hours.

The mother of five had little to worry about because after all Patrick Onyango was a disciplined man and a loving and caring husband who would not spend days away from his family.

Little did she know it was the last time she was seeing her husband. Six months later, Onyango is yet to be seen after he was allegedly abducted by unknown people in Migori.

For Judy, the news that her husband had been snatched by unknown people left her devastated. Days of intense searching in police stations, towns and with friends have turned into months of daily nightmares and has even shifted the search to the last place she frets most-the mortuaries.

When The Standard caught up with the distraught wife last week, she was in deep worry and appeared exhausted. A few meters from where she sat, two other families whose kin are also missing also sat pensively to share their ordeal.

The residents are among those whose relatives have gone missing without a trace and believe police officers could have been involved in their disappearance. Some of them claim their kin had been accused of poaching only to disappear under unclear circumstances.

The signs of pain written in their faces is clear summarised by their dry lips. The family and friends who began the search with them and provided support left one by one as the search turned futile.

Judy sheds a tear as she begins to narrate the ordeal her family has gone through since the disappearance of their breadwinner.

"My children keep asking me where their father is and I don't have an answer," she said amid sobs.

After she received reports that unknown people had picked up her husband in Migori town, she reported the matter at Migori Police Station and the search began.

Her fruitless search took her to DCI headquarters in Nairobi where she also reported the matter but has not got any breakthrough.

"My children's concentration at school has drastically dropped due to the physiological torture and torment from the absence of their father," narrates Judy.

But she is not alone. Sarah Atieno, a mother of nine is also devastated after people she says identified themselves as police officers removed her husband from a public service vehicle they were travelling in to Nairobi.

She says they were travelling to Nairobi to attend prayers with her husband Paul Odhiambo when the vehicle they had boarded was stopped at Suswa in Narok.

"They told me to follow them to Suswa Police Station and after spending a day there I was never given a conclusive answer about where my husband was taken," Atieno says.

She claims her husband had been at loggerheads with some officers from a State agency who had accused him of poaching.

"Officials from Homa Bay used to visit my home to ask the whereabouts of my husband," Ationo adds.

Her efforts to find her husband who was also the family's breadwinner have bore no fruits despite visiting several offices for help.

"As a family we have spent a lot of our resources looking for my husband and father to my five children who are all in schools and need his help so much," she said amid tears.

Another family of Richard Ogola who was allegedly abducted in Kiserian area in May this year is still optimistic that they will find him despite their months-long fruitless searches in police stations, hospitals and mortuaries.

Fredrick Ogolla, brother to the missing man, says every time he receives news that a body has been retrieved in any river, he becomes startled.

He narrated to The Standard how he has spent a fortune searching for his brother and how he even camped in Yala Sub-county hospital in fear that Richard might have been dumped there.

Fredrick says he was told his brother was arrested and taken to a certain police station but when they went to look for him he was not there.

He says the family is at pains to take care of his 38-year-old lost brother's wife and seven children who are struggling to survive daily.

"We have been visiting Yala Sub County Hospital every time we receive news that some bodies have been retrieved at River Yala with the hope that we will at least get our brother," says Fredrick.

Humanrights activists have called on the government to help trace the missing men.

Haki Africa official Fredrick Odhiambo Ojiro says that through reports gathered from families whose kin have disappeared, the missing men were abducted by security agencies.

Another rights group activist, Gloria Ochola pledged her organisation's solidarity with the families saying they have been conducting post-trauma counselling to bring hope to the affected families.

Ochola of Migori Human Rights Network Justice, urged the county and national governments to fast track the investigations and bring closure to the affected families.

Migori County Commander Mark Wanjala when reached for comment said two cases in Migori are still under investigations, adding that the families have been kept updated.