JJ Nyagah’s family shared a special friendship with late President Moi

Former Cabinet Minister Joe Nyagah reads a message of condolence to the late retired President Moi’s family and friends at his home in Gachoka area of Embu County. [Joseph Muchiri/Standard]

The late Jeremiah Nyagah, one of the ministers in Moi’s first cabinet, was undoubtedly a close friend of the former President.

Yesterday, Nyagah’s family in Embu County condoled with Moi’s family, reminiscing the special bond of friendship the families shared due to the closeness of their fathers.

In a statement read by Joe Nyagah, Jeremiah’s son who is also a former cabinet minister, the Nyagah family said the friendship dates back to the time both patriarchs worked as teachers.

Joe said Moi and his father formed the African Teachers Association to champion for the welfare of teachers in pre-colonial Kenya.

Later, both men joined the public service where they were instrumental in the formation of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).

When Moi became President, Jeremiah was a trusted lieutenant and he was given a cabinet portfolio.

His children also ended up occupying prime government positions in the Moi government.

Embu dynasty

“President Moi put pressure on me to move from the private sector and join the public sector,” said Joe.

“That is how I ended up working in different State offices. I was an ambassador to Brussels and I was also the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Airways.”

The Nyaga family held the reins of political power in Embu County for decades.

It was considered a dynasty whose political clout was enviable.

Born in 1920, the late Jeremiah Nyagah was elected to represent Embu, Mbeere, Kirinyaga and Nyeri districts in the legislative council (Legco) in 1958.

Jeremiah, who was revered in Embu, was one of the longest serving MPs in Kenyan history, sitting on the front benches of Parliament from 1958 to 1992.

He exited politics in 1992 and retired doing charity work until his death in April 2008 aged 87.

Apart from Joe’s high-level State appointments, Jeremiah’s daughter Mary Khimilu also served as an ambassador to the United Nations.

His third born son, Nahashon Nyagah was Central Bank Governor between 2001 and 2003.

After Jeremiah’s exit from politics due to ill health, his other son Norman Nyagah captured the Gachoka seat on a Democratic Party ticket in 1992.

Norman served for one term until the 1997 general elections when his elder brother Joe challenged him and won the seat on a Kanu ticket.

Norman shifted his base and contested the Kamukunji parliamentary seat in Nairobi where he won on a DP ticket.

President Moi appointed Joe a minister while Norman joined the opposition.

“His management of cabinet meetings was legendary. He would be thoroughly briefed by the Head of Civil Service before every session,” said Joe of Moi.

“His meetings were always on time. He was a good time manager and never kept us waiting. By the time I joined the cabinet, I had deep respect for him. He treated us like his children or younger siblings.”

Both Joe and Norman retained their seats in the 2002 elections on National Rainbow Coalition tickets.

Joe was appointed an assistant minister in the Kibaki administration while Norman became the Government chief whip.

The two brothers were voted out in the 2007 elections with Joe losing to former National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary General Mutava Musyimi.

Norman lost the Party of National Unity (PNU) nomination ticket to newcomer Simon Mbugua.

He decamped to Kalembe Ndile’s Tip Tip but lost in the election.

Political lifeline

Joe was given a political lifeline when he was nominated to Parliament and appointed a minister.

In 2013, he opted not to vie for any political seat. In 2017, he vied for the presidency in an election eventually won by Uhuru Kenyatta.

Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Norman’s daughter Annie Nyaga the Chief Administrative Secretary for cooperatives.

Joe eulogised Moi as a great mentor and teacher. “He was a man of untold humility. He was kind to people he politically differed with due to his Christian faith,” he said.

According to Joe, Moi often spoke of his intention to become a preacher in retirement.

He noted that Moi’s greatest legacy was agreeing to repeal section 2(A) of the Constitution in 1991 to allow introduction of multi-partyism.

Moi did so even when those close to him vouched for a one-party system.

“His legacy was buttressed by agreeing to hand over power peacefully to the third president Mwai Kibaki, even when many African presidents were stuck in power,” said Joe.