An ongoing court battle for ownership of the 25,000-acre land previously owned by East Africa Tanning and Extract Company (EATEC) in Uasin Gishu has grabbed headlines for years.
But unknown to many, another vicious legal contest has been running over the same property.
Affidavits and court rulings, in bulky files at the Eldoret High Court, reveal a protracted legal fight that recently saw a judge recuse himself from the case after receiving threatening text messages.
The intrigues have seen the leadership of the squatter groups change since 2017, the latest being in 2020.
Attempts to freeze bank accounts and claims of fraud have also been raised, leading to the arrest of some officials.
Claims of deceased members participating in elections among other shocking allegations have also played out in court
Piles of bank statements showing cash deposits running into millions of shillings made by members over a long period of time are part of the evidence presented in court.
Sirikwa Squatters Group claims the bulky bank statements filed in court were illegally obtained and that none of the genuine squatters has complained of misappropriation of funds but Yego’s Sirikwa Self Help claims that is indeed the case.
The legal battle is between Sirikwa Squatters Group and Sirikwa Self Help Group represented by Arusei and Company and Miyienda and Company advocates respectively.
The two groups have raised damaging claims against each other, among them counter claims of forgery of registration certificates that have sometimes either been renewed after revocation by authorities or cancelled by the courts.
Both claim to be the genuine representatives of unknown number of squatters with the Self-Help Group saying it was registered on February 11, 2006 while the Squatters Group claims the latter’s chairman David Yego was suspended “on or about” the year 2010 for alleged impropriety and later expelled in 2017.
Yego, however, told the court that all claims raised against him were fictitious and that he was acquitted from all accounts of alleged forgery made by the rival group after successfully challenging people who wanted to illegally take over.
Justice Reuben Nyakundi recently recused himself from hearing the case, saying he could not risk his hard earned reputation getting mired in the dirty fights after some threatening text messages with his name were revealed by one of the parties in another court application.
“There are many other judges in the country and you are free to decide which court will hear your case and serve justice,” the judge said as he quit the case.
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Nyakundi withdrew after Miyienda complained that his client David Yego had received a threatening text message from Benjamin Rono who leads Sirikwa Squatters Group.
“We wish to bring to your attention that the conduct of your client is unbecoming, disrespectful to our client and the honorable judge in this matter,” read a protest letter to Arusei’s law firm that was also copied to the court.
The text message sent by Rono to Yego on February 14, 2023 read: “We shall make sure Nyakundi will not listen to our case anymore.” Miyienda claimed the message was pointing an accusing finger at the judge for reasons known to the author.
Sirikwa Squatters Self Help Group and Sirikwa Squatters Group are in court fighting over the leadership of the squatters group, which sued the family of the late Mark Too over ownership of the land and won the case at both the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The main case is currently at the Supreme Court where the Too family is fighting to reclaim the land they say was legally acquired as the leadership saga drags on at the High Court.
Apart from Too’s family, the 25,000 acre land is currently occupied by thousands of families, private property owners, public institutions among them schools, churches, a university and senior political figures in the past and current administrations among others.
Both leadership groups have traded court victories either through rulings or stay orders in a chain of case filings over claims and counter claims after after the High Court in Eldoret gave the disputed land to the squatters.
So many cases have been filed by the litigants and in February this year, the judge consolidated three similar cases which were to be heard virtually through conference hearing.
Lawyer Arusei has complained to the court about the multiplicity cases arguing they have ended up delaying the main case that is currently at the Supreme Court.
His client recently complained to the court that Yego has filed one case after another in an attempt to wrestle leadership of Sirikwa Squatters Group which successfully litigated the case at the High Court.
The lawyer had earlier asked the court that in view of the sensitive nature of the litigation and multiplicity of suits, it was necessary that the court files are secured in such a way that there will always be equality of arms before the law.
“Indeed, the long and short of it all is that our client requests that all the above files touching on the same matter be put together and locked in a strong room,” Arusei wrote to the court in February.
In the case, Benjamin Rono and his team claim to be the true representatives of the squatters and that they are credited for the victory they earned both at the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
However, Yego who has sued on behalf of 133 others claims they registered Sirikwa Self Help Group in 2006, six years after EATEC wound up its operations in Kenya when he was first elected vice chairman to deputise Simeon Rotich.
He says in the court papers that Rono and his team later claimed to be office bearers in 2009 and took over the operations but that was before the groups certificate of registration was allegedly stolen by unknown people in 2017.
After reporting the loss to police and the department of social services, they were issued with another certificate whose date of registration was backdated to 2006 to cancel the original document.
Interestingly, the Sirikwa Squatters Group who had also secured their own certificate signed by the same officer challenged the renewal of the registration and successful managed to have it revoked over allegations that it was fraudulently acquired.
The group led by Rono then held a meeting and suspended Yego and other rival officials from membership in the society forcing them to file other court cases.
“After claiming to take office they collected Sh100 million from members on pretext that they had land to give members from EATEC, the company which had leased from the government,” deponed Yego on oath.
The Rono led group did not however take those grave accusation lying down as they swiftly countered them in court and ensured that their accusers were charged of fraud related allegations.
The battle however continued and in August 2019, the court compelled Rono and his team to surrender all book records and bank accounts to Yego (interim chairman) and William Serem Melly (Treasurer).
The interim officials were mandated to convene and call a General election within three months upon taking over as per the constitution of Sirikwa Self Help Group as the court also blocked the rivals from renewing their certificate of registration.
The drama didn’t stop however as Rono and his officials filed a preliminary objection in March 2020 and later managed to get a stay order.
A party to party bill of costs dated September, 30 2021 done by the tax master taxed Yego who was the respondent Sh12 million which he again objected to in a counter claim.
As experienced by The Standard last month, accessing files takes quite some effort. One cannot just walk into the registry and peruse documents.
It took two determined court clerks about three hours to retrieve the files for us. The case is being heard by Justice Wananda J.R Anuro.