Cult deaths: Senate ad hoc committee to tour Shakahola on Friday

Detectives take stock of some of the bodies that were exhumed from shallow graves in Shakahola farm. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

The Senate ad hoc committee investigating the circumstances under which more than 200 people lost their lives in the Shakahola religious cult will embark on a fact finding mission on Friday.

The committee led by Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana is expected to proceed to Kilifi county where it will meet the affected families, the county government leaders, County Commissioner and the security team.

“The team will be going to Kilifi later this week and will be there for two days, Friday and Saturday. Our first point of contact will be with the county leaders,” Mungatana told The Standard yesterday.

The senators will visit Shakahola forest and New Life Prayer Centre linked to Pastor Ezekiel Odero- who is a person of interest in the religious cult saga.

The committee's main objective is to probe controversial Pastor Paul Makenzi and his team’s role in the deaths of faithful drawn from across the country.   

The 11-member committee has already commenced public hearings and summoned the Attorney General Justin Muturi and scheduled meetings with Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki and the Registrar of Societies in the Office of the Attorney General.

The senators are seeking to establish the registration status of religious institutions in the country and identify the mitigation measures in place to regulate them and combat  extremism.

Some of the key organizations that will be appearing before the ad hoc committee include the Hindu Council of Kenya, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem), the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) among others.

The committee was formed after senators adopted a motion brought to the House by Majority Whip Boni Khalwale (Kakamega Senator).

The committee members are Senators Hillary Sigei (Bomet), Tabitha Mutinda (Nominated), Veronica Maina (Nominated), William Cheptumo (Baringo), and Shakila Mohammed (Nominated). Others are Senators David Wakoli (Bungoma), Hamida Kibwana (Nominated), Richard Onyonka (Kisii), Eddy Oketch (Migori), and Abdul Haji (Garissa).

The development comes days after President William Ruto offered a public apology over the deaths of the more than 200 people and asked for forgiveness from Kenyans.

Speaking during an engagement with the media on Sunday, May 14, Ruto acknowledged that there was laxity in government that led to the loss of lives in the religious cult.

"I am asking for forgiveness from the people of Kenya following the Shakahola incident. It is evident that there was laxity in our government that unfortunately resulted in the deaths of many Kenyans," said Ruto.

"I am not taking it lightly, and I am taking responsibility as the President. This should not have happened, yet we have all our agencies in place in the entire ecosystem," he added.

"I promise that we will get to the bottom of this matter. Criminals and crooks should not take advantage of religion to cause harm to Kenyans."

The exhumation of bodies from Shakahola forest resumed yesterday. As of last week, 201 bodies had been exhumed from the 800-acre land in Shakahola while 609 have been reported missing.

The Senate committee is expected to carry out an audit of the legal and registration framework for religious organizations in the country. Consequently, it will develop a legislative proposal on regulating religious activities and make any other recommendation that will prevent religious organizations from extreme indoctrination of their followers including radicalization, spiritual and financial exploitation.