It is just a few months to this year’s general elections, and as is the norm, most Kenyans are engrossed in the wild hysteria surrounding the August 6th polls.
But away from all the glamour and clamour, a forgotten minority deep in the heart of Subukia Sub-county is painfully and silently counting down days to the 4th year anniversary of the disastrous Patel Dam Tragedy that took place on May 9, 2018.
On that fateful day, shockwaves rang across the nation after an illegally and irregularly constructed man-made dam within the vast Patel Coffee Estates located in Solai, Nakuru, broke its banks at around 7.15 p.m, gushing out 190 million litres of water through settlements, leaving in its wake; gruesome deaths; horrible injuries(physical, mental and emotional); massive destruction of property and unprecedented displacement of people.
Recorded reports of the incidents show that about 47 lost their lives.
Most of those who were swept away by the raging waters were women, children and elderly persons.
Public amenities were also not spared as Solai Nyakinywa Primary and a Private Medical Dispensary were also heavily affected.
More than 2,000 were left homeless.
But up to date, questions still linger as to what exactly caused the bursting of the dam.
In what turned out to be one of the worst human-made disasters and the most glaring cases of corporate impunity and state negligence, the Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji on July 5 2018 ordered the arrest and prosecution of the managing director of Patel Coffee Estates Limited to answer to charges of manslaughter.
Perry Mansukh, the son of deceased businessman and founder of the vast estate, Patel Mansukh Kansagra, was among managers and top government officials that the DPP for arrest and prosecution for manslaughter, neglect of official duty and failing to prepare an environmental impact assessment report.
Some of those found criminally culpable included; Winnie Muthoni Mutisya (Water Rights Officer-WARMA), Tomkin Odo Odhiambo (Sub-Regional Manager- WARMA), Jacinta Were (Assistant Technical Manager- WARMA), Willie Omondi Were (NEMA, Nakuru County Director), Lynnete Jepchirchir Cheruiyot (NEMA officer, Nakuru County), Johnson Kamau Njuguna (Nakuru County Water Director) and Julius Kavita (Sub-county Administrator).
Investigations showed the construction of the dam was done by unqualified personnel using farm equipment.
This was done under the watch of the county government officials entrusted with the mandate of inspection, monitoring and control of the safety,
This led to major construction and design flaws.
In a bid to push for justice, a number of cases both civil and criminal were entertained before courts in which some have already been determined while others are still pending.
This came in the backdrop of violent demonstrations that rocked the affected area.
Local residents protested what they claimed to be unfair actions from the police and administrators in handling the matter.
How MP Kimani Ngunjri and Perry Mansukh Kansagara sammed Solai victims
But away from the glaring lights of the cameras, a cabal of greedy opportunists led by Bahati Member of Parliament (MP) Kimani Ngunjiri was already secretly plotting how to take advantage of the chaos and mint some millions.
One random afternoon in July 2018, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) noisemaker accompanied Mr Perry Mansukh Kansagara to Solai and put victims under pressure to hurriedly sign reimbursement forms.
They were promised Sh100,000 compensation, but little did they know it was all false dreams.
Interestingly, Ngunjri – who is not an elected leader in Solai – visited the survivors without notifying local representatives like area MCA Dr Peter Mbae.
He did not even bother to inform his fellow legislator Hon Samuel Gachobe of Subukia constituency.
In later revelations, some of those who committed to the shady agreement expressed that they were not even accorded enough time to read and clearly understand what they were signing.
Things got so bad that Gachobe warned Ngunjiri against interfering with matters out of his area of jurisdiction, protesting that he was playing gimmicks with his people.
Heavy questions were raised as to why despite being from neighbouring Bahati, he had suddenly developed so much interest in the matter.
“I am warning Ngunjiri to stop making political mileage out of the Solai tragedy.
The MP comes to my constituency without informing me.
Desperate locals were under duress to sign for the money from Patel,” said the MP at the time.
But this did not seem to deter him.
Ngunjiri kept collecting money under his dubious foundation, with the false assertion that the funds were meant for the victim’s emergency aid.
His team claimed that the millions of shillings contributed to “Hands Of Mercy Ngunjiri Foundation” would be used to buy items clothes, shoes, and pay fees for the students.
Ngunjiri promised to personally sponsor over 60 students at a mission school in Dundori (otherwise known as the Roberts Education Centre) and fully support them students up to Form 4 level.
The fake pledge hardly lasted a year after Ngunjiri suddenly withdrew his input, leaving the learning institution with an unplanned budget.
In the meantime, Subukia MP Samuel Gachobe kept advocating for the rights of the afflicted residents.
As part of his protest, he exposed grave illegalities in the alleged agreement between the survivors and Kensalt Limited (a subsidiary company owned by the Patels).
For instance, part of the document affirmed that victims shall not make any further claims and that the farm owners are not obligated to make any more settlements.
In short, signing the discharge and indemnity document meant that the survivors had forfeited any claims and that Patel was discharged of all responsibilities.
Gachobe insisted that top government officials, including the Rift Valley regional coordinator, Mongo Chimwaga, and County Commissioner Joshua Nkanatha, be probed in regards to the controversial payout by the killer dam’s owners.
He said although the two government officials distanced themselves from the agreements, they were privy to the planned deal.
On their part, Nkanatha and Chimwaga said they were only privy to the Sh50,000 payment from the Sh1 billion government kitty said to have been offered to flood victims countrywide.
In February 2020, Mr Perry Mansukh Kansagara alongside the eight others charged with causing the tragedy were cleared of manslaughter in a Naivasha court.
But in April the same year, Naivasha High Court Judge Richard Mwongo squashed the ruling and ordered the retrial of their 48 counts of manslaughter.
Justice Mwongo termed the lower court’s decision defective and unjust, saying the interests of the victims were not considered.
In September, the government acknowledged this decision and disclosed that they would wish to have the suspects charged afresh.
Months later, at the Solai -Nyakinyua trading centre in Subukia, life appears to be normal.
Boda boda operators are busy ferrying passengers to different destinations, traders are attending to customers while numerous vehicles are seen cruising the newly tarmacked Bahati-Solai-Subukia Road.
However, beneath this normalcy lies a wound whose pain is shared by almost every member of the small society.
The memories of a horrific disaster that befell the community a few years ago are the hallmark of agony in the lives of the community’s members.
Today, both Mr Ngunjiri, as well as the tragedy’s mastermind Mr Perry Mansukh Kansagara continue to roam free, under protection from the same state security agencies expected to investigate and prosecute them for running the treacherous compensation scam.
His “Hands Of Mercy” foundation, propelled by funds from gullible donors, continues to run normal operations.
But looking at Ngunjiri’s record, gobbling millions of shillings in the name of Patel Dam survivors is not the only thing he has gotten away with.
Reports as recent as last week indicate that the US State Department headed by Ambassador Antony John Blinken has placed the legislator under their radar over his alleged links to the puzzling murder case of renowned environment activist Joanna Stuchburry.
The 64-year old was attacked by unknown assailants near her home in Thindigua, Kiambu County on July 15th 2021.
On October 26, 2021, Environmental Cabinet Secretary, Keriako Tobiko, appeared before the Senate Security Committee and revealed that investigative findings had confirmed that Stutchbury was murdered over her relentless efforts to conserve the environment.
In his submissions, CS Tobiko named MP Ngunjiri as a direct person of interest in the case.
In view of these facts, insiders at the US Embassy in Nairobi are anticipating possible sanctions which could involve a total travel ban from American soil.
READ MORE: US Travel Ban Looms For MP Kimani Ngunjiri Over Connection To Murder Of Environmentalist Joannah Stutchbury
With this whole heavy scandalous baggage hanging on his shoulders, it is quite baffling how this man still holds public office.
What more dirt does the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) need for them to launch proceedings into the validity of his current government position as well as future candidature?
Could the rumours that Chairperson of the commission Mr Wafula Chebukati’s mouth is too full for him to speak?
After all, the responsibility to ensure that only clean candidates make it to the ballot box stops at his buck.
In our view, subjecting the good voters of Bahati to crooks like Kimani Ngunjiri amounts to an abuse of their rights.
When Truth is not Free, Freedom is not True.