‘Nation’ editor speaks out on detention
It was my 32nd birthday, but Tuesday was another day in the office.
I was in Parliament, following up on a document showing that MPs were to debate a Bill seeking to withdraw Kenya from the Rome Statute, which set up the International Criminal Court.
My day took a dramatic turn at 3.04pm, when I received a call from a concealed number. Many would ignore such as a call but as a journalist, I couldn’t.
When I answered, the person on the other end did not speak so I disconnected the call. He called again but didn’t talk, so I disconnected and forgot all about it.
Forty minutes later, a man claiming to be the personal assistant of a governor asked to meet me at Professional Centre, less than 100 metres from Parliament, where I was.
He promised to share some information, so I obliged.
I finished filing the story I was working on — about the Speaker of the National Assembly saying he was yet to receive the Motion seeking to impeach Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru.
My job done, I left the media centre at Parliament and went to meet “my source”.
Outside Parliament, I called him and just then noticed a bespectacled man motioning to his colleague while a third popped up behind me and a fourth appeared from my left. I was surrounded.
The men identified themselves as police officers, produced their job cards and said they had come for me because I had failed to heed phone summons last Thursday to appear before them over a story in the Daily Nation the same day.
In fact, it looked like an abduction. I had been lured from the safety of Parliament.
I was then ushered into a waiting car with threats of violence or handcuffs. Destination? Unknown.
They were courteous, though, allowing me to make calls as we walked to the white Toyota Land Cruiser. They ushered me to the back where I was sandwiched between two of them.
One was playing bad cop. In a high voice, he asked: “Ama tuweke hii mtu pingu (Shouldn’t we handcuff him)?”
On Taifa Road, just past the courts, Nation Group Managing Editor Mutuma Mathiu, called me and the officers were alarmed at my detailed description of our location, their number and the colour and make of the car speeding in the general direction of Mazingira House on Kiambu Road, the headquarters of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
When I held on to the front seats, they broke into laughter and assured me that the driver knew he was carrying a “VIP” and would not be involved in an accident.
Last week, at a meeting with a parliamentary committee, a letter authored by an officer from the office the Auditor-General, Mr Edward Ouko, was read out.
The officer was seeking the intervention of the Interior Principal Secretary to help make available documents related to the expenditure of Sh3.8 billion.
Among those who had accompanied Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery to the meeting with the MPs were principal secretaries Monica Juma and Josephat Mukobe and the Director of Immigration, Maj Gen (rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa.
All the information is in The Hansard, which is accessible to the public. The officers wanted me to record a statement about that story.
SOURCE OF STORY
Later, Mr Nkaissery said I would only be released after revealing the source of my story.
While on the way to the DCI headquarters, the officers and I exchanged banter about the traffic and the fact that I had never been arrested before.
At the gate of Mazingira House, one of them remarked: “Hawajafika. Huwa wanangoja hapa (they are yet to arrive. They usually wait here),” in an apparent reference to the spot where journalists routinely camp whenever an important person is summoned to the DCI headquarters.
By then, I had put my phone on vibrate because calls and messages kept pouring in, making the officers jittery. “Unataka gari yetu ipigwe mawe? (Do you want our car to be stoned?)” one of them asked.
Shortly, I was ushered into an office.
“We want you to write the statement and then you can go,” the occupier of the office said, retrieving two sheets of A4 paper with a Kenya Police letterhead.
“I can only do that in the presence of lawyers,” I replied.
“You are making things difficult for yourself and for us,” the officer said. “Just write the statement and go.”
He confiscated my phone and then asked me to switch it off before giving it back me.
We spent a considerable time shuffling from one office to another, with the officer making calls until about 6pm. All along, his one request was that I write the statement.
When his entreaties failed, he took me to office of the deputy director, Investigations, Mr John Kariuki. It was a large office with a worn, blue carpet, a desk and chairs, a water dispenser, a television set and a separate sitting area with a leather sofa set.
Mr Kariuki was the officer who had called on Thursday last week asking me to record a statement. Again, he asked me to write one.
After talking to Mr Mathiu, who again emphasised that I could only record a statement in the presence of lawyers, it was decided that I should wait for them and when the two lawyers sent by my employer arrived, I dictated to the officer as he wrote. In the end, the statement was three pages long.
Once done, Mr Kariuki assured me that I would come to no harm and I was free to leave, ending my three hours of high drama.
At the end, the whole episode looked like it was intended to intimidate me and my two other colleagues in Parliament, Mr Alphonce Shiundu of The Standard and Mr James Mbaka of The Star, and perhaps the entire journalism fraternity.