Rogue min­is­ter who re­spected no law, loved the finer things

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SUNDAY REVIEW -

MEM­O­RIES FROM THE BEAT

Of all Cabi­net min­is­ters who have served in suc­ces­sive govern­ments, none was king of drama bet­ter than Paul Ngei. Only Ngei could walk to a show­room, drive away with a brand new car but refuse to pay for it; wres­tle to the ground a po­lit­i­cal ri­val in the full glare of me­dia cam­eras and get away with it, or walk to a for­eign em­bassy and de­mand to be given a mil­lion dol­lars just like that.

Like with all boys grow­ing up in the 1970s, the story of the Kapen­guria Six was a pop­u­lar evening pas­time. Our par­ents would tell us about six Kenyans im­pris­oned by colo­nial­ists at the height of the free­dom strug­gle in the 1950s. The six were Jomo Keny­atta, Paul Ngei and Achieng Oneko. Oth­ers were Bil­dad Kag­gia, Kung’u Karumba and Fred Kubai.

We grew up long­ing to meet any, if not all, of the six in­de­pen­dence he­roes. In my case, I only came to meet two, Kag­gia and Ngei. As for Mzee Keny­atta, I saw him only once when he passed near our school in El­bur­gon, Nakuru County. All I can re­mem­ber about the oc­ca­sion is the old man say­ing a thun­der­ous Haram­bee!

I met Kag­gia when I was al­ready a jour­nal­ist and will one day tell his story in this col­umn.

But to­day I will tell the story of Ngei. I met him just be­fore his death in 2004. He had been wheeled to the of­fice of a friend of mine at the Posta Sacco plaza on Univer­sity Way. He was on a wheel­chair, his two legs hav­ing been am­pu­tated as a re­sult of di­a­betes.

As soon as the woman who brought him in had stepped out, my friend told Ngei in half­jest: “Paul, you amaze me, you mean you still have an ap­petite for beau­ti­ful ladies even in your con­di­tion!” Ngei replied: “But Charles, one doesn’t need three legs to do it!”

I got the im­pres­sion that Ngei must be a man of great drama and went out of my way to find out more about him.

I gath­ered that he had been a ladies’ man through­out his life. A few days be­fore the Kapen­guria Six were trans­ferred from Kapen­guria pend­ing their re­lease, a woman had shown up with two young chil­dren to bid Ngei farewell. When she went away, Keny­atta had joked that the chil­dren re­sem­bled Ngei in ev­ery as­pect, to which Ngei replied: “Mzee, of course those are my kids. I had to pro­duce ba­bies while at this place just to demon­strate to colo­nial­ists that they had jailed ev­ery­thing else in us ex­cept our man­hood!”

When he was Cabi­net min­is­ter for Lands, Ngei had di­rected that a cer­tain woman be al­lo­cated 30 acres of land in Athi River area in Machakos County. Over­come with joy, the

young woman went to thank the min­is­ter only to be cut short: “Young girl, you mean your mother has never told you that I am your dad!”

At another time, Ngei was called to tes­tify at a sen­sa­tional mur­der trial of a daugh­ter of fel­low Cabi­net min­is­ter Jack­son An­gaine, Judy. It hap­pened that the evening be­fore Judy was found dead, Ngei had dropped her home af­ter drain­ing a bot­tle of wine with her at the Karen Coun­try Club. Asked by de­fence lawyer what he had been do­ing with the de­ceased on the fate­ful night, a fu­ri­ous Ngei had an­swered: “Well, I would say that’s a silly ques­tion. You shouldn’t ask a man why he was in the com­pany of a beau­ti­ful lady. Ev­ery nor­mal man wants to have a nice look­ing woman next to him!”

Such was vin­tage Ngei that he and a Cabi­net col­league had been nick-named FD (Fa­gia Du­nia) as they had a mis­tress in ev­ery world cap­i­tal they vis­ited.

***

His bed­room es­capades aside, Ngei, be­low, some­how strongly be­lieved in a sense of en­ti­tle­ment, and that the world owed him a liv­ing on ac­count of his role in the free­dom strug­gle.

Early in the 1960s, he made du­bi­ous his­tory as the first Cabi­net min­is­ter to be ques­tioned over cor­rup­tion. He had been sus­pected of sell­ing for profit a con­sign­ment of maize brought into the coun­try for re­lief pur­poses. When he ap­peared be­fore a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee, Ngei was mad that MPS would “dare probe” a free­dom fighter of his cal­i­bre. “Where were you when I took up arms to chase away the white man!” he had dared them.

Another no­to­ri­ous in­ci­dent was in the 1970s when the min­is­ter walked to the show­room of the DT Do­bie car deal­ers and asked to be al­lowed to test­drive a brand new Mercedes Benz, reg­is­tra­tion KNM 190. He re­ported back that he liked the car and would keep it. He ad­vised the ve­hi­cle dealer to ei­ther in­voice State House or the Trea­sury. The money was never paid with Ngei brag­ging that he had a right to keep the car and not pay a coin hav­ing fought for in­de­pen­dence of this coun­try!

When he was min­is­ter for Lands, he once made a stop-over at the home of Kapen­guaria col­league Bil­dad Kag­gia on the Thika-ny­eri high­way. Kag­gia lived in poverty, with only a posho mill to his name. On not­ing the poor liv­ing con­di­tions of his friend, Ngei had an­grily charged: “Kag­gia, why live in ab­ject poverty af­ter spend­ing all those years in prison fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence! To­day I am giv­ing you per­mis­sion to storm the neigh­bour­ing Del Monte pineap­ple farm and al­lo­cate your­self as many acres of land as you wish. If any­body asks you a ques­tion, just di­rect them to me at Ardhi House. I will per­son­ally deal with them!”

Another bizarre mo­ment came in early 1990s af­ter Ngei was de­clared bank­rupt and his prop­erty at­tached for fail­ure to pay back a Sh19 mil­lion bank loan. He marched to the US em­bassy of­fices in Nairobi and de­manded to be given a mil­lion dol­lars to clear his debt. His rea­son­ing was that as Cabi­net min­is­ter, he al­ways en­sured US in­ter­ests pre­vailed, es­pe­cially at the height of the East-west ide­o­log­i­cal war. Told by then US Am­bas­sador Smith Hemp­stone that the em­bassy had no bud­get al­lo­ca­tion for such con­tin­gency, Ngei replied, with­out bat­tling an eye­lid: “Fine Mr Am­bas­sador, why then not lend me the money from your own pocket or bor­row it from your friends?”

The am­bas­sador replied that he didn’t have that kind of money in his bank ac­count, and that he doubted his friends, too, would have that kind of money since none of them were cor­rupt and only lived from hand to mouth!

In his hey­day, Ngei was also known to walk to a high-end ho­tel with friends, wine and dine to the full, but tell the wait­ers to send his bills to State House!

The min­is­ter would also not hes­i­tate to throw a punch or wres­tle to the ground any­body who crossed his path. A Na­tion pho­tog­ra­pher who took his pic­tures at the High Court against his wish lived to re­gret it af­ter the Cabi­net min­is­ter set upon him with kicks and blows.

Once dur­ing vote-count­ing in his Kan­gundo con­stituency, a re­turn­ing of­fi­cer who hes­i­tated to or­der a re­count as de­manded by Ngei found him­self wres­tled to the ground and threat­ened with in­stant death.

In the cir­cum­stances, Ngei’s election was nul­li­fied by the court, and the min­is­ter barred from vy­ing in the re­peat poll. The law had to be hur­riedly amended to al­low the Pres­i­dent to par­don election of­fend­ers, which is what saved Ngei’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

But, as they say, when mis­for­tunes come, they do so in bat­tal­ions. In the end, the Kapen­guria hero was de­clared bank­rupt, his two limbs am­pu­tated, and his earthly pos­ses­sions auc­tioned.

KA­MAU NGOTHO When he was Cabi­net min­is­ter for Lands, Ngei had di­rected that a cer­tain woman be al­lo­cated 30 acres of land in Athi-river area in Machakos County.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.