Wajir, Kenya: By the time he was hanging up his boots at 84 years old, Mohammed Nur Ali from Wajir County was perhaps the oldest civic leader in Kenya.
He was certainly one of the longest serving, having been in the seat for a good 40 years. But the years representing Eldas Ward in Wajir were troubled ones.
The senior citizen says the government wasted 10 years of his life, by locking him up in prison twice in his prime. He says he has suffered for crimes he never committed and would like to see justice done in his lifetime.
Since his retirement from the civic seat in the March General Election after being re-elected eight times, Mzee Mohammed’s memory is gnawed and troubled by the bitter and painful memories of why he had to lose a decade of his precious life behind bars in some of the country’s most notorious prisons.
‘Mannur’, as he’s popular known, has now resolved to take on the State in a legal battle to be compensated for the suffering he went through behind bars as well as huge economic and emotional loss he faced as a result of his lock up, which he sees as most unjust.
“I went through unbearable emotional torture. I want the government to take responsibility and pay me for the economic and emotional loss I suffered,” he asserts.
Fresh in his surprisingly sharp memory, is December 11, 1963 when police swooped into his house in Tarbaj unannounced. Despite his requests to know why they were there, the police dragged him forcefully from his home into a waiting car, ignoring all pleas and wailing from his relatives.
He was driven to a place he would later know to be Matuga Police Station in Kwale County, hundreds of kilometres away, where he was locked up. For 10 days, he was not informed of the charge against him.
Meanwhile his family, back at home, were in unimaginable anguish, thinking Mzee Mohammed had been executed in cold blood by the security forces.
“I was informed that I was part of the Shifta rebel group plotting secession of northern eastern province from the Kenyan territory and rule,” recalls Mohammed with a distant look on his face.
Despite refuting the Shifta charge against him repeatedly, he was treated as a confirmed criminal. He was not given an opportunity to defend his alleged innocence in court.
“From Matuga I was moved to Manyani, then Eldoret prison, where I would be imprisoned for the next nine years, with no formal charges laid against me. I was not even allowed a lawyer to defend myself. I was treated as a criminal when in fact I was not,” he said.
After much prayer seeking divine intervention, Mohammed got a big break from prison life. On October 15, 1969, President Jomo Kenyatta issued a presidential decree ordering the release of prisoners linked to Shifta war.
The former suspect won back his sweet freedom and reunited with his family in Wajir. But his bitterness of wrongful detention still burned his heart.
Luckily during those bleak years in prison, Mzee Mohammed said he was not physically tortured or brutalised, unlike other prisoners who went through such ordeal.
He only suffered the emotional trauma of being separated from his family and young children who needed him most at that time. He also lost many years of his youth that he could have used to improve his life.
“It took several years for me to put my life back in order and reignite family bonds that had frayed due to my absence. But the sense of loss and bitterness for being locked for nine years was difficult to erase from my mind,” he says.
In 1972, he ran for the councillorship of Eldas Ward and won with a landslide. He also swept the seat of council chairman. His service to improve the lives of his community was, however, rudely interrupted again in 1984.
Councilor Mohammed was accused of being one of the perpetrators of the Wagalla massacre, by fanning the inter-clan clashes between the Degodia and Ajuuraan communities in Wajir county that led to the disastrous military operation leaving hundreds of people dead and maimed.
“I was taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison for 146 days,” he said. “I was only released after a long legal battle with the government. At least this time round, I was allowed to have legal representation.
There was no case against me meaning the detention was also wrongful.” His son Yasin Abdi Dagane, who ‘inherited’ his dad’s seat, says: “My father was never part of the inter-clan clashes.
In fact, he condemned the fight and did his best to restore peace and harmony. He did not deserve being imprisoned and suffering unnecessarily.”
Upon returning home, Mohammed was confronted with the brutal shock that most of his livestock wealth had been wiped out due to lack of water. He put the blame squarely on the government for the loss.
“The security forces had blocked all water supplies to the communities in the area as a form of collective punishment. This led to the mass deaths of livestock,” he says.
Mohammed’s other business investments in Wajir were in shambles during his absence.
He also lost his chairmanship position in Eldas Ward, which he had held dear to his heart. But he went on to be re-elected to be councilor until March this year, when he finally decided to hang his boots!
“I feel that the two prison terms I suffered were a big injustice to me and my family. The economic and emotional losses are too great to bear. The government must now take full responsibility for the wrongs they inflicted in my life,” says the retired councilor.
Mohammed proudly displays his Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya medals he was awarded by former presidents Mwai Kibaki and Daniel arap Moi.
During his tenure the senior politician has seen Eldas flourish over the years from a sub-location, location, division, Sub-district, District, and now a fully-fledged Constituency.
He also spearheaded many projects in the ward including schools where he encouraged several families to educate their children.
By ALLY JAMAH and LONAH KIBET, The Standard