At least 12 contingents of police officers were deployed in Nairobi on Friday to block a welcoming rally for Nasa leader Raila Odinga in one of the heaviest security deployments ever witnessed in the country in the recent past.
In an operation that brought Nairobi to a virtual lockdown on Friday, heavily armed contingents from the highly-trained Recce unit, the dreaded General Service Unit (GSU), regular police and administration police were deployed across the city to ensure Nasa leaders and supporters neither accessed the airport to welcome Mr Odinga nor marched to hold what had been dubbed as a “mega rally” at Uhuru Park.
Police sources, who spoke in confidence, told the Sunday Nation that Nairobi County Commander Japheth Koome was in full control of the entire operation, giving instructions on the police communication system, a task that is usually left to the officers leading various groups.
The operation started in earnest on Thursday after high-level security meetings — hours before Mr Odinga touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
On Saturday, Mr Odinga, at a press conference, squarely blamed President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto for the deadly confrontations between Nasa supporters and the police which left at least five people dead and scores nursing serious injuries.
Speaking at Okoa Kenya offices in Lavington, Nairobi, Mr Odinga condemned police for killing his innocent supporters whose only crime was to turn up to welcome him.
“It pains me that people died because of me; they would have killed me. Those people came out to welcome me; what crime did they commit?” asked Mr Odinga.
But addressing mourners at the funeral of Nyeri Governor Dr Wahome Gakuru yesterday, President Kenyatta warned he will not “allow a few people to destroy the country.”
“We have a Constitution and we are a nation that is governed by the rule of law and we must abide by it. Asking people to abide by it is not going overboard,” said Mr Kenyatta.
Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i regretted the bloody incidents.
“We are concerned about the ugly scenes we saw. But no differences of opinion are good enough for us to have acrimony around us and spoil our country,” he said.
The harbinger of what lay ahead for the Nasa leader and his supporters started on Thursday when the police banned Mr Odinga’s return march. Mr Koome announced that the
Uhuru Park rally had been banned and declared JKIA out of bounds.
On Thursday, police blocked Nasa MPs from accessing the airport and also Kamukunji grounds to address the rally that would have served as the dress rehearsal for Mr Odinga’s grand return from a 10-day tour of the US and the UK.
According to a Nasa itinerary seen by the Sunday Nation, Mr Odinga’s entourage was to head to Uhuru Park through Outer Ring, Jogoo, Landhies roads, Haile Selassie Avenue and Harambee Avenue. Upon realising that the Nyayo Stadium roundabout was completely sealed off by the police, the Nasa entourage changed route and used the Southern bypass to Likoni Road.
However, one police source said the situation would have been better handled by allowing the rally.
“We were told to use all force necessary to block any rally. But in hindsight I think it was unnecessary,” said our source, who spoke in confidence.
Siaya Senator James Orengo told the Sunday Nation that Jubilee was driven by fear of the people that would turn up to welcome the “people’s president.”
“Everything that was done by police on Friday is a clear sign of dictatorship which is clawing its way back into the country,” Mr Orengo said.
Sources within the security sector said the operation kicked off in earnest on Thursday with the blocking of Nasa leaders and journalists — but continued into the night.
“We know what you have come here to do, we got the information on Tuesday night about your activities here at the airport and we will not allow you,” one officer told Nasa leaders who turned up to address the press.
A source at the airport who was doing his night shift confided in the Sunday Nation how the police cordoned off all the parking slots around International Arrivals in a bid to deny Nasa MPs and Mr Odinga’s motorcade parking slots.
“Security was heightened from 7 pm Thursday, police took over everything, there was no space for parking,” said the source.
Mrs Zipporah Waweru, the OCPD Airport police station, said airports across the world are protected areas and, therefore, police cannot allow any press conference or any other gathering that could pose a security threat to be held at the facility without prior arrangements.
Outside the airport, usually fortified even on a normal day, other police formations of the GSU, Administration and Regular police units erected blockades at major road intersections.
On Friday, all police units fell under Mr Koome’s command, including the AP and GSU, which ordinarily are subject to different jurisdictions.
However, the Nasa procession overran three police blockades until the opposition supporters were finally overpowered at the junction on Processional Way and Haile Selassie Avenue, an entry to Uhuru Park.
The journey took Mr Odinga and other Nasa leaders six hours to access the Central Business District, a journey that would have taken half an hour. Even then, they did not address the rally at Uhuru Park as planned because the police would not allow it.
At least six water tankers mounted with ejecting cannons were used by police.
National Police Service spokesman George Kinoti, in an official statement released on Friday night, confirmed that five people had died, victims of mob justice. He maintained that at no time had police used live bullets to disperse Nasa supporters.
But a Sunday Nation team that visited the City Mortuary on Saturday came face to face with four bodies that had gunshot wounds and were all marked “unknown” and the cause of death “mob injustice.”
Interestingly, all the four bodies had been collected from the Kamukunji division which covers the stretch between Likoni Road/Jogoo Road roundabout all the way to Landhies Road, the epicentre of the deadly confrontations between Nasa supporters and the police on Friday.
And on Saturday, fresh chaos erupted at City Stadium roundabout, causing more destruction.
The chaos was a retaliation of the previous day’s mayhem in which, among others, a passenger bus belonging to Forward Travellers, a matatu sacco that plies the city centre-Kayole route, was set ablaze.
In the latest incidents, makeshift structures where traders sell second-hand clothes near the roundabout were demolished by gangs perceived to be sympathetic to owners of the torched bus.
In a statement, Wiper Democratic Movement, a constituent political party of Nasa, said its members were among victims of the Friday chaos.
However, it blamed it on the ruling Jubilee Party government.
It also said its national organising secretary and Kathiani Member of Parliament Robert Mbui was beaten by police and a “gang of goons.’
“He is admitted at the Nairobi Hospital, where he has just undergone successful surgery on his broken leg. We believe he was specifically targeted because of his steadfastness in supporting and propagating Nasa ideals, policies and visions,” the statement added.
Police on Saturday asked for public help in identifying a man who was photographed while holding a bunch of ripe bananas on the right hand while the left held a knife stained with what appeared to be fresh blood.
In other incidents on the road, a man who was armed with a bow and arrows was captured on camera taking cover behind a police lorry, then aiming and shooting at the police near the city stadium.
At the same time, about eight other people lit newspapers and threw them into the police lorry, setting it ablaze.
It was one of the vehicles that were burnt on Jogoo Road. Other vehicles had their windows shattered after they were pelted with stones.
During the procession, another man was captured on camera holding a bunch of ripe bananas in his right hand while in the other, he held a knife stained with what appeared to be fresh blood.
Stories by Fred Mukinda, Samwel Owino, Brian Moseti, Collins Omulo and Ibrahim Oruko