Police use tear gas on Lang’ata pupils protesting land grab

Police threw tear gas canisters at the pupils protesting the grabbing of Lang'ata Road Primary School playground.

Monday January 19 2015

Vitoa machozi

Wanafunzi wa Shule ya Msingi ya Lang'ata Road wakimbilia usalama wao baada ya polisi kuwarushia gesi ya kutoa machozi mnamo Januari 19, 2015.Picha | EVANS HABIL  

By OTIATO GUGUYU
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By DANIEL TSUMA NYASSY
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The officer in charge of an operation where tear gas was used on pupils during a protest at a school has been suspended, according to a statement from acting Inspector-General of Police Samuel Arachi.

And Law Society of Kenya president Eric Mutua on Monday evening announced the formation of a team of lawyers to undertake legal proceedings against the officers who used tear gas during the confrontation.

Five pupils and a police officer were injured during the protest over a disputed piece of land at Langa’ta Road Primary School on Monday.

Beginning Tuesday, the LSK team, led by Gertrude Angote, will visit the school to record statements from the pupils and managers of the school with a view to identifying the perpetrators.

Mr Mutua said LSK will work with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority to secure the prosecution of the officers involved.

The protest, publicised on social media as #OccupyPlayGround, resulted in the bringing down of a wall built around the land by a developer.

Separately, the Lands Cabinet secretary and the National Land Commission chairman promised the land would be returned to the school.

Police threw tear gas canisters at the pupils and other demonstrators who had joined them to protest the alleged grabbing of the school’s playground.

Some of the pupils were injured in a stampede after the police cornered them between the road and the wall. They were attempting to enter the walled-off yard via the gate, which had been reinforced with stones from inside.

The police, who were in full riot gear, also had five dogs. They had been at the school from 6am.

The pupils left their classrooms at around 10am and, carrying twigs and placards, proceeded to what used to be their playground before pulling down part of the wall.

Chaos ensued as police used tear gas against the protesters, sending them into a roadside ditch and onto the road itself, where traffic was building up as motorists found themselves caught up in the protest.

The injured children were rushed to the nearby Lang’ata Prison dispensary. One officer was struck by a stone and sustained a deep gash above his right eye. He had to be restrained by fellow officers when he attempted to attack the assailant.

The protest came after the expiry of a notice given by Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth, who threatened to mobilise youths from the constituency to pull down a wall erected by a developer.

BROKE THE LAW

Police drove the crowd, which included Mr Okoth, away from the gate. Two activists, Houghton Irungu and Boaz Waruku, were arrested and taken to Lang’ata Police Station.

The school is in Kibra and the disputed piece of land is of prime value, sitting adjacent to the Weston Hotel and opposite Wilson Airport.

“We are here to safeguard the property because these people (the protesters) have not followed procedure, this is disputed land, but they should not use the children,” Langata OCPD Mwangi Kuria said.

The divisional police commander said the demonstrators had broken the law by failing to notify authorities of the planned demonstrations.

He threatened to institute investigations against managers of the school for involving pupils in the demonstration.

Mr Kuria denied that police had lobbed tear gas at the pupils but added that the incident would be investigated after journalists insisted that the officers had been caught on tape.

He defended the conduct of his officers, pointing out that rocks had been hurled at them.

He also denied shielding the private developer or receiving an application to disperse protesters, stating that the police did not need a court order to protect property and maintain peace.

RETURNED TO THE PUBLIC

However, Cabinet Secretary for Lands and Housing Charity Ngilu and National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri on Monday said the land belongs to the school and would be returned to it.

Speaking at Whitesands Beach Hotel in Mombasa County after the opening of a workshop for the ministry's land administration officers, they said documents indicated that the land belonged to the school.

“If the land has been proved to belong to the public or school, it must go back to the public. The details are with the National Land Commission, which has dealt with the issue very ably,” Mrs Ngilu said.

Dr Swazuri said the school had a title deed for the disputed land obtained in 1972.

“Our investigations have established that the school acquired a title deed for the land in 1972. The controversial piece which is under dispute was amalgamated with the school title in 1974,” he said.

However, between 1984 and 1989, some people started a process to claim the land resulting in the current dispute.

“We toured the area yesterday (Sunday) and we have the documents to show who the true holder is; it’s the school,” said Dr Swazuri.

He added that the land at Our Lady of Mercy Girls Secondary School in Shauri Moyo had been grabbed.

“We also looked into the Kenyatta University land saga and also established that squatters are occupying it illegally and we have ordered them to vacate the land because the institution wants to construct two hospitals, one for children and the other for adults,” he said.

Dr Swazuri said even after being allocated 30 acres by the university, squatters, who are occupying 70 acres, now demand a total of 13,000 acres.

“Problems arose when the Thika superhighway passed through the centre of the university land. Squatters then assumed one side of the road did not belong to the institution and occupied it. But we are telling them to vacate immediately,” he said.

He directed all learning institutions in the country to acquire title deeds to keep grabbers at bay.

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