Security for VIP doubles as force is stretched thin

Saturday September 27 2014

Nakuru Governor Kinuthia Mbugua (centre in grey suit) walks alongside six bodyguards on Court Road in Nakuru on June 27, 2014. Mr Mbugua has been accused of using the police to harass journalists and human rights defenders questioning his leadership. FILE PHOTO |

Nakuru Governor Kinuthia Mbugua (centre in grey suit) walks alongside six bodyguards on Court Road in Nakuru on June 27, 2014. Mr Mbugua has been accused of using the police to harass journalists and human rights defenders questioning his leadership. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FRED MUKINDA
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The number of police officers deployed to guard top politicians, senior government officials and county chiefs has almost doubled in the last one year, investigations by the Sunday Nation have revealed.

From an average of 3,000 to 5,000 officers assigned to VIP protection before last year’s General Election, the number has shot up to almost 10,000, according to sources at police headquarters.

According to the sources, creation of the county system of government had the biggest impact in security deployment with the country’s 47 counties creating layers of politicians and senior executives demanding state protection.

For instance, the 47 governors are said to enjoy round-the-clock protection of at least six armed policemen with some having as many as 10 officers assigned to act as bodyguards, security escorts and sentries at their homes.

Most governors have at least two homes and both are guarded.

Although governors are officially entitled to two bodyguards, it is common to find officers assigned to county governments being directed to take up duties around the governor, our inquiries established.

In some cases, wives of governors have armed bodyguards at their disposal — some governors are known to have more than one spouse.

Deputy governors are entitled to at least one policeman each but others have more. Earlier this year, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua fell out with his deputy Bernard Kiala.

At the height of the fallout, Mr Kiala alleged Mr Mutua had withdrawn APs guarding his town and rural homes, leaving him with only one bodyguard, accusations the governor denied.

Other county officials enjoying state protection are Speakers and the Leaders of Majority who have at least one bodyguard each.

On Friday, the bodyguards of Makueni Majority Leader and that of the Speaker were charged with wounding six people during Tuesday’s gun confrontation in Wote between supporters of Governor Kivutha Kibwana and a group opposed to him.

The situation could get worse with the more than 2,000 members of the county assemblies across the country demanding police security this past week.

The MCAs, through County Assembly Forum chairman Abdi Nuh, argued that the nature of their job entitled them to state security.

“It should be mandatory that all elected leaders be given protection due to increased threats to their lives,” Dr Nuh said in Kisumu on Wednesday.

“Due to the nature of our work, we are exposed to numerous security-related challenges, at times from unknown people,” said the Tana River Assembly Speaker.

The law does not give members of county assemblies the privilege of carrying guns or having bodyguards.

In a discussion with the Sunday Nation, Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo said a review of VIP protection is under way because the National Police Service is struggling with a shortage of manpower.

“We are carrying out a very comprehensive audit, which will inform us on who should be entitled (to a police bodyguard). We already have a shortage of manpower and that’s why we recruited a big number, 10,000 of them. I do not want to pre-empt what we are doing,” he said.

NEW CONSTITUTION

Matters have not been made any easier by the rise in the number of judges whose numbers have climbed to more than 130, more than double what it was before the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010. Every judge is entitled to two officers.

The new constitution also created new constitutional commissions and offices, some of whose chairmen have been provided with a police bodyguard.

The chairman of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Macharia Njeru described the current state of affairs as “terrible.”

Mr Njeru was part of the 2009 task force on police reforms led by Justice Philip Ransley that produced a blueprint on police reforms as well as the Police Reforms Implementation Committee.

“When we were at the Ransley committee there were between 3,000 and 5,000 officers who were not in the core policing duties. Definitely that number has increased. This has a lot of negative impact because a lot of citizens are left without security. If an audit is done, it should emphasise on beat and patrol, and crime management as the core duties of a police officer,” said Mr Njeru.

But that should not be construed as a blanket condemnation, he added, because some officials must be accorded special security.

For instance, the fully-fledged Presidential Escort unit is staffed with specially trained General Service Unit officers to offer protection to the President, his deputy and selected VIPs.

Mr Njeru added: “Of course some officials need special security arrangements but it should be preceded by a risk analysis based on a defined criterion. And to ensure it is not abused, it is high time such criteria are made public.”

The Ransley team visited the Scotland Yard and South African police in the course of its work and documented that a big chunk of what is assumed to be police work in Kenya is left to civilians in countries that have better police services than Kenya.

For instance, normal paper work at stations is done by civilians employed in the police services in those countries the Ransley team visited.

The report, which the government adopted as the official reforms blueprint, said: “All police officers performing non-core functions should be redeployed to boost police visibility. Consideration should be given to the use of private security providers and the National Youth Service in non-core functions. Clear policy and criteria on secondment to parastatals and other institutions should be developed.”

Last year, Commissioner of Prisons Isaiah Osugo recalled more than 100 warders who had been seconded to guard politicians.

In doing so, he said the warders were not trained in VIP protection.

LACK NECESSARY SKILLS

The new policy is expected to change all that as it envisions a high security level that can be enjoyed by all Kenyans, including the VIPs, and that special assignments should depend on an assessment on an individual basis.

A security officer who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media said that currently, only a small pool of officers is trained on VIP protection.

A majority of officers who are doing the job, he added, lacked the necessary skills and that complicates the situation further.

He gave the recent Makueni example where armed officials sustained bullet injuries after engaging in a gunfight.

Mr Kimaiyo ordered the arrest of all officers who were involved in the Tuesday incident saying the law prohibits “misuse of firearms”.

Other than county officials, the other new crop of people enjoying state security are the country’s 67 senators who have at least a bodyguard each.

Cabinet members, PSs and MPs have traditionally been provided with police protection but the number has now ballooned as has that assigned to diplomatic missions and residences and bank branches across the country owing to security assessments.

Public university vice-chancellors are also among those who enjoy police protection.

After the last General Election, the number of MPs rose from 222 to 349. House Speaker Justin Mutri and his Senate counterpart Ekwee Ethuro also enjoy enhanced security including police chase cars due to their privileged status.

Each of the MPs and Senators are protected by a police bodyguard and some have more, like Majority Leader Aden Duale who enjoys a security detail of up to six officers.

At present, the police to population ratio stands at one for every 850 Kenyans, against the UN recommended standard of an officer for every 400 citizens.

Other VIPs who enjoy police protection include parastatal chiefs, foreign dignitaries and influential business persons and celebrities.

Furthermore, police officers are also deployed in government workshops, are posted as messengers to drop and pick files and parcels from one office to another as well as run errands from one building to another.

Other than bodyguards, the number of licensed firearms in civilian hands has also increased as witnessed in the Makueni gun drama, which degenerated into a life-threatening theatre in broad daylight and in full glare of the public and the media.

In one of the TV clips, one of the men involved in the scuffle whipped out his pistol as he threatened that “we can also use our guns” as police fired in the air to quell the situation.