'42 Brothers' terrorise Vihiga and Kakamega villagers

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Portraits of the night guards who were murdered at Kilingili market in Vihiga County on March 9, 2019. Investigations are ongoing. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CAROLINE WAFULA
By DERRICK LUVEGA

It is a few minutes to 11am on March 26 and the sun is already high up, scorching. It has been so for a while now.

At Kilingili market, about 31 kilometres from Kakamega Town and 38 kilometres from Kisumu City, traders who have been going about their business are slowly starting to gather behind a streak of shops on one side of the main road.

One by one they arrive at the market square, one carrying a stool, another carrying a plastic chair, joining their chairman who is already seated with three other market officials.

This has been the mood at Kilingili market, located on the border of Kakamega and Vihiga counties, for the past four weeks when traders woke up to the shocking news that five of their guards had been brutally murdered in a night ambush.

SURVIVOR

Since then, no guard has shown up to work at the market — not wanting to risk their lives after what befell their colleagues. It has resulted in a security crisis, hence the meeting.

A few kilometres away, it is all quiet at Boaz Oleta’s humble homestead in Ilungu, a sleepy village.

His kin lead us inside his small iron-roofed mud house where we find him seated, facing the entrance. His face immediately lights up upon seeing us.

“Praise God!” He says, ushering us in as his wife and daughter join him almost immediately to welcome us.

“I am grateful that I am alive. I thank God for sparing my life,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.

Boaz had left Vihiga County Referral Hospital the previous evening after a three-week stay. He can hardly move his neck, still draped in a brace, and his fingers are still swollen.

He can’t move his hands, and he can barely move unassisted. He is also nursing a deep cut on the back of his neck.

MANHUNT

On the night of the attack, John Shiroha, 65, John Ondachi, 63, Thomas Minao, 70, Linus Anyika, 68 and Francis Jojo Osayo, 65, lost their lives in the hands of the killer gang.

The gang had earlier attacked two guards at Ilungu market and left them for dead.

It is a miracle that Boaz, 65, survived the first attack. On the fateful night, the father of six had left home for work at 7pm, arriving at his workstation where he guards a chain of shops that include a bar, retail shop, chemist and butchery, at 7:30 pm, as he has always done for the last five years.

At around 1:30am, two young men emerged from the darkness and approached him asking for assistance.

They claimed they were pursuing some people who were killing young men.

But Boaz had not seen anyone, and he told them as much. Unmoved, they convinced him to rise and assist them in pursuing the men.

ROBBERY

Just as he stood up, he felt a panga hit his helmet, and then a second, taking him down.

As he tried to rise to defend himself, he found himself surrounded by a group of up to 30 young men who descended on him. “They were wielding pangas and rungus shaped to look like guns,” Boaz recalls.

As they hit him, he heard them say: “We are the 42 brothers that you hear about.”

His colleague Charles Kalume, hearing the commotion, rushed to his rescue. But he was not so lucky as the gang turned on him, killing him on the spot.

Boaz believes it is the helmet that saved his life. The men left after hearing him groaning.

They would then break into the shop, carrying away a drum of alcohol and cigarettes. He would then hear a lorry roar off as he lay on the ground.

FEAR

After the gang left, another guard who had been watching the incident from his hiding place called Boaz’s employer and informed him of what had transpired. Luckily, he responded immediately and took him to Vihiga County Referral Hospital.

Boaz, who has worked as a night guard for 22 years, earns Sh3,000 monthly.

During the day, he occasionally works on tea farms in Vihiga besides engaging in other menial jobs with his wife to sustain his family.

Now back home and recovering, he has no idea how he will support his family before he gets back on his feet.

But he has no intention of returning to his former job. But that is the least of his worries now.

Even though police say he is under protection, Boaz fears for his life and his family’s. He is afraid that the gang might pursue him.

TENSION

The recent attacks have spread fear among locals and no one is sure of their safety.

Just nine days ago, slightly over two weeks after the first two attacks, two more guards were fatally attacked at Mulwanda market in Khwisero Sub-County, Kakamega County.

In Butere Sub-County, similar attacks have been linked to the “faceless” and yet organised gang referred to by residents as the “42 Brothers”.

The upsurge of insecurity has left residents puzzled and apprehensive. Villagers spoke in hushed tones, requesting not to be named for fear of being targeted by the criminals for giving out information about them.

Steven Nyerere, chairman of the Butere Sub-County Nyumba Kumi Community Policing Initiative, says: “There is tension in villages, and we have organised a series of meetings to engage with communities and win their support in the fight against crime.”

PATROL

He says the gang operates in Butere and the neighbouring Khwisero.

The gang is also suspected to have launched similar attacks in villages in Mumias East, Mumias West and Emuhaya constituency in Vihiga County.

“We are still carrying out investigations and trying to establish who are behind the criminal gangs that have been terrorising villagers and robbing them of money and valuables,” says Mr Nyerere.

At Kilingili market, Tuesday’s meeting is crucial. The traders are trying to find a solution to the security situation. One proposal is to hire youths to patrol their premises now that the guards have developed cold feet.

"We are exploring the option of recruiting the services of a market vigilante or even Maasais to help boost security," says Alfred Kuta, chairman of traders at the market.

He also lost a watchman, a Mr Anyika, in the March 3 attack. "Tension is still high, traders now close earlier than usual," he says.