Land feuds leave trail of death and suffering in Kisii - Daily Nation
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Land feuds leave trail of death and suffering in Kisii

Wednesday June 20 2018

Mr James Ateka speaks to journalists at Jogoo

Mr James Ateka speaks to journalists at Jogoo estate in Kisii town last month on the killing of his niece Catherine Sarange a year ago, in circumstances linked to a land dispute. He is demanding justice for Catherine, who left behind five children. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By RUTH MBULA
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It is about a year since Ms Catherine Sarange was murdered in cold blood. All this time, her remains have been lying at the Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital Mortuary.

There are no indications she would be buried soon. Her family says burial will only take place after her killers, who are still at large, are brought to book.

Her father, Mr John Nyangau, is distraught. He blames the death of his third born among five children on a vicious land dispute.

“All I want is justice for my child. We will not bury her until her killers are arrested and prosecuted,” says the 58-year-old man at his daughter’s disputed farm in Jogoo estate, Kisii town.

Ms Sarange went missing on June 2, 2017. Her body was recovered a month later from a sewage manhole and wrapped in a polythene bag.

Mr Nyangau says the man suspected to have murdered his daughter was arrested but released later in unclear circumstances. “After being released, he went into hiding,” he said.

SEEKING MATIANG'I INTERVENTION

He now wants Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to intervene in the matter.

Mr James Ateka, 75, an uncle to the slain woman, says a two-acre land feud between the victim and her suspected killer may have caused her death.

“They had quarrelled over the piece of land for long. They both claimed ownership and the woman had been threatened with death on several occasions. What she was threatened with finally came to pass,” said Mr Ateka.

Angered with the threats, the woman had earlier opted for legal action and moved to court. But the case did not kick off as she was murdered two days to the day the case was to start.

Relatives say the husband to the slain woman, Mr Francis Ongeri and their five children aged between 13 and 2 years were recently picked up by investigative officers who told them they had been taken up for ‘witness protection.’

UNDER PROTECTION

County Director of Criminal Investigations James Kipsoi confirms this, saying the man and his children are under protection.

“We handed the murder file to the office of Director of Public Prosecution for action. We are still waiting,” he said.

Mr Peter Ong’uti, a village elder, says about three months ago, the suspect accompanied by a number of his friends and guarded by police officers unsuccessfully attempted to bury Ms Sarange’s remains without the consent of her family.

In yet another case, Pastor Esther Bochaberi Oyugi was abducted from her house in Bokeire village, near Suneka airstrip in Kisii County on the night of March 11, 2018.

Her badly mutilated body was found a month later inside a sugar plantation in Awendo, Migori County. The pastor was said to have been involved in a land tussle with a neighbour.

"Our misery started when people forcefully trespassed into our land and damaged our crops, trees and even erected a structure on our parcel of land," said her husband, Mr Joseph Oyugi.

LAND CARTELS
Mr Oyugi, who lives with his six children in Nairobi, said his 60-year-old wife was a victim of land cartels in Kisii.

At the county lands office in Kisii town, demand for services at the county lands office has turned out to be fertile ground for fraudsters. They take advantage of orphans, widows and widowers' vulnerability to deprive them of their land.

The worrying trend has spawned an upsurge in court battles as the rightful property owners pursue elusive justice.

Many more victims suffer in silence for fear of revenge attacks which can send them to an early grave or leave them maimed for life.

Investigations show that the land syndicate is well oiled, with contacts in the Judiciary, police, lands offices and even among politicians.

FORGED COURT SEALS

They have forged court seals, succession documents, title deeds, signatures of magistrates, lands officers and chiefs - all crucial for faking documents to the disadvantage of land owners.

With an average of 900 people per square kilometre, Kisii is among the most populated counties in Kenya. But this has not deterred locals from engaging in farming aggressively.