From March 29, 1973 when he joined the Kenya Air Force, David Gitau Njau had a blissful career, rising to the rank of sergeant, but this all came tumbling down in one day: August 1, 1982.
On that day, asleep at the Airmen’s Married Quarters at the Eastleigh Air Base, Mr Njau was woken up by the sound of alarms and gunshots and, as was the standard drill, proceeded to the armoury.
But before he could walk in, he was confronted by a group of soldiers in combat gear who forced him at gunpoint to board a Land Rover parked at the main gate and drive it. At the main guardroom, he was ordered to stop and park the vehicle while the soldiers got off.
He also alighted, he would later tell the High Court, and headed to the Sergeants’ Mess, where he says he heard news that officers of the Kenya Air Force had attempted to overthrow President Daniel arap Moi’s government but they had been overpowered. Suddenly, he told the court, everything returned to normal at the Eastleigh Air Base.
But not for him. He would later that day be picked, alongside other Air Force officers, by Kenya Army officers, stripped to his underpants and beaten before being taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison, where more beatings followed.
He spent the first two days in the cell without food and water, or medical attention for his injuries. He was subjected to continuous interrogation in what he says was an attempt to coerce him to confess to participation in the failed coup, a torturous process that went on at Naivasha Maximum Prison, where he was sent two weeks later.
For standing his ground and refusing to confess, Mr Njau says he was sent to solitary confinement, and was only allowed to mix with others for two hours a day.
In January 1983, nearly five months after his arrest, Mr Njau was transferred to Lang’ata Barracks, where he says an army major convinced him to plead guilty to the charges of mutiny. He refused and was sent back to Kamiti Maximum Prison.
Here, he was kept in solitary confinement for three weeks, “after which I was allowed to mix with the inmates in Block G who had been sentenced to death, some of whom were insane and were yelling all the time,” he told the court.
He was released on March 14, 1983, taken to Kahawa Barracks where he was dismissed, driven to Railways Bus Stage, given Sh20 as bus fare, and warned never to wear military uniform again.
Mr Njau’s is the story of 39 Kenya Airforce officers who have since been awarded damages by different courts in different cases, but who have not seen a dime of the money the courts said were to compensate them for unfair dismissal and the torture of being detained for a coup they say they did not participate in.
The 39, who have been divided into four different petitions, were cumulatively awarded Sh170 million. Due to interest, this has since grown to Sh229 million as at end of 2018, and it keeps growing.
The petitioners, who have been waiting for compensation for years, have a backing of the Senate to have their dues paid.
“The committee recommends that the Government of Kenya, through the Ministry of Defence, should honour the court orders and immediately settle the awards due to the petitioners plus costs and interest accrued following the date of judgment as provided,” a report dated December 3, 2019 by the Senate National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations Committee said.
The committee, chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, observed that “in all the cases, judgment had been rendered and a certificate of taxation and certificates of order issued”.
“The petitioners have, therefore, exhausted all remedies,” the Senate committee said.
For Mr Njau, a petition that also has 10 officers, a judgment was issued awarding them Sh5.5 million each (Sh55 million in total) in November 2013.
It grew at 12 per cent interest per annum to Sh80 million in 2018, when another order to pay was made.
An attempt by the Attorney-General to file an appeal out of time was thrown out by the Court of Appeal in February.
In the second petition led by James Mwangi Wanyoike, who was a lead petitioner in a case of 10 ex-1982 officers, Justice Mumbi Ngugi, in a February 2012 ruling, awarded them a total sum of Sh23.5 million.
As at November 24, 2017, this had shot up to Sh41.2 million, with an interest of Sh16.3 million and Sh1.5 million as party costs.
Like the Njau case, a call to the Court by the Attorney-General to be allowed to file an appeal out of time was thrown out.
In the third petition, Captain Kariuki Kingaru, who has since passed on, led nine petitioners to demand their dues. On October 22, 2014, the Captain Kingaru team was awarded Sh8 million each (total of Sh72 million), with a certificate of taxation and certificate of order issued in July 2015 followed by order of mandamus (to pay) in October 2016. As of March 16, 2018, this award was valued at Sh82.8 million.
On March 9, 2017, the Attorney-General and the PS, Ministry of Defence, were both cited for contempt.
In the fourth petition, Gerald Juma Gichohi and nine others were on May 9, 2015 awarded Sh20.2 million with costs and 12 per cent interest per annum.
On March 30, 2017, a certificate of taxation and certificate of order were issued against the government, the amount having now gone up to Sh25.5 million.
Since they started pushing for their payment, the petitioners said, seven of them have already passed on – millionaire paupers who went to their graves without getting their dues for the torture they endured.
The petitioners now want their dues paid, saying they are all senior citizens, above 65, and that any further delay would hurt them even further.
In the case of Njau and the nine other petitioners who were awarded Sh72 million in May 2016, former Defence PS had in December 2017 sworn an affidavit that the ministry had budgeted for the funds.
Similarly, the petitioners in the case led by Captain Kingaru got the ear of the former Attorney General Githu Muigai, who in 2017 asked the ministry to pay up.
Since then, the 39 petitioners have been waiting for their money.
Will they be lucky anytime soon? With the delay so far, only time will tell.
[email protected], @PatoSuge