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TALES OF COURAGE: From armed gangster to legal adviser

Friday January 18 2019

Rahab Ngige.

A reformed Rahab Ngige. PHOTO | COURTESY 

WANJIKU MAINA
By WANJIKU MAINA
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Things started to go wrong when she rebelled against her parents and dropped out of high school. She had been a bright student with a promising future and although her parents tried to speak sense to her, their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Shortly after, she relocated to a different part of town ready to take on life independently. At first, thoughts of swallowing her pride and going back home crept up on her mind but she quickly pushed them aside.

She felt that she was a grown woman now. True to this, a man found her grown enough to marry and she became a wife. The man later enrolled her for an Early Childhood Education and Development (ECDE) course. Things seemed to be working out well until fate took an unexpected turn. Rahab Ngige, 38, shares her courageous story of quitting crime and finding her life’s purpose:

“I grew up in a small village called Gichagi at the foot of Ngong Hills. My parents were God-fearing and raised us to be good Christians. Being a large family, we couldn’t afford a lot of luxuries but we didn’t lack necessities. Education was revered in our home and so my parents ensured we had everything we needed for school.

As a child, I kept wondering why we didn’t have nice things like the rest of the children in my school. Or at church. A seed of greed got planted in my little heart and as I grew older it grew into the monster that would eventually land me in jail.

ON MY OWN

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I cannot remember what prompted me to drop out of high school. I was not struggling with my studies, my parents could afford my fees, and there wasn’t even a boy enticing me to elope with him. I just quit with no plan of what to do next. My parents were disappointed in me. They didn’t have to say it; I could see it in their eyes.

I moved from home in search of freedom. To be honest, I was not at peace with how I left things with my parents and siblings but my hot-headedness thwarted any feelings of remorse. Allow me not to say much about the events leading to my short-lived marriage because I am not proud of that phase of my life. He was a good man who saw my potential but then I left him just before I started my internship.

Although I disliked the ECDE course, it was better than nothing. I studied well and secured an internship at a certain school around Kiserian Town. As an intern, I wasn’t receiving any salary but the school gave me a small allowance for upkeep. Once again, I was on my own but things were looking up.

One day, I decided to visit a friend in Ongata Rongai during my off day. As we were enjoying a couple of drinks, another gentleman joined us. My friend introduced him and mentioned that he owned the butchery in the club we were in. We got along well and even exchanged contacts. Later I came to learn that he was actually from my neighbourhood back in Gichagi. His name was Paul.

Paul and I became good friends and he even came to visit me in Kiserian once in a while. As we got closer, I started having questions about his lifestyle. He had a nice car, spent a lot of money on friends whenever we went out and dressed flashily. Such a lavish life couldn’t possibly be funded by a tiny butchery. Sometimes I teased him about it but he would simply laugh it off. He was my friend and since I didn’t want to nag him, I stopped asking too many questions.

JOB OFFER

After knowing each other for a few months, I received a call from Paul one morning asking me if I would be interested in a job. When I asked for more details, he sounded irritated and shot back, ‘Wewe unataka kazi ama hutaki? (Do you want a job or not?)’ I needed the money, so I agreed to take the job without any idea of what I was expected to do.

When I met up with him a few hours later, he handed me a bunch of ATM cards and a slip of paper that had a list of PIN numbers. ‘Go and clean out these accounts’, he instructed. My worst fears were confirmed; he was a thief.

Without a moment of hesitation, I tucked the cards into my handbag and headed for my first assignment. Less than an hour later I came back with Sh100,000. He gave me my cut of Sh40,000 and commended me for a job well done. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It had taken minutes for me to earn over six months’ salary at the school I interned at. I quit my ECDE attachment.

Paul approached me one day and said that I was ready to graduate. I didn’t understand what this meant but it did not matter. Meeting him had changed my fortunes and I trusted his completely. He introduced me to three other men and explained that I was now one of them, a member of the gang.

Part of my orientation included learning how to handle a gun. I was so blinded with greed for more money that there was no room for fear. I was not afraid of the gun, of being an armed robber, or of executing my first job.

FULL-TIME GANGSTER

My first job with the gang was a carjacking which went very smoothly, no one got hurt and we did not get caught. Many more followed. Sometimes we would do a spontaneous raid in a club which was just brandishing the guns and ordering people to empty their pockets.

However, our main jobs were ordered jobs in partnership with an insider. For such, we had planning meetings, pre-job visits and negotiation of the insider’s cuts. We were mostly outsourced by company employees, security guards, domestic workers and, unfortunately, wives.

Unlike carjacking, these other robberies posed some challenges and things would sometimes go terribly wrong. One time we were executing a robbery, an inside job, but the security guard got cold feet and pressed the alarm while we were still inside the house. I have a scar from the scuffle that ensued, we escaped by a whisker.

Before heading out for a job, we had in mind the three possible outcomes once we left the house we operated from: Returning with a lot of money, returning with no money, or not returning at all.

We stole for four solid years without ever getting caught. I got access to more money that I had ever dreamed of and I spent it as recklessly and dangerously as it was earned. We spent a lot of time together as a gang. We partied hard, spending hundreds of thousands of money overnight. It never occurred to me to invest any of the money.

FALLING IN LOVE

In the midst of all this, I met a young man who was a student at the University of Nairobi and we fell in love. He was much younger than me and his relatives did not approve of the relationship. But like me, he had his own streak of stubbornness.

He moved out from the campus hostels to come live with me. I could tell he was dying to ask what I did for a living. But he didn’t. I am the one who confessed to him, after studying him for a while, that I was a gangster.

He did not run away from me and I took that to mean that he loved me a lot. Therefore, I recruited him against the wishes of the rest of the gang. The only right thing I did for that boy was encouraging him to stay in school. In retrospect, it was a way of calming my conscious for recruiting a promising young man into crime.

One day, four of us, including my boyfriend, were in my house nursing a hangover after a partying all night. My boyfriend and another member of the gang had gone to get more drinks. Suddenly, the sound of gunshots ripped the air.

TRAP

We instinctively took to our heels through the back door. The police were onto us and it was each man for himself! I snatched a glimpse back at my house just in time to see the police shepherding my boyfriend into an awaiting patrol vehicle. I continued running as tears of guilt stung my eyes, but there was nothing I could do.

We had hideouts where we sat out and waited for things to calm down after a job. The moment I got there, I dialled my boyfriend’s phone but it was switched off. I went and bought several mobile phones and sim-cards. For the next one week, I dialled his number with different phone but to no avail. I even reached out to his campus friends but they distanced themselves from me.

I was about to give up when one morning the call went through. He picked up and told me that he had been released after paying bail. We agreed to meet up at a certain location which we used to refer to as drawing board. I was elated!

The three of us proceeded to the location and on arriving I called my boyfriend to let him know we were here. Hardly had the phone rung than we heard the stern order from behind us: ‘Mkae hivyo hivyo na msijaribu kutoroka (Stay where you are and don’t try to run)’. Our 40 days were up and we walked right into the trap!”

Rahab appeared in court where she pleaded not guilty to the several charges that were read to her and she was sent to remand at Lang’ata Women’s Prison. While awaiting trial, she interacted with fellow inmates who enlightened her on case proceedings and shared tips to help her case. When she appeared next in court, she requested her cases be consolidated into two files instead of four and the magistrate granted her request.

EMPOWERED

“I thank God for the work being done by Kituo Cha Sheria in Kenyan prisons. They empowered me with knowledge and skills about the law to the extent where I dropped my lawyer and represented myself. After successfully consolidating my cases, I reduced my time to six years, four of which I spent in remand.”

Rahab ‘found’ herself while serving her term. At first, she had made life difficult for the prison officers by being her usual rebellious self. She traded contraband and caused disturbances until a new officer in charge, Madam Olivia, joined the prison.

“She was a wise officer who decided to befriend the most troublesome prisoner around – me. She believed in me, gave me responsibilities and saw to it that I got a spot in the prison’s mentorship programme.

After a one-month training, I decided to change my ways and publicly surrendered my stock of bhang, phones and cigarettes. Later on I joined the African Prisons Project and enrolled for a short course in baking. I also continued to learn more about the law and successfully helped fellow inmates to draft their appeals and argue their cases favourably.”

After her release, Rahab was offered a job by the Africa Prisons Project as a result of her positive impact in the prison. Today, she works for the organisation as a legal advisor and an active campaigner against crime. During her free time, she takes orders for cakes to earn extra income.

She has reconciled with her family and is now at peace.

“I do not have the tons of money anymore but my life is meaningful now. I have peace of mind and I feel that I got a second chance in life. Most importantly, I learnt to hate crime, not just fear it. That is the message I preach today – hate crime.”

***

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