On a chilly Tuesday evening in December 2002, a nation was convulsed in the shocking news that the man tipped to win the presidency in coming weeks had just been in a car crash and his condition was a matter of speculation and conjecture.
Mr Kibaki, then the Narc presidential contender and the favourite candidate against Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta, was returning from a three-day campaign tour of lower Eastern Province seated in the left front passenger seat of his top-of-the-line four-wheel-drive campaign machine.
“No! We are not dying,” the man seated directly behind him in the Range Rover replied. In a flash, David Maina Wambugu, then leaned forward and held Mr Kibaki firmly to his seat as the vehicle tumbled into the trench.
“The last thing I recall is trying to hold Mzee to his seat,” Mr Wambugu told Sunday Nation.
Today the former General Service Unit officer believes his own injuries would have been less serious had he been wearing a safety belt.
“I underwent VIP protection training at the GSU. and one of the lessons is that when you are protecting a VIP, you don’t wear a safety belt because that will slow down your response in case of an emergency. That’s why I was not wearing a belt,” Mr Wambugu said.
Following the crash, the bodyguard lost consciousness until the following day at Nairobi Hospital.
“When I came to, there was a nurse by my side, and I asked her where Mzee was, fearing for the worst,” he said. “She escorted me to see him in the ward where they were taking care of him. I found Mrs Lucy Kibaki, now the First Lady, by his side. She asked him whether he could recognize me, and he said; ‘This is Wambugu and if he’s alive then God is great,’” said Wambugu.
The journey together of the two men, the senior politician who rose to the top and the junior police officer who fell, had begun nearly eight years earlier when Mr Wambugu was head-hunted from the GSU to guard Mr Kibaki.
“Part of the reason why I was picked is because I come from Mzee’s home area,” Mr Wambugu said. “For the time I served in his escort team between 1996 and the time of the accident I never went on leave. I loved my job, and my boss treated me like a son.”
“He paid for our medical expenses and even those of our family members when we could not. He educated my younger brother to university level and paid medical bills for my father,” the former police officer recalled.
Records show that the President was well pleased with his bodyguards, Mr Wambugu and another named Davidson Ngini Muga, so much so that while still opposition chief, Mr Kibaki wrote to the commissioner of police recommending the two for promotion.
The commendation letter is dated January 25, 2002, about a year before he became president. In reply, a Ms Pauline Adhiambo, writing for the police boss, promised that the matter would be considered alongside others when the opportunity arose.
But the accident became a curse that flung his boss into a trench, sent him to hospital abroad and confined him to a wheelchair for months.
As it turned out, the accident was not only a blow to Mr Wambugu’s health but also sent his career tumbling because he sent his medical bills to the President.
After the accident, Mr Wambugu said, he was posted to Saba Saba Police Post from where he carried out his duties while still seeking further treatment at the Thika District Hospital.
“My health deteriorated there, and I wrote to the Head of State through his then-secretary, who was known to me, updating him on my health status. I was later transferred to Kilimani Police Station from where I continued with my specialized treatment at both Nairobi Hospital and Imperial Health Services. The President always footed my bills,” Mr Wambugu said.
This, the former police officer believes, was until his superiors discovered it and reprimanded him for corresponding directly with the Commander-in-Chief. “On January 10, 2005, I sent the medical bills as usual, which had accumulated to Sh130,000.
On January 18, I was summoned by then Nairobi provincial police boss King’ori Mwangi in his office. He ordered me to write a retirement letter, failure to which I would be dismissed from the force.” The reason was, as Mr Mwangi put it, “we are disturbing the President by sending him medical bills.”’
The corporal tried to explain to the man – many ranks his senior – that it was the President who had offered to pay the bills, but his explanation fell on deaf ears.
“My verdict is final. Just try and complain to any quarters and as you know, I know how to defend myself,” Mr Wambugu remembers his senior’s words during his final encounter with him.
On Saturday, Mr Mwangi maintained that Mr Wambugu had not been forced out of the police force.
“That man retired voluntarily and was under investigation for indiscipline. He was never in the presidential escort and he used to go round claiming that he was in the presidential escort and being a nuisance in the city. He retired voluntarily,” Mr Mwangi told the Sunday Nation on the telephone from Sudan where he’s on an official visit.
Police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe defended Mr Mwangi and the force against Mr Wambugu’s accusations and maintained that he retired voluntarily.
“The retirement was voluntary. There are many cases of people who retire before time and then realise that what they were going for does not materialise,” Mr Kiraithe said. “Anyone who retires and then realizes they have made a mistake cannot be reinstated. That’s in the Force Standing Orders, whether someone changes their mind after five or twenty minutes. It cannot be revoked. There are many cases of that nature,”
“But if the gentleman has information that we don’t know, he should pass it on to us,” Mr Kiraithe said.
In turn, Mr Wambugu maintained that his retirement was unusual. A vehicle was sent to pick him from his house and he was then driven to the office of the PPO from where he was ordered to retire, he said.
Frustrated by employer
“My retirement was processed very fast. It was done within hours. In any case, how can I retire and then start seeking reinstatement the very same day my retirement letter was issued?” asked Mr Wambugu.
Frustrated by his employer, Mr Wambugu turned to the then Internal Security minister John Michuki seeking an appeal. He managed to get an appointment and presented his case but never got a response.
He next moved to the office of government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua who, he said, told him that his matter was being looked into. Lastly, he sought an appointment with former presidential adviser Stanley Murage.
“They all listened to me, but I have never heard from them,” Mr Wambugu said this week.
Of the trips in search for help that took Mr Wambugu to high offices, Dr Mutua said Mr Wambugu can only seek redress at the Public Service Commission or in the courts.
“If he retired, he retired. If he messed up, he messed up. You can’t retire and then come back and cry wolf. At least someone was sympathetic enough to give him the option to retire. He can fight for 20 years and the result will be the same,” Dr Mutua told Sunday Nation.
“Saying that he retired under duress is a ‘he said, she said’ story,” Dr Mutua said.
Mr Wambugu has copies of medical bills – the documents that got him in trouble – that the President had cleared on his behalf at the Nairobi Heart Clinic run by heart specialist and President Kibaki’s physician Dr Dan Gikonyo.
The medical bills and the help he got from the President, Mr Wambugu said, are precisely what got him in the trouble he is in today; jobless, begging to feed his family, pay rent, send his children to school and make a livelihood--unless the man he helped save at the Machakos turn-off steps in to save the day.
“If I committed any crime, if my file has any accusation against me, if I have done anything wrong, I should face the law,” Mr Wambugu said. “I’m ready to go to court if I committed any crime. If no one has anything against me, then all I’m asking for is justice.”
“When the GSU conducted a search for a suitable officer, I was found to be the one closest to Mzee because I also came from his constituency,” Mr Wambugu told Sunday Nation in an extensive interview this week.
Together with a colleague, the young officer would make sure they both reported for duty at the opposition chief’s Muthaiga residence by 6 a.m. ready for the day’s duty.
“We would be on duty until Mzee ended his day, sometimes way into the night but always back by the following morning at 6 a.m. In the evening, Mzee would always give us some money to hire a taxi to return to GSU headquarters. That was generally our routine for the nearly eight years I worked for him,” Mr Wambugu said.
And did Mr Kibaki pack his own lunch and carry it in the vehicle as was widely rumoured at the time?
“No. He ate where he went and shared a meal with the people who hosted him if he was on the campaign trail. For instance, on the day of the accident, Hon (David) Musila had slaughtered goats in Mwingi,” Mr Wambugu said.
In addition to politics, his former boss would take care of his own business in his private office at Continental House and play rounds of golf at Muthaiga, Windsor, Sigona, Karen and Nyeri golf clubs, Mr Wambugu said.
Now, all Mr Wambugu wants from his former boss is some help to secure a meaningful livelihood.
“I would like justice to be done as far as my retirement goes. It was not done fairly, and I believe that either the President does not know about it or he only receives twisted information,” Mr Wambugu said.
“I would like the case reviewed by a person outside the police force because the officers have standardized their story about me and I don’t expect it to change.”
“What I’m looking for is justice and that’s why I’m speaking out, so that, perchance, the President will come to my aid and direct that justice be done.”