A silky-smooth tongue, a clever scheme and the Bible.
These are the ingredients televangelist David Kariuki Ngare, alias Gakuyo, used to cook up the stories he fed thousands of his followers to make them pump money into a Sacco he built around his dubious reputation as a man of God.
Now, the investors are not sure if they will ever recover their hard-earned cash. And Thursday’s bombshell from the Co-operatives ministry confirmed their worst fears.
Government auditors investigating the troubled Ekeza Savings and Credit Cooperative Society revealed that more than Sh1 billion of investors’ money had been illegally withdrawn from the Sacco and used by Mr Ngare on personal expenses.
The auditor’s report was released during a special general meeting held at the Kasarani stadium and disillusioned many people who had committed their savings in a Sacco that was fervently marketed by Mr Ngare, the founder of the Calvary Chosen Centre church.
Warning signs appeared in March last year when Commissioner for Co-operatives Mary Mungai shut down the Sacco and appointed two liquidators to oversee its operations pending a probe into the management of its funds.
Ms Mungai said the decision was informed by complaints that Ekeza had reneged on a pledge to assist members acquire land and build houses.
Investigations into the Sacco’s financial status established that Ekeza had no assets of its own since it has been sharing its assets, including office space and bank accounts, with Gakuyo Real Estate Company, also owned by the Thika-based televangelist.
The investigators pointed out that Mr Ngare managed the Sacco as a personal outfit.
Ekeza, known for its glitzy media campaigns in Kikuyu-language radio and TV stations, had offices in Nairobi, Kiambu, Murang’a, Embu, Nakuru and other towns. It had 26 branches with deposits totalling to some Sh3 billion.
Through sustained media campaigns, the Sacco attracted huge membership across Nairobi and its environs. By 2017, its membership stood at about 78,000. The number, however, dipped to about 51,350 active members this years after a series of financial scandals rocked its boat.
“Active membership has been declining since 2018. Due to lack of loans some people applied to leave but their monies were not refunded,” noted principal co-operatives officer and auditor Philip Huruma.
The government suspended the management and ordered the appointment of a caretaker team to run the Sacco for three months pending election of new officials.
On Thursday, members of the troubled Sacco turned up in multitudes for the special general meeting. One more reason for their disappointment is that Mr Ngare walked out of the meeting before it ended.
The beleaguered Sacco members began streaming at Kasarani Stadium as early 6am. They patiently endured long queues since their details had to be checked in the system before they could be allowed into the auditorium.
The Sacco largely draws its membership from small-scale traders. It was established in 2014 with the promise of providing its members easy access to affordable credit for buying plots of land as well as facilitation for house construction. This never happened.
Mr Elijah Chege, a widower and a father of four, recounted that he joined the Sacco in 2016 with plans to save up and buy a plot of land in Joska on the outskirts of Nairobi.
“I had saved over Sh100,000 by 2017. When I tried to withdraw the money, I could not. Today I knew I would be given a cheque but that again did not happen. I’m asking the government to intervene so that we can recoup our investments” he said.