It is an open secret that organised crime thrives only when police and other security agencies are part of the syndicate. So, what happens when a government officer decides to go against colleagues who are abetting crime?
For Kenya Defence Forces Lieutenant-Colonel Abdulaziz Mohammed, it was a near-death experience. He was a command away from a bloody exchange between the army and the police near the Kenya-Somalia border.
But somehow, he managed to calm things down in a confrontation that would later see an entire police camp transferred. As Kenya celebrated heroes in various fields under the Mashujaa Day theme, Mr Abdulaziz has been looking fondly at a heroes’ medal he was awarded for the way he handled that delicate situation.
He is in a small group of KDF personnel who hold the Silver Star of Kenya award, which is known world over as the medal for heroism.
He, however, might not have lived to see his name on top of a list of eight in the Kenya Gazette of December 11, 2009 detailing those who received the medal from the then President Mwai Kibaki.
The story starts at a patrol he was doing near the Somalia border. He was the head of a multi-agency team charged with securing a large portion of the former North Eastern Province. Under him were officers from the KDF, the Administration Police, the General Service Unit among others.
“Being the senior-most officer within that area, I was in charge of security operations,” recalls Mr Abdulaziz. At that time, President Kibaki’s regime had ordered the closure of the border, which meant that no people or goods were allowed to move in or out.
But that afternoon as he was on patrol, he stumbled upon two trucks. They were parked with people being smuggled in from Somalia, mainly women and children, and a heavy consignment of sugar.
To his shock, the trucks were being escorted by police officers. He asked them to explain and they referred him to their inspector.
He ordered the police at the scene to drive the trucks to the Liboi police station but they disobeyed his command and instead drove them to their camp.
“I told them, ‘I’m the officer in charge of this area and I’ve given you instructions; you’ve refused.’ So they went into their camp and I followed them,” recalls Mr Abdulaziz.
He tried to reach the inspector in charge of the police officers but “he was very rude and difficult”.
He also informed his seniors about the situation, and they concurred with Mr Abdulaziz that no people or goods were supposed to enter the country.
He was not prepared for what followed. When he stopped his vehicle to enable steady network access, AP officers reached the scene in their vehicles. “It was as if they were coming in to quell a riot or something. They started hurling all sorts of insults at me. I thank God I decided to remain calm. They abused me and our soldiers,” he says. “I told them, ‘I cannot fight you.’”
“To ensure the situation did not get worse, I decided that we should drive off,” he says.
They headed to a police station, but more drama awaited them.
“They (police) had already deployed along the fence and they told us, ‘If you are men, come in.’ You know, by then, I had armoured vehicles. They have a lot of capabilities. If we had decided to use them against (the police), nothing would have survived there,” he says with a chuckle.
Word reached the provincial commissioner who sent the District Officer (DO) to the station.
“The DO came and dispersed the officers quickly. Following guidance from the commanding officer, I went to the OCS and ensured that all the goods on board that vehicle were booked and the OB number sent to Garissa. But unfortunately, we were not able to get any human. They had dissipated into the community,” recalls Mr Abdulaziz.
He left the northern Kenya post a happy man when his term ended but with valuable lessons. He proudly turned down a Sh500,000 bribe from a person who wanted to smuggle in some sugar.
“He was taxed and he paid Sh1.8 million,” says Mr Abdulaziz. “The government was losing a lot in terms of tax but some selfish people were benefiting.”
His actions inspired his seniors to recommend him for the Silver Star Award.
“The position of the Kenya Defence Forces is very clear: We are paid, we are workers for the State, and we’re supposed to be transparent,” he says.
Mr Abdulaziz, 42, joined KDF in 1997. A father of two, he is currently the commanding officer of the Defence Staff College in Karen, Nairobi.