Perhaps it was the chants and shouts that alerted drivers on State House Road that all was not well at the University of Nairobi student hostels on Thursday evening.
Or maybe it was the convoy of seven police vehicles, the officers inside observing the students who had taken a break from an orgy of window-smashing.
Whichever the case, as the noise grew louder, motorists hurriedly made U-turns and found other routes.
The students continued with their war songs in the hostel compound.
“If I die in the battlefield, tell my mother that I did my best,” a group shouted.
“Pin my medals on the chest. OCS was a ranger.”
Fifteen hours before this standoff, student leader Samuel Mogaka Ragira, alias OCS Ragira, had been shot and killed in unclear circumstances.
Social media lit up with the news. Kenyans demanded answers. Rights groups jumped into the fray. And students hit the streets.
Afraid of being dragged into the mess, the university denied “OCS” Ragira was its student.
“We regret the mysterious circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of former UoN student Samuel Ragira last evening. Authorities should investigate and bring to book the perpetrators of this violence on young Kenyans,” Vice-Chancellor Peter Mbithi tweeted.
Mr Ragira, who preferred to be called OCS (for “Officer Commanding Students”) was a villain to some and a hero to others.
The protesting students said he had been killed for fighting for their welfare and that of traders at Club 36, a vibrant market next to the university.
This market serves students’ needs because they are banned from cooking in their hostels. They also complain about the small rations served at the mess.
At Club 36, however, two chapatis and beans, topped with some cabbage can cost just Sh30.
One will part with Sh50 for two eggs, sukuma wiki and ugali while a plate of rice and meat goes for just Sh70.
Business at Club 36 has flourished for many years.
But there is a dark side to this market. Unlike others in the city, traders here do not pay revenue to the county government.
It is also not clear who owns the land the market stands on. Some say it belongs to Nairobi Primary School while others claim it is the county government’s.
Mr Ronny Otieno, a statistics student at the Chiromo campus who witnessed Mr Ragira’s killing, said he was shot by a man in a black suit who alighted from a Toyota Premio “with a KBV registration”. The vehicle, he said, then sped towards Lower State House Road.
“There was a commotion and students started running towards the campus,” Mr Otieno said.
“OCS fell and a man jumped from the car and shot him. He then took his phone and shoes and got into the car before it sped away,” he said.
Mr Ragira’s body, which this writer saw at City Mortuary, had a bullet wound in the back.
Police officers say it is not their bullet that killed him.
“We are doing all we can to establish the facts before we say anything but we went there to rescue the young man after he was shot,” Kilimani OCPD Michael Muchiri told the Saturday Nation.
“He still had a pulse but died while being taken to hospital. We do not know who shot him.”
It is still too early to tell who pulled the trigger that ended the life of the father of one, but the security cameras on Lower State House Road may provide some clues.
Mr Ragira’s life was flashy. He regularly alternated cars, between a grey Mercedes Benz, a grey Toyota Mark X and a Nissan Patrol. Few people know what he did for a living.
Traders at Club 36 claim Mr Ragira was part of an extortion gang. His Mercedes Benz was regularly spotted at the market. Traders say he would show up to protect a gang that collects money from them, failure to which traders are harassed.
“If they come and tell you to give them Sh10,000 you must do as they say. They mostly come on Fridays. Your wares will be destroyed if you do not surrender the amount they demand,” one trader told the Saturday Nation.
The traders add that the gang, mostly made up of former student leaders, is being rivalled by another that runs errands for a city politician.
One of the gangs, the traders continue, has been plotting to take all the extortion cash due to disagreements on sharing.
The plan was to either sell the Sh300 million half-acre piece of land where the market stands or rent it back to the traders.
The plan would have worked – until an incident last week triggered a chain of reactions that led to Mr Ragira’s shooting.
Mr Augustus Royori, a third-year student and a friend of Mr Ragira, started supplying maize flour to the traders.
Traders say they were being forced to buy the flour. When they refused, Mr Royori started destroying their property.
A commotion broke out, during which he was stabbed.
“No one wanted to buy his unga. They cannot force us to give them money and then buy things from them,” another trader said.
We spoke to Mr Royori at City Mortuary. He had stitches on his hand and head, and used crutches.
“I was just supplying unga and then the goons stabbed me. They are the same ones who shot Ragira. They had even issued death threats,” he said.
“We cannot even use our cars. They say nothing will happen even if we report them to the police.”
Kileleshwa Deputy OCS James Nguye, who responded to the stabbing last week, was badly beaten in the commotion that followed. He is still in hospital.
Mr Muchiri said Mr Nguye was assaulted because the crowd could not tell if he was a police officer.
“He had civilian attire,” the OCPD told the Saturday Nation.
“There are rival gangs fighting for that piece of land and a decision has to be made on who it belongs to. In fact, it is becoming a security threat. We might even decide to close the market.”
What followed after Mr Royori’s stabbing was a classical gang reaction straight from the movies.
A group descended on the market that night and destroyed the stalls. Traders made some repairs the next day but the gang came back and burnt it down.
In a video seen by the Saturday Nation after the market was razed, Mr Ragira is seen telling the traders to contribute money for Mr Royori’s medical bills.
“We have allowed you to continue to do business in order to finish all these issues. You have, however, agreed that a student was stabbed here so when we come with a medical bill, you will pay,” he says.
“The other issues will be discussed by the committee. I hear there is politics about this market and I will stand with you.”