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Inside the 11-hour manhunt for Nairobi Governor Sonko

Saturday December 7 2019

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko is led into the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission offices in Nairobi on December 6, 2019. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SATURDAY NATION TEAM
By SATURDAY NATION TEAM
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Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko staged a dramatic dash for his freedom early Friday morning, but a series of blunders by him and his aides made the run short-lived as he was arrested in Voi, about 300 kilometres from Nairobi, as he drove towards Mombasa.

The decision to arrest him was made two days ago but it took 11 hours of high drama to finally put him in custody.

He is accused of, among other offences, abuse of office, and faces corruption charges over award of tenders in Nairobi.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji told a press conference in the city that Mr Sonko and his cronies presided over a corrupt system that led to the embezzlement of at least Sh357 million shillings.

Following his arrest, he is expected to be arraigned in court on Monday.

ESCAPE

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In scenes straight from the gangland underworld, Mr Sonko went down kicking, screaming and biting.

A multi-agency team of officers drawn from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and the Flying Squad had been trailing him for more than 10 hours, and were supposed to detain him before Mr Haji called a press conference in the morning.

But they were thrown off-tangent in the wee hours of Friday morning after Mr Sonko, in the company of two of his closest aides, made the dash towards Mombasa.

The multi-agency team had been relying on intelligence from the bodyguards and mobile phone signals to track the governor, but Mr Sonko and his team had switched off their phones before they jumped into several cars and sped off towards the Coast.

In Nairobi, the governor has homes in Nyari, Runda and Upper Hill. He also has another home at Mua Hills in Machakos, and two others in Nyali and Kwale at the Coast.

He was at his Upper Hill home on Thursday night preparing to attend a music awards ceremony on Mombasa Road when he got wind of the plan to arrest him.

ANTICIPATORY BAIL

He immediately switched off his mobile phones and ordered his aides to do the same before jumping into his car and speeding off in the direction of Mua.

He left behind the police officers assigned to him, and who had been given the task of informing EACC detectives of the whereabouts of the governor.

The job of guaranteeing that the governor was not arrested was assigned to his most trusted aides, Mr Mathias Owino, alias Swaleh, and Mr Peterson Kimenye, alias Shaw.

The two, who have not left Mr Sonko’s side in recent days, were supposed to help him get to a safe haven as his lawyers worked on a suit seeking to prevent his arrest and prosecution.

Detectives believe Owino and Kimenye were smuggling Mr Sonko to Tanzania through the small village of Mwaluvamba in Kwale.

He was to stay in Tanzania, they believe, for two weeks as his lawyers filed papers in court to stop his arrest.

With their mobile phones off, Mr Sonko and his aides were almost incognito.

At 5am Friday morning, as officials at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions prepared to call a press conference to announce orders to have the governor arrested, they were already on the road headed to the Coast, escorted by a small convoy of cars to avoid detection on the highway.

ROADBLOCKS MOUNTED

Detectives told the Saturday Nation last evening that Mr Sonko changed cars several times between Nairobi and Voi.

At Kibwezi, however, Mr Sonko briefly switched on one of his mobile phones, and the signal was immediately picked up by detectives in Nairobi, who alerted their counterparts along the transport corridor to Mombasa.

“We knew he was moving and we started following him,” a senior detective involved in the operation told the Saturday Nation.

Police officers were instructed to quickly mount roadblocks along the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway and at the Kenya-Tanzania border crossing points of Namanga in Kajiado County and Lunga Lunga in Kwale County.

It was at one of those roadblocks, at the Ndara area of Voi County, that he was arrested.

The EACC immediately fired a tweet confirming the governor’s arrest. “EACC confirms that Nairobi City County Governor Mike Sonko Mbuvi has been arrested while escaping arrest at a roadblock in Voi and is being transferred to Nairobi to face charges of corruption and economic crimes,” EACC posted on its official Twitter handle.

RESISTING ARREST

The initial plan was to hold him at the police cells inside the Standard Gauge Railway station in Voi and put him on the afternoon train from Mombasa to Nairobi, but the idea was shelved after the governor’s supporters and aides started becoming rowdy at the railway station.

The arresting officers alerted their supervisors at Vigilance House in Nairobi of the chaos in Voi, who scrambled a police helicopter from Mombasa to go ferry Mr Sonko to Nairobi.

As the helicopter prepared to take off from Moi International Airport in Mombasa, the governor was moved from the SGR station to the Ikanga Airstrip under heavy security, led by Coast Regional Police Commissioner Rashid Yakub and Taita-Taveta Police Commander Saidi Kiprotich.

At the airstrip, the governor refused to board the helicopter as his aides tried to shield him. A commotion ensued, leading to a near-fist-fight.

The governor, who had also refused to allow the police officers to handcuff him, hurled insults at the detectives.

And on the windswept airstrip at Ikanga, Sonko almost had his way as he bulldozed police officers and generally refused to take orders.

In the end, an agitated police officer handcuffed him and bundled the governor of Kenya’s seat of power to the waiting helicopter.

FISHING EXPEDITION

A few minutes to 2pm, the helicopter landed at Wilson Airport in Nairobi and into the waiting arms of Lang’ata head of criminal investigations Andolo Munga.

The team avoided the main exit and led Mr Sonko through a narrow, poorly-lit corridor towards a waiting car before embarking on a mad rush towards Integrity Centre, the headquarters of the anti-corruption agency.

As the convoy snaked its way through Upper Hill, the governor released a short statement in which he refuted claims he was trying to escape.

“Reports from EACC that I was arrested while trying to run away are another proof that the body is so much interested in playing politics,” he wrote.

“Why would I run away? To where, and to do what? I am a Kenyan who is always on the move doing what’s good for the people. I was on my way to Mombasa to attend and close a workshop which was attended by my people.”

The governor further asked his supporters to keep calm while maintaining his stand that the EACC has been on a fishing expedition against him.

“I stand for justice and I am more than ready for the court process, where I will unleash my armoury against these conspirators. As a matter of fact, my quest for justice that puts EACC on the spot over land grabbing will remain on course,” he said.

Reporting by Lucy Mkanyika, Mohamed Ahmed, Nyambega Gisesa and Anita Chepkoech