The noose is tightening around the necks of several close aides of Migori Governor Okoth Obado as investigations into the gruesome murder of Rongo University student Sharon Otieno near completion.
Four of the aides are already in custody over the student’s murder while several others, among them Mr Obado’s close relations, have either been quizzed or have been identified as persons of interest.
But away from the investigations, a tightly knit group known as Sangwenya that claims allegiance to the governor has in the last few years gained notoriety in Migori County and surrounding areas.
Mr Michael Oyamo, Mr Obado’s personal assistant currently in custody over Ms Otieno’s murder, is largely viewed as the leader of the group.
Mr Oyamo, a former Navy officer, is described as a reserved but “ruthlessly efficient and trusted” lieutenant ready to go to any lengths to defend Mr Obado’s interests. Like the governor, Mr Oyamo hails from Rapogi in Uriri constituency.
Others linked to the group include one Caspal Obiero, officially enlisted as a clerk at the county government but whose job description is said to go beyond clerical duties to cover what our sources referred to as “law enforcement” duties.
Then there is Elvis Okoth Omondi, Mr Obado’s personal bodyguard who is also in police custody in relation to the death.
Also in this circle is Naphtali Odie, the governor’s brother-in- law, said to be a former police officer who quit to venture into business in Migori Town around the time Mr Obado was elected governor in 2013.
Ms Olivia Oloo and Ms Lilian Wema are also mentioned as some of the governor’s trusted lieutenants in charge of publicity.
Ms Oloo, the second wife to Caspal, has already recorded a statement with the police in connection with Ms Otieno's murder after the Toyota Fielder vehicle said to have been used in the abduction and the eventual murder was traced to her.
She was, however, set free after she convinced detectives that the vehicle was being used by her husband at the time of the murder.
Ms Wema caught the eye of detectives investigating the murder when she was allowed to talk to Mr Oyamo during his appearance in a Homa Bay court over the case early this month.
Mr Obado’s critics accuse the Sangwenya group of being used to suppress divergent opinion across the county using whatever means.
“The gang operates like the county government’s department of defence and interior at the same time. The only difference is that some of their activities are questionable,” a victim of the group, who also alleged local police do not take action when reports are made about the group, said.
Mr Benedict Kigen, the Migori County CID boss, told the Sunday Nation that whereas he was aware of the existence of the Sangwenya squad, he was not privy to their criminal acts.
“I have heard of the name Sangwenya but I only know them as youths hooked to politicians for handouts,” Mr Kigen said.
He went on: “I am not aware of their criminal acts. If they are involved in crime, then maybe they do it elsewhere and they are not common.”
So feared is the group that in some restaurants they have reserved tables that no one dares use, said a businessman in Migori Town who requested anonymity.
But Mr Obado’s spokesman, Nicholas Anyuor, distanced the governor’s aides from the group’s operations.
“Sangwenya is a group of youths and it operates in Migori and some of its members campaigned for the governor. But it is not true that the governor’s aides are part of Sangwenya,” he said.
Sources who spoke to Sunday Nation linked the squad to the chaos at Migori stadium during an ODM rally on April 3, 2017 when Mombasa Governor and ODM deputy party leader Hassan Joho was attacked and his bodyguard shot.
On this occasion, chaos broke out after Mr Joho, Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, Siaya Senator James Orengo and Suna East MP Junet Mohammed went to the county to launch the gubernatorial campaigns for former Cabinet minister Ochilo Ayacko.
The rally turned bloody when a group of youths stormed the venue and unleashed violence, forcing the guests and the crowd to scamper to safety.
“That was Sangwenya in their true colours, some of them were brandishing guns and other crude weapons,” a Migori resident who escaped death by a whisker after being attacked by the goons said.
The Sangwenya group is also accused of having been present during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tour of the county in September 2014, only for the function to be marred with chaos with shoes thrown in the direction of the President.