He got a driver jailed for three months for refusing to give him a lift
By Undercover Reporter
One day at 7:30 am in June 1988 when Kenya was still in democratic Stone Age, a big man in government made a small man go to jail over a lift. It was a case of rule of law versus rule of pure power.
The late Garissa Senator and career administrator Yusuf Haji, 80, who succumbed to multiple organ failure at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, was then Provincial Commissioner (PC) for the Rift Valley. The PC was then a tin god with blue blood of self-importance flowing in his capillaries. Haji, the Old Guy of Deputy Public Prosecutor, Noordin Haji, has been in the limelight as chair of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) taskforce.
But back in 1988, Haji’s official car had broken down when he flagged down an oncoming Pick-Up truck and begged for a lift. But the driver, Peter Makau, told Haji to take a hike: “Go and find a government of Kenya vehicle. My car is not a government vehicle,” said Makau who did not know he was talking to a presidential appointee-the equivalent of today’s Governor- and the most important man in that perch of Kenya.
An offended Haji sauntered to the nearest police station. Makau, an electrician, was shortly arrested and sentenced to three months in jail the following day.
There was no law in Kenya requiring government officials be given lifts for their importance up the food chain
See, Makau was facing a magistrate who had been appointed on Yusuf Haji’s recommendation and during sentencing argued that Makau “behaved in a very unsocial manner. Government officials deserve respect” which Makau lacked in truckloads and thus “a deterrent sentence should be meted out as a lesson to those with similar mind and unbecoming behavior.”
But alas! there was no law in Kenya requiring government officials be given lifts for their importance up the food chain. In any case, Makau’s employer-Soma Industries-restricted drivers from dishing out lifts to distressed hitchhikers like Haji.
When the story hit the headlines, Law Society of Kenya (LSK) led by chair Joe Okwach stormed the Attorney General’s office arguing Makau committed no offense in telling Yusuf Haji to ‘go to hell with his little shaggy government devils.’
The late President Daniel Arap Moi was following the proceedings chini ya maji
The late President Daniel Arap Moi was following the proceedings chini ya maji. After all, he had appointed Haji himself. Moi broke his silence and said if he was the Attorney General, he would have deemed it high wisdom to have all lawyers arrested for attempting to confuse the ‘common mwananchi’ and being agents of foreign masters, read Amnesty International.
Peter Makau, then 36, was released on a Sh5, 800 bond after his lawyer Salim Machio argued against his conviction based on fictitious law. It later emerged that Makau was actually rushing to install a large cooking and refrigeration system at President Moi’s home!
Misrule of power during the single party Kanu rule was common fare. At one point President Moi was along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway heading to his Kabarak home in the 1980s when saw a huge structure and enquired whether it was a church, recalled a son of the President’s former nutritionist.
Such was the power of disobeying, sneering and thumbing your nose at a government official!
Moi was front-pew Africa Inland Church adherent. “No Sir, it is a club,” said his handlers. “Why would one build a club in such a place?” he retorted. Such casual conversations were not so casual, but near presidential statements. The following day prisoners were unleashed to demolish the structure and the bewildered owner told “Moi hapendi bar!”
Such were the times Yusuf Haji was being denied a lift.
Almost forgot the story of how Moi wanted to buy shares in Unga Group, then Kenya’s largest wheat and maize miller besides being a formidable player in animal feeds and edible oils. The largest shareholders were former Central Bank Governors Duncan Ndegwa and the late Philip Ndegwa and their cohort of post independence business buccaneers including former head of Civil Service the late Jeremiah Kiereini. One of Unga’s biggest customers was Kenya’s biggest bakery, Elliot’s, which opened shop in 1902. Could the Ndegwas sell some shares to Moi?
What followed was a presidential directive that all bakeries sell bread where they were located!
Well, both Ndegwas retorted that shares of listed companies were bought from the open market at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) and not directly from individual shareholders. What followed was a presidential directive that all bakeries and millers sell bread and flour where they were located! Elliot’s suddenly ceased being Kenya’s biggest bread maker as shares of Unga Group pirouetted from Sh360 to Sh10 and on the current Sh36 after America’s Seaboard Corporation offered to buy Ndegwa’s stake at Sh40 a throw. The deal to came to grief though.
Such was the power of disobeying, sneering and thumbing your nose at a government official! It was in that vein that Haji was demonstrating his powers against a hapless electrician who was merely following company laws. Yusuf Haji’s final resting place is the Lang’ata Muslim Cemetery.