BY FWAMBA NC FWAMBA
Tfosa Mary Wangui Mbatia Nyauma is not my relative, but I shed tears on learning of her demise on the 10th of February 2017.
This woman was a great fighter. It was a good thing to know and interact with Wangui.
Wangui Mbatia was a lady with exceptional abilities. Wangui was a true Kenyan heroine who was committed to improving livelihoods of Kenyans. She wasn’t just an ordinary activist. Wangui was a very strong believer in anything she stood for.
It was in July 2007 and members of parliament were planning to grant themselves gratuity. I watched television during one of the evening news bulletins and thought it wasn’t correct to allow such an injustice to happen to Kenyans. Those days I had close interactions with my friends Anthony Kibagendi and Phillip Koech who headed a political party called VIPA. I regularly visited their political party offices at Norwich Union towers .On the 29th of July 2007 we sat with Kibagendi and we agreed to draft an email for the purposes of inviting people to protest against the 9th parliament concerning the matter of gratuity. We forwarded emails asking for other concerned citizens to show up for a protest on 31st of July 2007.However I got notified by Cyprian Nyamwamu through Kibagendi that a protest against the same issue had been organized by the civil society and was scheduled for 30th July(the following day).For that reason we chose to join the civil society group for the protest .On the 30th of July we joined together with other Kenyans to picket around parliament to reinforce the demand for MPs to drop their bid to get gratuity of one million Kenya Shillings each. The protest was later disrupted by the police and a number of protesters were arrested outside parliament.
The newspapers reported that those arrested included Cyprian Nyamwamu, Okiya Omtatah Okoiti, Mwalimu Mati, Ann Njogu and Ouma Odera. The five were held in various police stations .The five had earlier been taken to Central Police station but the police necessitated the transfer because they couldn’t contain the crowds that we led outside Central police station demanding their release. It was that same evening that the then minister health Charity Ngilu attempted to intervene .The five were held incommunicado but on the 31st human rights lawyers managed to get orders to have them produced in Court the following morning.
When the activists were produced in court, majority of us who had been part of the demonstration gathered outside. I didn’t know most of the people there but there was this one lady that talked a lot. Her tone was unapologetic and commanding. She seemed to have a good grasp of many issues and was explaining how insensitive the parliamentarians were to demand gratuity yet they weren’t retiring. Every person outside the High Court (where the Supreme Court is now housed) seemed to pay a lot of attention to what Wangui was saying.
After the court appearance of Mwalimu Mati, Okiya Omtata Okoiti, Ouma Odera, Ann Njogu and Cyprian Nyamwamu, we gathered outside the high court again and resolved to go back to protest outside parliament.
We went back to Parliament Road and continued with the protest until the police lobbed teargas at us and dispersed us. Most protesters scampered to different directions but a few of us sought refuge at the Holy Family Basilica to avoid being arrested. Wangui was part of this group. Word came round that Charity Ngilu who had attempted to ‘rescue’ Anne Njogu at Central Police Station the previous night had been summoned at the C.I.D headquarters on Kiambu road.
By consensus we decided to proceed to the C.I.D headquarters to stand in solidarity with Ngilu in reciprocity of her standing in solidarity with one of us.
When we reached the C.I.D headquarters we found other Kenyans who had camped at the main gate. Majority of them were supporters of Hon. Charity Ngilu.
We joined the group and gave them placards that castigated the greed of the Members of the 9th Parliament.
The police who had grouped at the C.I.D headquarters gate in large numbers warned us against the chants but we defied. We were ordered to disperse but Kepta Ombati encouraged us to stay put.
The teargas canisters were thrown at us. Majority of Ngilu’s supporters ran away. When the police closed on us, I overheard Kepta Ombati asking us to sit down. Many of the protestors ran away but a few of us stayed put leading to our arrest. We were put in a police lorry that waited by. We were hit with police batons .The police officer who seemed to be in charge asked us to give him our names.
It was like introducing ourselves to one another because most of us were meeting for the first time. Philo Ikonya and Wangui Mbatia were the only ladies in the group. I didn’t know that this group was going to be like part of my family for the four years that followed. In the name of fighting for the rights of Kenyans, I came to interact with Wangui Mbatia, Hassan Indusa, Abel Onkundi, Kepta Ombati, Eddie Mwangi, Patrick Kamotho, Philo Ikonya, Keli Musyoka and Robert Ondari.
In that police lorry, it was difficult to tell where we were despite the short distance between the C.I.D headquarters and the Muthaiga police station.
We were booked at the Muthaiga Police station. Wangui Mbatia was a courageous woman and wouldn’t shut up even when the police intimidated and brutalized us.
We spent that night at the Muthaiga police station. Philo Ikonya and Wangui Mbatia were taken to the cells that accommodated female prisoners while the rest of us were locked up in the cells that accommodated male prisoners.
I remember that night when the police were taking our finger prints, Wangui Mbatia’s turn became so dramatic. She lectured the police officers and explained to them why and how they were supposed to be supporting our cause instead of arresting us. The night was long, but Wangui never allowed the cops who arrested us to have peace all night. She never got tired of expressing herself.
When morning came, we had no idea of what awaited us. It was my first time to be taken to court as an accused person.
At 6 am, we were taken out to board a police land rover that was waiting to take us to court. The police wanted us to be there early enough so that they could get rid of us from their custody because they claimed that we were such a stubborn group.
Just before we left Muthaiga Police Station for the Makadara Law Courts, the police failed to locate one of Wangui’s earrings. As routine, no prisoner is allowed to enter police cells while wearing earrings and for that reason, Wangui had been dispossessed her earrings .She insisted that she wasn’t going to board the police vehicle unless all her possessions were returned. The OCS instructed all her officers to locate that earring. The melodramatic search of the earring took almost 30 minutes before being found. Until then is when we were taken to the Makadara law courts where we were charged with holding an unlawful assembly and causing disturbance.
The case for the Makadara 10 lasted almost four years. Philo Ikonya and 9 others- that is what our name was. For the near four years that we faced this trial, we had a minimum of one mention per month. No one in this group could avoid meeting another under whatever circumstances because the mentions presented compulsory interactions for all of us. We kept in constant touch because absence of one person always meant postponement of the case to another date.
Wangui always kept the team lively and at no point were any of us afraid of the threat of being imprisoned. The jokes she used to make about Abel Onkundi’s regular absence on court appearance days will never fade away from my memory. The way she used to diss Patrick Kamotho about kuiko na mpangilio and causing us to laugh about Kamotho’s many arrests can never go away. Wangui never allowed a moment of sorrow to drown her ever happy soul.
Whenever our Lawyers Harun Ndubi and Elisha Ongoya were unable to turn up on court appearance days, Wangui stood in their place as the lawyer of the team. I have a feeling that this was one of the motivations that caused Kepta Ombati to enroll for law classes. We were so attached to one another as a group that occasionally when others had no means of transport, we would squeeze ourselves in Wangui’s red Mercedez Benz to return to town after the mention of our case. Before the court proceedings started, early comers converged at a kiosk opposite Makadara law courts where we took tea and mandazi and cracked many jokes. The discussions were always made lively by Wangui’s no-stop talking. She always had something to say.
I visited Wangui when she was admitted for the first time at St. Mary’s hospital Lang’ata in 2013.She had undergone an operation but talked to us like nothing had happened. Her voice remained strong, she appeared ready to fight and win against the cancer that had afflicted her. The doctors had recommended her to seek further treatment in India. Her husband was organizing travel arrangements. She talked so confidently and that made those of us who had visited her to encourage her with the hope that she was going to get better. Her fighting spirit was going to make her live despite the suffering she was undergoing. Wangui had a great attachment to her family. She always talked about her husband Polycarp Masaki and daughter Celine.
I managed to talk to Wangui on phone several times after she returned from India. She seemed to be doing well .She told me she was undergoing chemotherapy and was meant to come back to active life after the treatment.
At some point late last year I decided to call her and we spoke. We even fixed a meeting for her to come to my office but it seems she didn’t find time.
In her recent facebook posts that indicated the escalation of her illness, Wangui never showed any sign of fear, despair or giving up even when all odds were against her. This was a great fighter, a resilient woman who had strong convictions; one who would never shy away from telling you what her thoughts whether you liked them or not.
We would have wished to have you around for some more time Wangui but who are we to question God?
Rest in Peace Wangui Mbatia.
Tribute by Fwamba NC Fwamba