In 1985, a government delegation was on its way to Abuja, Nigeria aboard a Kenya Airways flight. Mid flight, the aircraft experienced turbulence and the captain advised passengers to fasten their belts.
Among the passengers were hardened military chiefs, top police and intelligence officers, Cabinet ministers, government officials who were frequent flyers and politicians whose skins had been thickened by the rough and tumble of politics. On perhaps the second or third row of the plane, sat President Daniel arap Moi.
No one dared panic. The President wasn’t flinching.
Just days after Moi, 95, breathed his last, interviews with those who knew him, paint the picture of a man who was not only firm but spiritual, humourous, thoughtful and unbowed even when facing pressure.
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The Saturday Standard traced former Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, former Police Commissioner Bernard Kiarie Njinu and former AIC presiding Bishop Silas Yego who shared their insights on a wide range of issues about Moi.
In separate interviews, the two top cops shared their 15-year experience of unfettered access to the Head of State and the State House. In their roles as Police Commissioner and Escort Commander respectively, Njinu and Kimaiyo had a clear view of power through their interaction with the President in their personal and official capacities.
“None of us had any reason to panic,” Njinu who was on the Abuja flight says. “We had to look like the tough security men that he trusted us to be.”
The former police commissioner who served for six years from 1982-1986, shared about the temperament of the firm, stern leader that Moi was after he became president. Before that, he was the Head of Police Escort for President Jomo Kenyatta and later had a brief stint at the Special Branch.
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For Njinu, the thing that stood out about Moi was his consumption of intelligence briefs.
“But then when he discovered that everyone knew about his relationship with the intelligence briefs, he started confirming every single report with other sources,” said Njinu adding that, “he knew everything that happened at inception stage.”
He would demand details from the commissioner of police as well as Special Branch boss James Kanyotu who were his most trusted lieutenants.
This, the former top cops say, made it difficult for bureaucrats to lie to Moi.
Kimaiyo recounts how Moi called a senior police officer after he learnt that the information he had provided was not factual.
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It happened that when the former head of state called the top cop, he (Kimaiyo) was in his office and witnessed the man sweat as he was pressed to come clean on the matter.
“The man was sweating and even saluted as he spoke on phone, you would think that the president was present,” Kimaiyo says amid a hearty laughter.
Njinu describes the former president as a “gentle giant.” He says for the eight years that he worked with Moi as the police chief, he never scolded him.
It was clear in his mind that the President had all powers to even punish those who worked under him but many at times he allowed them to get away with mistakes.
Njinu recalls how a former Rift Valley police chief reportedly slapped Moi when he served as Vice President.
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The police boss allegedly sent police officers to search the former president’s home.
Njinu says no one in the police service would have gotten away with such an act.
To further reinforce the aspect of a gentle giant, he revealed how one Friday morning in 1982 an angry President Moi made a drastic decision that led to his appointment as Police Commissioner and ordered his predecessor to vacate office.
Although he does not recall the exact date, he says it was a day after the attempted coup.
Njinu had risen through the ranks of the police to deputy Commissioner of Police.
He was based at the Police headquarters, Vigilance house, Nairobi.
Njinu received a call from then Public Service boss Simeon Nyachae seeking to know what his plans for the weekend were.
He had indicated to the PS that he wanted to travel to his farm in Nakuru.
But he asked him to postpone his journey as Moi wanted to meet him the following morning at 6am at State House, Nairobi.
He was also instructed to be dressed in police uniform.
Njinu says he did not know why the head of state summoned him. A few minutes after 6am at State House, Moi broke the news of his intentions to appoint him the police commissioner.
This saw his rise from a deputy police commissioner to the senior most cop in the country.
Initially, Njinu says, he was hesitant to take up the appointment and wanted to retire early to be with his family.
He would eventually strike a deal with Moi that saw him operate from his Gatundu home and not the Nairobi residence which was reserved for police chiefs.
Kimaiyo who was first posted to the Presidential Escort Unit in 1997 as the officer in charge of administration and later the escort commander in 1999 describes Moi as a leader with eyes and ears for details.
Kept us on our toes
He says the former president was also a stickler of time. He was an early riser and routinely woke up at 3am every day.
“But what was clear to those who worked with Moi is that he kept us on our toes,” Kimaiyo says.
And by 5.30 the former president was always done with breakfast, dressed up and even finished receiving intelligence and security briefs.
He would then spend his time reading the bible and newspapers as well as hold Cabinet meeting. The Bible was the only one that made him put down his iconic rungu.
“When he came to church, he would leave his symbolic rungu in the car and carry his Bible and place it on the table,” says the immediate former African Inland Church (AIC) Presiding Bishop Silas Yego. Yego, spent some 34 years with the former head of state, their first encounter dating back to 1986.
He says Moi did not just carry the Bible but read it and could quote up to 15 verses during conversations.
“If you looked at his Bible, it had so many underlined verses,” he says.
Kimaiyo believes that the former president’s spirituality and reading the Holy Book made him who he was.
The bishop recalls a time during the clamour for multiparty politics when he received a call from Moi through the District Commissioner in Kitale. He was needed in Nakuru and it was after the repeal of Section 2A.
Ganged up against him
When he arrived, the president told him that the opposition had ganged up against him and he was uncertain about what the future held for him.
There were just two of us and Moi just wanted to meditate so I read from 2 Chronicles 20:6-15.
Yego says Moi particularly liked verse 15 which states: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”
Yego knelt down and prayed with his eyes closed and to his surprise the president had also knelt.
Moi was a man of the people.
Kimaiyo recalls how on one occassion while at Kabarak, two hours passed without any one seeking an appointment to see the head of state.
“He called me and asked why I had sent his visitors away,” he says.
He informed him that there were no guests waiting for him. A group of villagers arrived half an hour later.
The villagers did not have an appointed but were allowed to see Moi. “He was very happy and chatted with them. He loved to meet people,” he says.
And once he trusted you that was it. “He trusted me so much that he took everything that I told him,” Njinu says during the interview at his Gatundu farm. He recalls an incident in 1985 when Moi and senior government officials brushed shoulders with death.
Njinu says even in the face of death, just like on that flight to Abuja Moi remained unshaken.
The 86-year-old former police boss engages in farming.
Kimaiyo runs his private farm, while Yego has just retired as the presiding Bishop of AIC.
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