Chickens have finally come home to roost for Gachanja
Eric Wainaina @EWainaina
At the height of his public service career, Wilson Gachanja was a very powerful man.
In a country where land is not only a factor of production but an emotive cultural and political issue and status symbol, the Commissioner of Lands position was as influential and as sensitive as it can get.
When he served in the position during the late President Daniel arap Moi’s regime, Gachanja’s influence on land matters was only second to the Head of State’s.
For that reason, he was one of the most sought-after State official, because his word was enough to have one allocated prime public land along coastal beaches, posh suburbs or even road reserves.
With the stroke of a pen, Gachanja could transform a pauper into a millionaire.
In his heydays, he wined and dined with the high and mighty, including Cabinet ministers and well-connected political brokers, who flocked his office, literally begging for his revered signature.
By the time he retired, he had amassed so much wealth and fame, that one would have thought he would spend the rest of his sun set years quietly enjoying his massive wealth.
So powerful was he that in 1997, then Local Government Minister Francis Lotodo told Parliament that Gachanja was “an animal” that does not listen to anyone.
Lotodo was responding to a complaint by then Karachuonyo MP Phoebe Asiyo about the grabbing of Bungoma County Council land by a private developer.
“We shall do what the gracious lady is saying (cancel the transfer of the land), but she should know that we are dealing with a different animal called the Commissioner of Lands, Wilson Gachanja.
He will not listen to anyone in this country!” Lotodo is quoted telling the House, an indicator that Gachanja was even more powerful than Cabinet ministers.
But life has not been a bed of roses since Gachanja left office in 1999. Instead of enjoying quiet retirement, the man has been shuttling from one courtroom to another, defending himself against accusations of aiding land grabbers, most of them powerful politicians and corrupt tenderpreneurers who grabbed public land during Moi’s Kanu rule.
Gachanja has been investigated and prosecuted by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) in a number of cases, in which he has been accused of presiding over shameless theft of public land worth billions of shillings in different parts of the country.
And the chickens, it seems, have finally come home to roost for the former powerful man.
Within the last one month, Gachanja has been found guilty by three courts for aiding Kanu bigwigs and graft barons who stole land in Nairobi, Kilifi and Kitale.
In one of the cases, judges ordered repossession of the land in question and Gachanja — whose financial status is said to be a shadow of his former power days – was fined Sh1 million.
Tens of other cases, which portray Gachanja as the face of the infamous land grabbing that characterised the Moi years, are still pending in court.
For instance, in one of the cases in an Eldoret court, Gachanja is linked to an illegal allocation of four parcels of prime land in the town reserved for a district commissioner’s office, courts and a police camp to a company associated with Moi and his former powerful minister Nicholas Biwott.
Paul Mwangi, who works with Huma Forensic and Investigations, a private investigations firm, says Gachanja presided over a tenure in which many people lost private land, while public land was dished out to rich and least deserving people.
“During his tenure, the government lost most of its land to grabbers. He was untouchable. Many are yet to reconcile with that fact that today, he is paying for his rogue actions,” Mwangi told People Daily in an interview.
Last Wednesday, Justice Bernard Eboso of the Land and Environment Division in Nairobi, in a civil case filed by EACC in 2008, found Gachanja guilty of aiding theft of a Sh700 million property belonging to Kenya School of Law by private developers in 1997, allegedly with the involvement of former Judge Leonard Njagi who was then a principal at the institution.
The one acre-piece of land on Bishops Road in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area, had two houses reserved as the official residence of the Kenya School of Law Principal but Gachanja’s signature saw it transferred to Rockville Limited.
He was charged alongside Wilson Kipkoti, who once owned Eldoret’s Sirikwa Hotel, and Rockville and Standard Assurance Kenya.
During the hearing ,Gachanja unsuccessfully argued that he should be shielded from prosecution over his activities while in office.
He said that any issue arising from allocations done during his tenure, should have been addressed to the office of the Commissioner of Lands and not to him as he ceased to hold that office in 1999 and he had no access to documents to clarify any of the irregularities.
In yet another case ruled against him on November 12, Gachanja was found guilty of facilitating the fraudulent transfer of a multimillion piece of land belonging to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) in Mtwapa, Kilifi county, to one of its employees. He was ordered to pay a Sh1 million fine.
The land (No. 35664/II/42A) situated in Kijipwa area north of Mtwapa Creek, initially belonged to Customs and Excise department, before Francis Wahome, who was a senior KRA official, acquired it fraudulently.
EACC sued Gachanja, Frann Investments Limited, Wahome, Ann Gathoni, Victor Wahome, Edward Kagume and David Mwangi.
In his ruling last month, Justice Sila Munyao cancelled the transfer and subdivision of the land and ordered that it reverts to the original owner.
For days before Munyao indicted Gachanja, the Kitale Environment and Lands Court quashed the title deed issued by Gachanja to a private developer for a piece of land belonging to the Kenya National Library Services (KNLS).
EACC told court that the land, Kitale Municipality/Block 6/300, measuring 0.443 Ha was alienated to KNLS but in December 31, 1993, Gachanja issued the plot to William Kipserem with a 99-year lease with effect from February 1, 1992.
He was also found culpable in the theft of Kisumu Municipality Block 7/567 measuring 72.38 ha belonging to Railways Corporation.