Kenya: Former Robber Restarts His Life at Age 42


He walked to prison a young, energetic 28-year-old in 2005 and stumbled out a wizened man of 42 a month ago.

Nicholas Ouma Obonyo is lucky to be alive and free.

Sentenced to death for robbery with violence, he spent his first four years as an inmate in “ConA” (Condemned Block A) at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison awaiting his date with the executioner before President Kibaki commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment in 2009.

“I spent these four years in solitary confinement thinking of my last days. I never went out until that year when debate started on whether the country should retain capital punishment,” says the man from Rabar, Siaya County.

“We used to be taken out individually for a few minutes in the sun. It was a very depressing time. The wardens only spoke to me about execution.”

WILD PARTYING

Obonyo was sentenced to death on January 17, 2001 after being in remand for a year. He exhausted his appeals in 2005.

“The plain truth is, I was not a good man. I was a criminal. I thought I was having the time of my life. It was all about drink, bhang and women,” he says.

He had a good life in Eldoret and owned a garage. “I was known for kuchafua meza (buying drinks for friends). I’d spend up to Sh10,000 in one night. My friends would look for me in the evening for the usual wild drinking sprees,” he recalls.

“I thought my friends loved me and would do anything for me.”

It reached a time he drank so much that he often missed work. Customers noticed and began disappearing one by one.

“My customers were agitated because I was taking too long to complete work. I went broke because I never used to save anything,” he recalls.

SHADY JOBS

One afternoon in 1996, an unexpected client appeared at the garage. He wanted Obonyo to switch the engine of one vehicle to another.

Days later, he came back with another car, this time to have its colour changed. Thereafter, the peculiar but handsome-paying jobs just kept coming.

Tasks were performed. No questions were asked. Soon his garage was full with this man’s vehicles.

“The man gave his name as Kamau. He was bossy and kept switching cars like socks. He seemed to have a hole full of money,” Obonyo says.

“I was curious but never asked. Kamau became my best customer and even joined by band of drinking buddies.”

Obonyo says he readily agreed when Kamau told him one day to drive him around with two of his friends.

AUTO THEFT

They ended up in Miti Moja-Matisi, Kitale. Little did Obonyo know the men were on a mission to steal a car.

“They alighted and returned later with another car, saying it had some problem with the gear and that I needed to drive it back and repair it,” he says.

“When we got back to Eldoret, they gave me Sh15,000 as an appreciation for driving them.”

He says they later told him that he was a good person and would like to hire him to be driving them.

And that is when Kamau told Obonyo where the vehicles were coming from. “He told me they targeted nice-looking vehicles in rural areas to steal,” he says.

Soon, he was in. If they weren’t pursuing a car to steal, Obonyo’s nights were spent on the Eldoret-Nairobi road. He stole from trucks at gunpoint.

“There were networks through which we got tips on what vehicles to target … mostly those transporting tyres as those were easy to sell,” he says.

“Our notoriety grew. We were even being hired by businessmen to hijack vehicles belonging to their rivals. We operated around Timboroa, where the winding road tends to slow vehicles down. The forest was a good hideout.”

40 DAYS UP

Tired of the work it took to sell stolen goods, Obonyo and his group switched to robbing vehicles transporting money for banks in 1999.

Just six months into it, all was over for Obonyo. Drunk and in pursuit of money being taken from a wholesale shop in Siaya Town to a bank, Obonyo was the pointman.

“We were still drunk and high on drugs from a night of revelling. Someone had tipped us off the moment the courier stepped out of the shop. It was a woman and I thought it was going to be easy,” he says.

“I pointed the gun at the woman and ordered her to drop the bag. She hesitated. I grabbed the bag but she grabbed my jacket. She screamed when I hit her and I started to run.

“A person pounced on me and then a crowd followed. Not long, stones were flying my way. I fell unconscious and woke up in a police cell.”

Reality then struck. Even after spending hundreds of thousands of shillings on booze, Obonyo could not afford a lawyer.

“My wife had nothing. From the thousands of shillings I made, I only used to leave her with Sh1,000,” he says.

He has been at the Eldoret, Kamiti, Kibos, Kodiaga, Naivasha, Shimo la Tewa, King’ong’o and Manyani prisons.

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Publish date : 2019-08-28 06:43:01

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