It was a rare last minute phone call to the highest authority in the land that saved 25 town houses from being flattened by a bulldozer yesterday morning. Nairobi Senator Mike Mbuvi, ‘Sonko’ stormed the scene in South B, Nairobi, where a bulldozer had already knocked down walls of houses under construction on a disputed piece of land, and shouted at the operators of the demolition to stop the exercise. With a large crowd watching and police officers on guard, the demolition team defied Sonko even as he whipped out his large smart phone and dialled a number saying “lazima muache kubomoa manyumba, nampigia Rais sasa hivi (You must stop this demolition, I am calling the President right away)”
With media teams and the crowd surging around Sonko, his call went through and he put his handset on loudspeaker for those around to hear who he was speaking to. Sonko started in a loud voice: “Mheshimiwa Rais nisamehe kwa kukupigia bila notice, lakini tunaomba usaidizi wako, nyumba zinabomolewa hapa (Honourable President, bear with me for calling without notice, but we seek your intervention, houses are being demolished here).
The voice of President Uhuru was heard asking Sonko: “Wapi huko nyumba zinabomolewa? (Where is the demolition taking place?) Sonko: “Mheshimiwa ni hapa Balozi, South B. Nimejaribu kupigia waziri anayehusika na watu wengine lakini hawachukui simu zao. Tumekushukuru kwa sababu wewe pekee umejibu simu yangu (Your Honour, it’s at Balozi, South B. I had tried to call the minister concerned and other people but they are not picking my calls. I thank you for your the only one who has answered my call)”
To which the President responded: “I am in a meeting right now but the demolition must stop immediately.” With that, Sonko thanked the President and promised to brief him later on what had transpired, before he disconnected the call. The crowd by that time were besides themselves with excitement, mobbing the Senator as he moved towards the bulldozer team, telling them to stop the work or he would lead wananchi in burning their equipment.
And with that the bulldozer operator pulled away from the site and parked behind police officers. The demolition was of houses that have been constructed by a company, Wadia Construction Limited, on disputed land reportedly belonging to Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI). Shortly after the demolition had stopped, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Kosgei arrived and announced that the exercise had been suspended through a presidential order.
Kosgei said: “The President has called me this morning and asked me to give the contractor more time and for now the demolition has been suspended. However, this will continue at a later date, I advise the affected owners of the houses to institute legal proceedings against the persons who sold them the land which was illegally alienated from KEVEVAPI.” The houses, which have been constructed at a cost of Sh17 million have reportedly already been sold to owners who are awaiting their completion.
At least 25 houses had part of their wall knocked down before Sonko moved in. This came even as the Government said investigations would be initiated to bring the culprits, who sold the land illegally, to book and appropriate charges instituted. Kosgei categorically stated the demolition exercise would continue at a later date to allow the institute resume the original use of its land. According to records available, said Kosgei, KEVEVAPI had neither transferred any portion of its land to any person nor given consent to transfer.
Documents availed by persons who claim to hold titles showed that the land was granted by Government in 1995 and after to persons who sold it. Sonko said he wrote to Kosgei in March over the issue but the minister failed to respond to his concerns for the owners to be compensated since they had been paying the land rates without fail. But Kosgei said the government is also working out a plan on how they can assist those duped into buying the land, saying they should not go down the route of taking KEVEVAPI to court since it was within the law to reclaim its encroached land.
“The land in question was alienated and therefore was not available for any allocation. In March, the CS issued a directive to the board of KEVEVAPI that notices be served to all current occupants of the land to move out. Among those who responded to the directive showing their right to ownership were Diamond Park Housing Company, Executive Housing Company, Kenya Bankers SACCO Ltd, Modern Venture Ltd and Winners Chapel International who also own part of the land under dispute.
“In our opinion, KEVAVAPI had a title to the land then and any legal transmission could only be through transfer under the Registration of Titles Act, Cap 281(now repealed) or compulsory acquisition. The grants the persons claiming ownership are holding were issued in total disregard of the fact that the land was not alienated for sale,” explained Kosgei.