Stella Oigo, was widowed after the brutal killing of her equally young husband by the police. The television and radio producer at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation was left with a three-month-old son to wade through the rough waters of widowhood. She went through it full-circle and today has devoted her life to empowering widows. She shared her experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
“I had just turned 18 and was living with my sister in Nairobi while pursuing a journalism and public relations course at the Kenya Polytechnic. One afternoon I saw a handsome, athletic-looking young man stealing glances at me at the bus stop. I didn’t give it much thought until I got into a matatu and saw him hop in and sit next to me. Apparently, he had followed me as he later confessed. He was a physical education final year student at Kenyatta University and was working at Serena Hotel’s gymnasium on a part-time basis.
He requested for my friendship and asked for my telephone number. This marked the beginning of a strong friendship cemented by several coffee dates. After a lengthy courtship, we introduced each other to our families and got their blessings. Soon after, we embarked on marriage plans.
On graduating from college I was hired on contract at the then Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s (KBC) metro TV station while he secured a job as an instructor at the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) fitness club. Before we could finalise our wedding plans, I became pregnant and we shelved those plans until our baby had been born. All the same customary marriage rites were performed.
Reluctant to move in together before a church wedding we continued living separately; I in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate while he lived in Embakasi. In February 2007 I gave birth to our son Tervil Marende and went out searching for a bigger house to live in as a family. Three months after the birth of our son he brought me some affidavits from CBK’s human resource department indicating our son and I were his next of kin. A lawyer explained to me that since we had performed customary marriage rites, I was legally his wife. Consequently, our son and I would be entitled to medical and other benefits accorded to staff and spouses of the CBK employees. I signed the documents and he returned them to the HR department.
Three days later he spent the night in our house in Eastleigh as he frequently did. Apart from spending time with the baby, we happily discussed our future together. This was one of the happiest times we had together. He was concerned that our house girl didn’t have a mobile phone for communication in case of an emergency and so he gave out one of his two phones for that purpose.
After enjoying breakfast together early the next morning, he left for work. About half an hour later one of his gym colleagues called saying that my husband hadn’t arrived at the gym yet and the staff were stranded as he had the keys. He said he had tried calling him on his other mobile number but it went unanswered. I was surprised because his work place wasn’t very far from Eastleigh.
I too tried calling him but the phone went unanswered. I don’t know how many times I tried calling his number before I began to sense that something was drastically wrong. With no idea where I was going, I left the house somehow hoping I would find him. I walked briskly towards the bus stop. My attention was drawn to a crowd that had gathered on the roadside and I walked towards the direction hoping, as a journalist, I would capture a good story.
To my disbelief, there lay my husband on the ground bleeding. The shock that gripped me befits no words. There were police officers trying to control the curious crowd of onlookers. I edged on and got to where he lay and felt for his pulse. He was dead. Next to him were his phone and personal documents including a national identity card. Also, something that looked like a homemade gun lay by the body. I cried and held his body. One of the officers was infuriated and sought to know my relationship with the deceased. He claimed the deceased was a criminal who had been on the run but had now been caught by the long arm of the law.
My protests that he was my husband and an employee of the CBK fell on deaf ears. They couldn’t see the relationship between him and a CBK employee because he was dressed in a gym-suit. Confused, I called and briefed his gym colleagues who informed the Central Bank police department who sent some officers to the scene. My husband’s body was quickly ferried to the City mortuary.
According to eyewitnesses, three administration policemen had ordered passengers in the matatu my husband rode in to alight for a search. My husband, who sat at the back of the matatu, was the last to alight. One of the officers reportedly called him by name and shot him on the shoulder. He surrendered while pleading for his life but was shot on the other shoulder and as he staggered another bullet hit him on the chest. He collapsed and died.
Meanwhile, news of his death got to his parents who arrived from their home in Athi River and accompanied me to Shauri Moyo police station. At the station, we were referred to Buru Buru police station as the three officers involved in the shooting were from the Shauri Moyo police station. The same hostile reception was accorded us at Buru Buru police station and no officer was ready to record our statement.
The CBK called my husband’s parents and I to discuss the way forward and plans to have the body transferred to the Lee Funeral Home. It was while at CBK that we watched with horror and disbelief television news flash from the police stating that my husband, a most wanted criminal, had been gunned down in Eastleigh. I suspected his was a case of mistaken identity and police were pre-empting any action from his family. Agitated and distressed, I needed to clear my husband’s name and prove that he was no criminal.
The following day, his parents and I called a press conference and gave our side of the story. The media gave our story some good coverage and support. It turned out the officers had killed an innocent person. However, that’s as far as the case went at the time. There were no eyewitness records by the officers at the scene. I was determined to pursue justice however challenging it was going to be.
Couldn’t, wouldn’t mourn…
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements began. At 24, I was a new mother and a widow. I felt awful and distressed and without realising it I didn’t have the opportunity to mourn. I put on a spirited show taking everything on my stride. Little did I know I was crushing inwardly. To add salt to injury my in-laws approached CBK and realised they could not access my husband’s benefits, as they were no longer the next of kin.
They began doubting me and even blamed me for his death. Questions arose why my husband died only three days after altering records of his next of kin status. In addition, he was coming from my house the morning of the incidence. That he slept in our house as often as he wished didn’t shake their stand, let alone the explanation that we were only a few days to moving in together as a family. They didn’t seem to acknowledge that I too had lost a partner and father of my child, as much as they had lost a son and brother.
The funeral was a most distressing affair for me. I was directly and indirectly mistreated. As a young mother, I was confronted with the fact that I had lost my husband in addition to hostile in-laws. Thankfully, my family stood by me. Severally, I felt frustrated and thought of leaving but my mother urged me to stay to at least see to it that my husband was given a well-deserved send off.
During a subsequent meeting between our respective families, my in-laws insisted on being the administrators of my husband’s estate relegating a son he had out of a previous relationship, my son and I to beneficiaries. They filed a court case and the proceedings were another traumatising experience. These devastating events robbed me the opportunity to grieve my husband’s death or even take a step to move on. Everything was bottling up inside of me and was bound to explode sooner than later.
Unable to bear the eerie environment where my husband died, I moved to Zimmerman estate. The court case dragged on for a long time before a ruling was given stating that my parents-in-law were the administrators of the estate. The children were given their portion of the estate and I decided to move on. Thankfully, as all this was happening I was confirmed on my job as a producer at KBC where I still work. I comfortably provide for my son.
However, I was hurting inwardly and could no longer perform professional duties efficiently. Every time I got to the office; I felt fatigued and picked quarrels with colleagues. I started struggling with serious anger issues. I was angry with the officers who killed my husband, at my workmates and anyone I came across. So angry was I that I once walked into a supermarket, bought a knife and stashed it into my handbag set to kill anyone who rubbed me the wrong way. The police officers who shot my husband would go down first, I vowed. I didn’t know their names but was convinced I would find them.
Digging out the truth…
Armed with the knife, I walked into different security offices looking for help to bring to justice to those who killed my husband. One very senior officer constantly assured me of help but it was never forthcoming. My father-in-law also frequented any conceivable security office to seek justice but to no avail. Three years down the line, in 2009, nothing had been done to resolve the crime.
I slipped into severe depression and clung to the knife in my handbag. I neglected my baby and myself and could go for days without food. My attitude chased away all the friends I had. Furthermore, I stopped believing in God. One night in 2009, I locked myself in the bedroom and cried my heart out. A wave of anger and violence swept me and I destroyed utensils, the electronics and anything breakable in the house.
My house girl was very scared and summoned my sister, a nurse at Pumwani Hospital. I was to learn later that I threatened them and she had to sedate me. When I came to the following day, I was on a hospital bed following severe depression. Upon discharge, I went through counseling and upon recovery, I resumed my normal life and work.
The turning point…
An office colleague invited me for an evening service in their church in September 2009. At first, I protested that God was not for me but she insisted. To appease her, I accompanied her to the service. That became my turning point. A mysterious gust of peace engulfed my heart when I walked into the International Christian Centre (ICC) as if I had finally come home.
The pastor preached about forgiveness for one to be set free. It was as if he was addressing me. I forgave and prayed for the police officers, my in-laws and anyone who I felt had aggrieved me. I began attending Tuesday and Sunday services at ICC without any push from the colleagues. My life changed for the better. I got prayer partners and developed friendships in the church. I finally became a born-again believer.
I was aware that my son was bound to ask me what happened to his dad. This made me more determined to prove my husband’s was an innocent man. Through God’s grace, I met and briefed Dr Willy Mutunga, now the Attorney General of Kenya, about the case. I officially filed a complaint and in 2011 that led to the arrest and charging of the three officers at the High court. Friends supported me and the media kept highlighting the story. The officers were found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter and jailed for between one and two years. Justice was finally been served.
This opened a new chapter in my life. I purposed to be strong for my son and work hard to ensure he wasn’t disadvantaged in the absence of a father. God has been faithful in this and many other aspects. Women go through a lot when they lose their spouses. Many people want to exploit their vulnerability and take advantage of them. I have therefore dedicated my entire career as a television and radio producer to serving women in general and widows in particular. Through referrals, I have initiated a forum where I encourage and counsel widows using my experience. Society should respect widows and widowers and give them time to grieve peacefully and move on.
Published: February 2014