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Is Samuel Poghisio Kanu’s prodigal son?

Samuel Losuron Poghisio

On Thursday July 14 1988, Kacheliba MP Samuel Losuron Poghisio walked briskly into Parliament Chambers and contributed to debate on the floor of the House.

Shortly afterwards at Parliament’s restaurant, he walked into whispers from colleagues to the effect that “things are bad”.

“No one wanted to explain anything to me. They were just telling me that things were bad,” he explains.

Not known to him was that he was a ‘stranger’ in the House. He was no longer an MP, just like that.

He had been sent packing by the Kanu National Executive Council, the supreme organ of party. The decision had been reached at a meeting within Parliament Buildings that very afternoon. Fiery Kapenguria MP Francis Lotodo had suffered the same fate.

Then Kanu Secretary General Burundi Nabwera told the press that the move meant the two had ‘automatically’ lost their parliamentary seats. The two were now party-less and thus could not hold any political seats. Also affected were several councilors at Kapenguria Urban Council allied to them.

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No privileges

“That afternoon, I walked into the chambers and in about two hours, my privileges as an MP had been take away. I was shocked,” he recalls.

Poghisio traced his troubles to 1987 when he declared interest for the Kacheliba seat. “My people had approached me to vie for the seat. That time, a District Commissioner Augustine Lomada and I were the only graduates from Kacheliba. Residents, in their wisdom, thought I should vie,” he tells The Standard on Sunday.

The former minister says the reason he joined politics was to try and address various atrocities meted out on his people in 1984, allegedly by State agents.

He says the suffering of his people struck him when he was a teacher at Chewoyet Secondary School, a job he got after graduating with a Bachelor of Science, Biology, from Makerere University.

“The government had declared a crackdown on Ngoroko (armed Pokots) and the military had been deployed in what it was the most inhuman operation I have ever seen,” he said. The former three time MP for Kacheliba says he saw people beaten, maimed and killed in the crackdown, which came to be known as the Nyundo military operation.

“It was heartrending,” he says, adding: “Some people were killed by open fire and bombs launched anyhow.”

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He wondered why nobody, not even the international community, was raising a qualm over the heinous acts the Pokots were going through.

“From there, I vowed that one day, I would stand up and speak for the voiceless. This is what informed my interest in elective leadership,” he says. In the political melee that ensured after the Nyundo operation, Lotodo and several local leaders were arrested and charged with running the Pokot Liberation Organisation. They were, however, not jailed after it emerged such a move would be fodder for political backlash.

Poghisio says the Pokot Liberation Organisation was only a creation of the government to justify the incarcerations.

In 1985, he quit his teaching job and joined Daystar University for a masters degree in communication. When he returned home two years later and declared his interest in contesting the local parliamentary seat, it was without the blessing of Kanu honchos. He says a job he was offered to manage projects for the Anglican church in West Pokot by fiery Bishop of Eldoret Diocese Alexendar Muge, who was a harsh critic of the government and his association with Lotodo set him a collision course with Kanu men.

His bid for the Kacheliba seat immediately encountered opposition, and Peter Nang’ole, his best man during his wedding a few months earlier, was picked to run against him. Nang’ole was given cash and a brand new Land Rover by the government to campaign. He also enjoyed the backing of the then powerful Provincial Administration to Poghisio’s chagrin.

Nang’ole beat him in the primaries held under the infamous mlolongo system but since whoever won was expected to garner 70 per cent to be declared the outright winner, they had to face off in another gruesome contest.

“When it came to counting the votes, I won this time round by 60 per cent against Nangole, but that was not before at attempt to rig the polls during the night of the counting. Lights were put off at midnight and police tried to bring some ballot boxes that had been stuffed with ballots but my supporters had prepared well for such an eventuality had carried with them hundreds of torches so that when the lights went off, they immediately lit the place,” he recalls.

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He says residents of Kacheliba voted for him because they trusted he would champion their interests and ensure their sons and daughters go to school. They nicknamed him ‘Kalamu mrefu’.

“Up to now some locals still call me Kalamu mrefu, and indeed during my tenure as MP, I ensured thousands of youths joined secondary schools and universities,” he noted. Poghisio says then DC Peter Langat was at pains to declaring he had won the elections.

His tribulation did not end with his victory. When he got to Parliament, he found out that Nang’ole had actually been gazetted as the Kacheliba MP-elect.

“Speaker Moses Keino noticed the anomaly and ordered it corrected. I was sworn-in that afternoon together with my colleagues after the tumultuous journey,” he said.

Months into his legislative position, Poghisio and Lotodo braved the powers that be and declared there was famine in West Pokot and that people risked dying if there was no intervention. This statement was supported by Bishop Muge to the displeasure of the local administration. Given the resentment from party leaders in West Pokot and at the national office, Poghisio and Lotodo were marked men.

Went abroad

After his removal from Parliament and the volatility of the situation on Thursday July 14 1988, the former lecturer at Daystar says he decided to take a sabbatical leave from politics and went abroad to pursue further education at Lincoln University at Illinois in the US, where he stayed for four years.

“Kanu approached me to come and contest in 1993 but I declined and stayed in the US until 1993 when I got back with my family and went to lecture at Daystar until 1997 when I offered myself for the Kacheliba seat and won with 80 per cent against Nangole. I also won in 2002 again with Kanu and 2007 under ODM-Kenya allied to former VP Kalonzo Musyoka.

In 2008 when the Grand Coalition government was formed, he was named Information minister after Kalonzo entered an arrangement with the Mwai Kibaki-led PNU. At some point during his tenure as minister, he ran into problems with journalists when he openly supported the introduction of repressive and repugnant media laws.

In 2013, he decided to run for West Pokot Senate seat under ODM-Kenya but lost to Kanu’s Prof John Lonyangapuo. This year, he has officially returned home to Kanu.

“Initially, we had agreed with Prof Lonyangapuo that he would go for governor and I would go for Senate, but things changed and I ended up contesting with him for the same seat and he won. This time round we have a joint ticket after my come back to Kanu. We now want to put up a formidable team that will reorgananise West Pokot politics,” Poghisio says.

To political observers, the former minister’s return to the Independence party affirms the adage that left or right, home is best.

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