Nderitu Gachagua, the abrasive contractor and billionaire who became Nyeri’s first governor — and whose term in office was marked by an abortive impeachment, fistfights between his supporters and opponents and ill-health — succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. He was 64.
As the first county chief to die in office, Mr Gachagua’s legacy as governor was perhaps untested as he spent the last four years in and out of hospitals.
His younger brother, Rigathi Gachagua, a former Kiambaa District Officer-turned politician, told the press that the governor died on Friday at 2.15am with close family members at his bedside.
“He has left us after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. It is very sad for the family but we have accepted God’s will,” he said.
Mr Rigathi, who is vying for the Mathira seat, said that arrangements are under way to bring the body back home for burial.
The death of Gachagua has thrown the race for the governor’s seat in Nyeri wide open.
Some of those interested in the seat include Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe.
A man who made his money by associating with Moi-era Kanu barons, Mr Gachagua was involved in the construction of several political projects as a principal quantity surveyor.
In 1996, Parliament was told how Mr Gachagua’s Jaga Consultants bought some 62 houses, two bungalows and 27 staff quarters at the Nyayo Highrise by conniving with National Housing Corporation bosses.
By then Mr Gachagua, a former NHC employee, was acting as its consultant.
A FAMILY OF POLITICIANS
Last year, Mr Gachagua’s fortunes increased after the government took over land where his company Vipingo Beach Resort had built 62 apartments in Nairobi South C for construction of the western bypass.
Gachagua, who owns more than 80 per cent of the company, was to pocket nearly Sh1 billion as compensation for the 1.2-acre piece of land.
But even with his wealth, Gachagua was not flamboyant and hardly flaunted his wealth.
Mr Gachagua started ailing in 2014 but his condition worsened from 2015 and since then he has been in and out of the country for treatment.
Leaders mourned the county chief as great influencer of Nyeri politics.
Those who know him say the billionaire was a political cat with nine lives – and has left a trail of controversies with his leadership style.
When happy, he loved dancing to Carol Wanjiru’s Kikuyu song “Munduiriri” (God is my fighter) and in his heyday, he would take to the dancehall or join traditional dancers for a jig after events.
To some, he was the Nyeri’s political Mugumo (fig) tree, knowing how to reinvent himself after every five years.
To others, the 64-year-old was a cantankerous leader who got what he wanted, how he wanted and when he wanted it.
Those who loved him did so with passion and those who opposed him did it with the same gusto.
But there was never a dull moment in his life.
The father of four (two boys, two girls) had two degrees from the University of Nairobi and was born into a family of Nyeri aristocrats.
Born in Hiriga village, Mathira West in Nyeri County to Nahashon Gachagua and Martha Kirigu, both prominent Kanu politicians who were a pain in the flesh of former President Mwai Kibaki.
DEFEAT IN MATHIRA
Back then, Mr Kibaki had defected from Kanu to the Democratic Party and was trying to consolidate his home county but the Gachaguas stood on his way.
Up to now, villagers call the Gachaguas, including his brother Rigathi, “Mbari ya Martha” .
The younger brother, Mr Rigathi, had entrenched himself with Kanu barons since his university years as a student leader, where he organised various trips to State House.
The late governor attended Nyahururu and Nyeri High Schools for his O and A levels, respectively, before proceeding to the University of Nairobi for a degree in Building Economics.
He joined the Ministry of Public Works as a quantity surveyor and was a chief quantity surveyor in National Housing Corporation before he quit public service in 1987.
In 2002, he enrolled for a Bachelor of Law at the University of Nairobi.
Mr Gachagua burst into the political scene in 2002 after vying in Mathira constituency on a Narc ticket, trouncing political heavyweight and establishment candidate Matu Wamae.
Since then, he never left the political scene in Nyeri. Mr Gachagua took on his political detractors head on.
Among them was former Mathira MP Ephraim Maina, who kicked him out of the Mathira seat in the 2007 elections.
Since then, the two became political rivals with each trying to outdo each other at every stage.
He accused Mr Maina of engineering his impeachment, a charge which the tycoon denied.
He made another political history in 2013 by being the only governor in the central region who was not elected on a TNA ticket.
He floored TNA candidate Wahome Gakuru garnering 140,000 compared to Mr Gakuru’s 130,000.
It is his command of the populous Mathira constituency that made Mr Gachagua a formidable force in Nyeri.
His detractors said he run the county with an iron fist and did not tolerate dissent.
To others, he was a firm leader who could not be controlled by MCAs or MPs.
Three Nyeri executives were convicted of corruption in his reign.
His signature policy was an attempt to break coffee cartels by directly marketing its coffee abroad, an initiative which has recorded different results.
Governor Gachagua also showed his political mettle by surviving two ouster bids by MCAs before they managed to impeach him in the third try.
“I am not a mayor to be dictated to by you, a bunch of self-seekers. I am the governor elected by the people of Nyeri,” Mr Gachagua told MCAs to their face.