Sunday, August 3, 2008



August 3, 2008
By Obote Akoko
Sunday Standard

His rivalry with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga saw him wallow in political oblivion as he defended Jomo Kenyatta even when Nyanza had turned against the founding president.

He fought in the Second World War, served as an MP in both Kenyatta and Moi governments, rejected a presidential offer and witnessed a legislator being caned by an enraged Head of State.

With a political career spanning two decades, former Assistant minister and MP, Oselu Nyalik, has seen it all. Although now ageing and sickly, he remains a controversial personality.

The 91-year-old former MP for Winam Constituency (now Kisumu Town East and Nyando constituencies) in Kisumu District tells how he triumphed over some gigantic political forces.

During a recent visit to his Buoye home, some 10km from Kisumu town, the former MP told The Standard on Sunday why he admired founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta but never allowed him to ‘meddle’ with his domestic programmes.

Thirst for education

The son of Nyalik Achiando began his education at Kibuye Primary School before proceeding to Yala Intermediate School (now St Mary’s Yala High) where he choreographed the journey to a controversial life.

Following a thirst for education, the young Nyalik sold two of his father’s cows to pay for his school fees. When his father complained, the headmaster promptly expelled him from the school.

Moved by Nyalik’s desire for education, the District Officer, however, brokered a deal to sell cattle from Achiando’s home to pay Nyalik’s school fees. He was thus granted admission at the then Kisii Government African School (later Kisii High School).

He persuaded the DO to spare his father’s cattle and worked part-time as a shamba boy for a white settler in Mosocho to raise school fees.

From Kisii and upon completing Kenya Junior Secondary Examinations, Nyalik got a job in Uganda, studied accounting and privately completed the then East African Cambridge Examinations. He later became Regional Accountant for Northern Nyanza branch of Maize Control Board, the precursor of National Cereals and Produce Board.

Illiterate soldiers

When the Second World War broke out, Nyalik was recruited and served in the East African Army Education Corps . He taught soldiers English and this enabled them to understand orders. After the war, he resumed his job as African Special Clerk at the Maize Marketing Board, but resigned later to plunge into politics in 1956.

That year, Nyalik was elected First Clerk to the African District Council (ADC), the equivalent of county council.

"Joel Omino Ogolla convinced me to join politics and I respect him a lot for it," he says in praise of the man whose son, Joab Omino, became MP for Kisumu Town. The senior Omino chaired the ADC and Nyalik was his secretary.

With the culmination of the struggle for independence, Nyalik, then a Kenya African Union party member, switched to Kanu on whose ticket he contested Winam parliamentary seat in 1963.

He became the first MP and Assistant Minister for Labour. However, he would soon cross swords with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga over Jomo Kenyatta’s style of administration.

Odinga felt Kenyatta had breached the planned resettlement of the Mau Mau war veterans, their families and indigenous communities whose prime lands the colonial settlers had forcefully acquired. Despite Odinga’s sulking, walk-out from government and formation of opposition Kenya People’s Union, Nyalik did not get swayed. He stayed put in Kanu and paid the price when an Odinga-backed Walter Onyulo defeated him in the 1969 elections.

ministerial appointment

He, however, turned tables on his rival to recapture Winam seat in the 1974 polls.

He was appointed Assistant Minister for Local Government. His friendship with Kenyatta had blossomed to such levels of discomfiture that at some stage, the then president ensured armed security officers guarded Nyalik’s home round the clock.

A family member recounted how Kenyatta sent a consignment of building materials and contractor to seek Nyalik’s indulgence over the President’s offer to construct a palatial home for him.

"He declined the offer " the source divulged.

During the interview, Nyalik sneered at the idea that one could get handouts from Kenyatta, saying the founding father of the nation never pampered anybody.

"Whenever MPs were dissatisfied with answers given in Parliament, we would meet with Kenyatta at State House to seek his guidance and sort out such issues," Nyalik recalls. He says whenever the President lost his temper, he would administer instant punishment right at the Cabinet meeting.

"At one time, JM Kariuki (the then Nyandarua North MP) said some unpalatable things about Kenyatta’s Gatundu home. Kenyatta caned him in our presence," Nyalik recalls.

With Kenyatta’s death in 1978, fortunes began to turn against Nyalik. President Daniel Moi prevailed upon him to retire from active politics and David Anyumba became the new MP.

Sunk in deep reflection, the frail Nyalik pauses for a while before suggesting that Moi’s concern was more because of his advanced age rather than close ties with Kenyatta.

The man who held the branch chairmanship of Kanu in Kisumu District from 1965 until he was controversially kicked out in 1985 by Robert Ouko-led team retreated to a quiet life as a sugarcane farmer in Koru/Muhoroni.

But with Ouko’s murder and the push for multipartyism, Moi needed point men in Nyanza to counter the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford ) wave under Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

The Kisumu Municipal Council was dissolved and Moi appointed Nyalik chairman of the Municipal Commission in 1991, a position he occupied until a team of elected councillors took over Town Hall after the 1992 General Election.

Kenyatta had previously trusted him to run the Mombasa Municipal Commission as chairman while serving as Winam MP after the 1974 elections.

Since then, Nyalik asserted, he has been better off ‘just staying at home,’ rather than engaging in active politics and being in public limelight.

"Look at me now; at my age, what would you expect me to be doing?" he asks with a wide tired grin.

He struggles to radiate good health but regrets: "Look, the doctor has just left this house. I don’t go to hospital. He advised me to be sitting here till 7pm, then I walk around the compound. This sickness (diabetes) is weighing me down."

errant ministers

Nyalik has been bed-ridden for the last three months. But on this day of the interview, he was determined to suppress any weakness and pain.

"Kenyatta was very sensitive to any price increase that could further impoverish ordinary citizens.

"He could overturn a Cabinet decision, by ordering a commodity price reduction by a shilling or two," he laughs, then asserts that Kenyatta’s penchant for flogging errant ministers was a good attribute.

"It instilled discipline in MPs and it made me more careful not to provoke him," Nyalik remarks.

"Kenyatta preferred to censure errant politicians on public platforms, which also compelled such people to toe the line," he explains.

Nyalik recalls the 1969 official opening ceremony of Nyanza Provincial Hospital, then referred to as Russia. A bloody fracas ensued after Jaramogi clashed publicly with the Kenyatta at the dais. A chair was thrown at the former president, sparking off pandemonium from the mammoth crowd.

"A bullet fired hissed past us as we escorted Odinga to safety in a ward upstairs," Nyalik narrates.

He said three of his constituents died in a hail of bullets fired by irate security agents in the presidential motorcade as it sped out of town.

Nyalik says the Cold War era, Odinga’s rivalry with former Planning Minister Tom Mboya and Kenyatta’s brand of politics influenced his life to the extent that when asked what his happiest moment was, he did not mince words.

"The best thing that ever happened was the division of Central Nyanza into Siaya and Kisumu Districts against Odinga’s wish," the veteran politician reminisces, letting out a cheeky laugh.

"Today we have Siaya, Bondo and even Rarieda."

Indeed, bitter differences between the former Winam MP and the doyen of opposition politics were such that at one time the two are said to have come close to trading blows over a microphone.

Nyalik says he foresaw many districts being carved out in Central Province in readiness for the District Focus for Rural Development strategy while his detractors feared if the larger Southern and Central Nyanza regions were split, ‘it would diminish their control of politics in the province’.

political morality

Although his stand consigned him to political oblivion, he argues, his relentless pursuit of political morality has made him relevant to this date.

In 1982, he reportedly told Odinga to forget about his plans to register the Kenya Socialist Development Party, in league with former Kitutu MP George Moseti Anyona and others.

He advised Odinga to push for the removal of the infamous Section 2A in the Constitution so that Kenya could become a multiparty democracy.

Again in 1992, Nyalik says he told Odinga that Ford would split and hand victory to Moi and Kanu on a silver platter.

It came to pass that Mr Kenneth Matiba and Mr Martin Shikuku tore the original Ford apart, thus making the opposition to lose to the former ruling party.

Nyalik, who is Kanu Life Member Number 73, never abandoned the cockerel party.

veterinary student

He is effusive about mentoring politicians in Nyando and Kisumu, among them Nyando’s Fred Outa, East African Legislative Assembly MP Clarkson Otieno Karan, former Kisumu Mayor Ogendo Ponge and Councillor Aloice Kenga. But never his sons. In fact, Joseph Oselu, 38, a former University of Nairobi veterinary medicine student, who is Kolwa East ODM party chairman, is the only one aspiring to carry on his mantle. His association with the Odingas led to his expulsion from campus in 1992.

Nyalik overcomes a brief memory lapse and bubbles into recollection of his political friends such as Ojwang’ Kombudo, Okiki Amayo, Lawrence Sagini, Dr Zachary Onyonka and Dr Taita Towett ( all deceased).

Moi has also been very close ever since. "We had responsible but less paid MPs unlike the current ones who are selfish," he says boisterously.

"They don’t know the suffering of many Kenyans. They, too, should pay taxes like their constituents. If they don’t, their days are numbered."

Though he says he is contented with his current state, Nyalik says he supports Martin Shikuku and fellow retired MPs’ quest for the hefty retirement pay package. "I am ready for that Sh1 million pension," he quips.

The former MP poured cold water on the clamour for a grand opposition in Parliament, saying it would serve no purpose.

Affirming Oselu’s mixed persona poses dilemma as family members reveal that through his closeness to Mboya, a number of Kenyans benefited from the great airlifts to America and Eastern Europe for further studies.

However, the politician never sought jobs or positions in educational institutions locally for anyone. A self-made person, he profers individual efforts, real sweat and personal acumen.

Hearing him talk about his family further imbues you with the feeling that he’s a true polygamist joined in spirit with but separated in poor health from his four wives — Monica, Persila, Mary and Elsa Oselu.

Other wives —Prisca, Agnetta and Ruth— have since passed on. He has 27 children.

Luo sage

As the Luo sage savours his sunset years in retirement, he basks in the glory of being older than Ker Riaga Ogallo, the chairman of Luo Council of Elders. Nyalik, the Kano clan grand elder, blessed Ogallo’s coronation.

It is the absence of his age mates and political contemporaries — such as Achieng’ Oneko, Samwel Onyango Ayodo, Oginga Odinga and Paul Mboya — that has him musing over lonely moments, save for the prying media keen to chronicle his story.

And the more such thoughts pop up in his mind, the more Mzee Nyalik stares into the walls of his quiet ordinary humble man’s abode, as if digging out something with his eyes.

It turns out that the strain on his body is too much and the interview must come to an end.