Former Bondo MP John Hezekiah Ougo at his home in West Asembo in Rarieda. [Photo: Titus Munala/Standard]
By Maureen Odiwuor
THE STANDARD ON SUNDAY
His decision to resign as a Member of Parliament shocked his family, colleagues and constituents.
Close political advisers rushed to his home to talk him out of giving away the Bondo parliamentary seat but John Hezekiah Ougo would not budge.
By the end of that chilly day in 1980, Mr Ougo had tendered his resignation to facilitate the return to active politics of his friend of long standing, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who had been languishing in the political wilderness following differences with then President Jomo Kenyatta and his successor, Daniel arap Moi.
About 32 years after he made history by resigning as MP to create room for a friend, Mr Ougo has come out to explain why he defied friends and family members to step down for Jaramogi.
“I was not forced to resign for Jaramogi. I was not bribed. I just sympathised with him and opted to sacrifice my political ambitions for the sake of this man whom I believed was going to liberate Kenyans,” Mr Ougo told The County Weekly in an exclusive interview at his home in Asembo, Siaya County.
Now aged 84, the little known Mr Ougo says he has no regrets for giving up his seat.
He served for a term from 1974 and was re-elected, and before the last year of his second term, Jaramogi was released from detention.
Jaramogi, who had been MP for Bondo since 1963, lost the seat after he was detained by President Kenyatta following a public confrontation between the two leaders during the opening of the Nyanza Provincial Hospital in which many people died.
“Although some of my constituents asked me if I could step down for Jaramogi if he came back, the major decision was mine, especially when I considered how much he had suffered,” he says.
He received varied reactions from friends and relatives with some advising him against the move considering he had made a name for himself.
“After spending sleepless nights agonising over the matter, I decided to quit out of the respect I had for the former Vice President. I also decided to retire from politics altogether,” he says.
But his attempts to help bring Jaramogi back to the fold backfired when the then ruling party, Kanu barred Mr Odinga from contesting in the by-election after he allegedly referred to the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who died in 1978, as a land grabber.
Without Kanu’s blessings, Jaramogi was locked out and the former area MP, William Odongo Omamo who had lost to Mr Ougo in 1974, bounced back to Parliament.
The late Jaramogi, the father of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and assistant Minister Oburu Oginga had to wait until the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1992 to make it back to Parliament.
Mr Ougo, known to his supporters as ‘Ling berne’ (he who likes to keep quiet), says he has never asked for favours from the Odinga family for the honour he bestowed on Jaramogi.
He confesses that his move further strengthened the bond between him and Jaramogi; a link that remains to date.
“People say I should be rewarded for what I did to Jaramogi but I did not do it so that I could be rewarded. The Prime Minister has even offered me a job but I declined because I wanted to rest,” he says.
A former aide to the late Jaramogi, Odungi Randa recalls how Mr Ougo’s resignation shocked leaders in Nyanza.
“It came as a total surprise. No politician would do what he did. He is a special man with rare principles,” says Mr Randa.
Mr Randa claims Jaramogi held a meeting with President Moi at State House Nakuru the week when Mr Ougo resigned.
“Before that, President Moi and the late Jaramogi held a meeting at State House Nakuru. I really don’t know what they discussed,” he says.
“Mwalimu was a very clean and honest man. Historians don’t talk much about him but he is a hero,” he notes.
He taught Raila
In his book Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the late historian Atieno-Odhiambo retraces the events that led to Mr Ougo’s resignation.
“In 1980, Moi appointed Odinga as chairman of Cotton Lint and Marketing Board in a bid to rehabilitate him. Indeed, it later appeared that Moi and Jaramogi had come to an understanding that a parliamentary seat should be made available for him in Bondo,” says the historian.
He adds: “The deal would require that the incumbent, Ougo, resigns voluntarily to pave way for Jaramogi’s re-entry into the political arena.”
According to the historian, misfortune struck Jaramogi’s comeback bid when he lost his temper while addressing a gathering in Mombasa and scorned the late Kenyatta, describing him as a corrupt land grabber.
The statement is said to have annoyed Mr Moi who quickly rescinded his decision to rehabilitate Oginga and barred him from contesting for seat left vacant for him by Mr Ougo.
This rendered Mr Ougo’s resignation useless as Jaramogi’s political opponent stepped in to grab the seat.
Reflecting on the events of that year, Mr Ougo says some of his constituents have not forgiven him for giving up his seat.
He says his friendship with the Jaramogi family did not begin when he joined politics.
His first encounter with Jaramogi was while a student at Maseno Secondary School where the mzee was his teacher.
“He taught me at Maseno,” says Mr Ougo.
Later his sister was married to a relative of Jaramogi and he used to visit him while on his way to the sister’s home hence their friendship progressed.
In early 1941, while a headmaster at Maranda Intermediate School, Mr Ougo taught Raila mathematics at primary level and was impressed by his character which many mistook for naughtiness.
“I could see a leader in him way back. There is a time he was brought before me by a teacher and before I could raise my hand to cane him, he challenged me,” recalls Mr Ougo.
The boy who would be Prime Minister asked why he was being taught to grow but was not allowed to mature because by answering a teacher back he was expressing himself which to him was a sense of maturity.His answer shocked me and I did not cane him as the teacher had expected,” says the former MP.