22 June 2011

Kenya: Activists Arrested for Locking Ongeri's Office

Nairobi — A group of civil society activists who had locked Education minister Sam Ongeri's office to demand his resignation have been arrested.

Police rounded up the group led by Okiya Omtatah at the Jogoo House office of the minister, who is on the spot over the loss of Sh4.6 billion meant for among other things, free schooling.

The ten activists led by Okiya Omtatah, Sheikh Ahmed Ramadhani, Japhet Muroko, Mulialia Okumu and Frederick Odhiambo were frog-marched from the second floor office and bundled into a police Land Rover before being driven to Central Police Station.

Also arrested during the 10.30 am incident were Ms Florence Kanyua, Ruth Mumbi, Fatuma Abdul Rahaman, Cidi Otieno and Gacheke Gachihi.

The activists had been camping at the reception of Prof Ongeri's office demanding his resignation or sacking and be made to face charges following a Ministry of Finance audit report showing Sh4.6 billion was lost in the Ministry of Education.

They sang patriotic songs and chanted slogans calling for Prof Ongeri's immediate removal.

The activists further cited sections of the Constitution that gives Kenyans a right to education and the one on ethics and integrity in public leadership to back their claims that Prof Ongeri was unfit to be in office.

Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity says state officers should be accountable to the public for their decisions and actions.

The human rights campaigners further locked the minister's office with a huge chain and padlock and vowed not to leave the place until he quits.

Police from Central Police Station monitored the activists before leaving only for security personnel in civilian attire to pounce on them shortly after 10 am. The officers first kicked journalists out of second floor before forcefully arresting the activists as they shouted Ongeri Must Go!

Earlier, Mr Omtatah had told the activists to record the identification numbers of the officers who arrest them so that they could sue them individually for violating the Constitution.

"We have a right to hold peaceful protests," Mr Omtatah said.

Section 37 of the Constitution states: "Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.

He said it is not that Prof Ongeri is guilty of theft of free education cash but that he should take political responsibility and resign for proper investigations.

Mr Odhiambo said many children could not attend school due to fraud in the Ministry of Education and that donors had also threatened to pull out due to failure by the government to punish the culprits.

Kenya Anti-corruption Commission (Kacc) advisory board chairman Okong'o Omogeni condemned the arrests of the activists.

Speaking to the Nation from Hong Kong where he is attending a conference on fighting graft, Mr Omogeni said he had been confronted by international journalists to explain the government's move to arrest citizens demonstrating against corruption.

"There should be room for people to register their grievances over graft. May it be through protests or any other means. It is their constitutional right," Mr Omogeni said.

The Council of NGOs chairman Ken Wafula, who joined the activists at Central Police Station said it "is ironical that police are arresting people who complain of graft and not the suspects".

Mr Wafula said his organisation will liaise with Kacc and establish a Fund to support "warriors of anti-corruption" through legal aid and representation.

"Prof Ongeri and his Permanent Secretary must take political and administrative responsibility and resign. If they don't the two principals have constitutional responsibility to sack them unless the two principals want to tell Kenyans they are the ugly face of impunity in this country," Mr Wafula said.

Mr Odinga has since said Prof Ongeri should take political responsibility for the scandal but President Kibaki is yet to comment on the issue.

Prof Ongeri and Prof Karega Mutahi who was the PS in Ministry of Education before being transferred to Local Government, Mr Wafula said, should not only resign but be charged in court.

The activists are currently at Central Police Station although they have not been booked in cells although reports indicated police wanted to release them on free bond.

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