Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Peter Mwaura
Philip Muhoro was proof as to just how the prison institution can reform criminals, or so it was believed.
He had been sentenced to serve a life sentence in the early 1980s. The police had charged him with committing a spate of heinous crimes of robbery and rape in his village of Maua in Naivasha and beyond. Hearsay had it that he was one of the most lethal triggermen in Kenya. The police had declared him a most wanted criminal. Filifo, son of Kimakia as he was then known, was to be confined in King’ong’o Prison.
Good riddance; the villagers had collectively sighed in relief. Now they could afford to talk about the renegade. Karomo, the village newsmonger, took pleasure in convincing his fellow villagers that the black-robed judge had issued Filifo Mwaki with a voucher to hell where brimstone and fire awaited him.
Thus, the village was understandably bewildered when Filifo was released from prison in the month of November 1989. His release was big news to the village which was at the time engrossed, like the rest of Kenya, in the mainstream national discourse on multiparty democracy.
A Black Maria steered by a prison warder came to a halt before the chief’s camp. A clean shaven but emaciated fellow alighted therefrom. No sooner had the vehicle driven off, than the word spread from the chief to all parts of the village.
Filifo Hitler Mwaki was back.
The Baraza was hurriedly convened. The villagers out of breath from the hurried trip to the Baraza waited in bated breathes to hear the latest development. Each prayed secretly that Filifo should never come to learn that they had spoken ill of him while he was away. Karomo visibly fidgeted. Not even Kimakia believed that his son was back.
He had been the best behaved in prison. The prison chaplain had paid glowing tribute to his resolve to change. He was ready to start life afresh. He had passed the eligibility test for presidential pardon.
The chief persuaded the villagers to accept him back. Filifo had learned his lesson in prison and turned a new leaf. The chief advised the church to monitor his progress and help him to reintegrate back into the society. Probation officers would appraise his situation from time to time.
Filifo Mwaki was baptized a week later by Father Anton Caesar of the Catholic Church Maua Parish, Naivasha Diocese. The priest dipped him into the waters of River Ndarugo, and as he came out gasping for air, he was christened Philip Muhoro; for he had become a disciple of Jesus. The event was marked with pageantry. Women of Maua openly wept, ululated and spoke in tongues. Karomo would later claim after the ceremony that he had seen a dove perch on Filifo’s head.
Philip Muhoro remembered the Sabbath and kept it holy. He came to be associated with the front pew of Maua Catholic Church. He soon became a venerated percussionist. He soaked up renditions of choirs from across East Africa like a quick study. He particularly loved Tanzanian choirs; Arusha Town choir to be precise. The congregation soon lost count of the times that he stood at the rostrum to preside over the bible readings. He was a perfect preaching aid in sermons packaged with transformation themes. Karomo in one of his testimonies compared him to the lost soul of Saul which on the road to Damascus was transmuted to the Saint Paul.
The congregation dearly missed him on his occasional probation visits which would sometimes last a day, days to weeks. They always cherished his return.
A decade later and his story conjured up suspirations from baffled audiences. To say that Philip Muhoro’s life story was suspense itself would be no exaggeration.
Father Caesar was equally impressed by the progress of his convert. In one of the letters to his brother back home in Minnesota in the States, he conceded to have never experienced such transformation. He was impressed when Philip came into the confessional on the morning of August 22 2000. His priestly ears were accustomed to confessions from many penitents but this one would be unique.
The church room smelled of incense. Philip sank to his knees on the kneeler in supplication. A crucifix oscillated above his head.
“Father, I trust that it is well with you. I confess that I have sinned through my own fault; in my thoughts and in my words. In what I have done and what I have failed to do.”
The bowed silhouette of the robed priest could be seen through the confessional screen.
“It is a decade since my release from prison. Prison is hell. It softens the hardest criminals. Warders isolate you in dark lock-ups and starve you. They whip you ruthlessly and make you lie on top of beds of stinging nettle.”
The priest remained unruffled. These are some of the things that he had advocated and continued to do against the incumbent government. It reminded him of the young girl he had taken into the church for refuge. She had been raped by a cabinet minister.
“Father, I wished that I was dead like the victims of my crimes. Sermons about Paul and Silas gave me so much hope. I prayed that a miracle should happen that I may be free.
One chilly night, two men came into my dingy cell. They were special branch officers from the National Security Intelligence Service. They had a proposal for me.”
Father Caesar followed keenly.
“The government had seen the need to contain rising insecurity triggered by the clamour for pluralism. In exchange for my freedom, I was to run some important errands for the intelligence service from time to time.
I promised to make an endeavour to feign a reformed lifestyle. They would cater for my upkeep. That is how I came back to Maua and to this church.
On the first week of February 1990, I was summoned to Kisumu. My first assignment was to eliminate a treasonist. I remembered all the things that this church had taught me; the Scriptures, the Ten Commandments. I also considered the carefreeness of freedom. I was in a dilemma.
I chose freedom.”
The priest listened attentively. A pianist in the choir loft was playing the Ave Maria.
“The officer informed me that the treasonist was a prominent person but was very dangerous to the security and unity of Kenya. An aide of his had confirmed that our target would be visiting his rural home in Muhoroni.
The abduction from his home was an easy job; I could have done it on my own. I gagged him with a towel and tied his hands with sisal ropes. I hit him twice with a pickaxe on his right leg in the struggle. The aide and I dragged him from the house and pushed him into the white jeep that had been provided. We drove about three Kilometers away from his home.
I aimed at him with my rifle. What I can remember about him was that he was partly bald headed. That is where my shot got him.”
The priest shuddered. The church bell chimed.
“I came back to Maua and to this church. I mingled freely with the people. I dutifully attended this church. I ran some more errands for the intelligence team. I still came back to this church.
I feel remorseful. I feel that I cannot continue this way. That is why I have come here today.
My bosses have told me that this will be the last errand. This time he is a well-known person to me. I have learned a great deal from him. He has taught me humanity. He has been a role model. Killing him will be killing me. If I don’t kill him, I will kill me and my family; that is what my covenant with them says.
I implore the Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin, all the angels and saints and you father to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
Phillip sprang to his feet and hurriedly left the church oblivious of the altar boy who awkwardly stood near the confessional. The priest in a beseeching timbre made an intercession.
On the morning of August 23 2000, the village of Maua woke up to the news. A white Catholic priest was robbed on his way home from shopping in Naivas Supermarket. The robbers had shot him and left his mangled body slumped in the driving seat of his car. The police who arrived a while later fired at the robbers some of who sustained gunshot wounds.
A farmer discovered a body in his greenhouse yard. It had sustained gunshot wounds. The police could now confirm that the shot robber, Filifo, was now dead. Prison had not reformed him after all and to think that he had invoked the church of God in vain!
Karomo reminded the villages that the serpent was sent to the Garden of Eden to cheat and corrupt. Filifo Mwaki had played a game of musical chairs with the villagers, and this time, he had been left standing alone when the music stopped.
That night, it rained cats and dogs in Maua. Floods from Kinangop highlands swept across the village leaving a trail of destruction. A landslide destroyed the Maua police post. Rescue efforts were ongoing to retrieve the bodies of the officers who had been on duty during the deluge.
Two bodies lay lifeless in the Naivasha morgue side by side; that of the priest, the other of Filifo.
©Peter Mwaura, 2012