|It is quite normal for some people to give telephone numbers to those they are unfamiliar with without the least concern.
|King’ong’o Prison in Nyeri where convicts were found with mobile phones and cash. Inset: The message that the convicts sent to one of their victims. Photo/ PAUL WANJIRU
This oversight may have landed many unsuspecting Kenyans in the hands of notorious extortionist rings run by Kenya’s jail birds.
A police investigation into an incident in which a Nyeri businessman received numerous text messages and phone calls indicated that they emanated from one of the country’s penal institutions.
Prisons authorities in Nyeri are also likely to have unearthed the syndicate when they recently recovered wads of notes and a mobile phone from convicts being transferred to the prison.
The 32 convicts were moved from Naivasha Maximum Prison to the Nyeri prison, also commonly referred to as King’ong’o Prison.
The convicts, usually on death row, introduce themselves to their targets as members of the dreaded Mungiki sect and extort huge sums of money by warning their victims of dire consequences if they fail to comply.
Police sources say that hundreds of Kenyans may have fallen prey to the syndicate, which involves the use of anonymous text messages and phone calls ordering targets to meet the callers’ proxies at certain locations.
As a result, individuals may have been compelled to part with huge sums of money to escape the threats.
The sources also disclosed that the convicts spend the cash on lavish lifestyles, including orgies of parties where nyama choma, whisky, cigarettes and hard drugs, smuggled into the prison under the watch of cooperative prison warders.
Central Provincial Prisons commander Ambrose Ngare, while addressing the Press, said Sh20,000 and a mobile phone had been recovered from the transferred convicts.
He said this was the reason behind the riots witnessed at the prison last weekend.
Police sources indicated that several cases have been reported to the authorities by wealthy individuals who have received the “cooperate or else” messages.
According to the sources, the messages are prompt and usually demand that the victim meets with the prisoners’ proxy at a rendezvous. If they fail to do so, the callers warn, they will be beheaded.
The calls and text messages come at an irritating frequency, creating fear in them. The callers also warn their targets against reporting the issue to the authorities.
A Nyeri businessman, who requested anonymity, said he received calls and text messages last year from two different phone numbers asking him to meet “chairman”. They also warned him that they would come for his head if he failed to do so.
He said the anonymous callers introduced themselves as Mungiki, an outlawed murderous group that is known for beheading and mutilating their victims’ bodies.
One of the messages read: “Piga simu uongee na chairman ukikataa, tutafanya vile chairman wetu atakavyo tueleza.” (Call our chairman, if you don’t we shall execute his instructions).
He said he ignored their demands and dared them to carry out their threats. “The callers soon gave up once they realised that I was not going to budge,” said the businessman.
He said he reported the matter to the police and through their investigations, they were able to trace the call to Kamiti Maximum Prison. “The number being used was traced to Kamiti Maximum Prison with the help of Safaricom,” he said.
Central Province criminal investigations officer Sebastian Ndaru said similar incidents indicated that convicts were in illegal possession of handsets, which they used to extort money from unsuspecting members of the public.
He said some of the most notorious offenders were those condemned to life sentences who, he said, felt that they had nothing to lose even if they were discovered by the authorities.
His prisons counterpart said the trend was rife at some of the maximum prisons across the country owing to a lax surveillance system, which allowed the convicts to gain access to drugs, cash and even mobile phones.
Mr Ngare said some of the convicts who caused mayhem at the Nyeri Prison were protesting against the exposure of the syndicate. “Some of them said they were unhappy with the transfer and demanded to be taken back to the Naivasha Maximum Prison,” the prisons official added.
“Some of the complainants claimed they used to be wajumbes (prefects in the prisons) and feared they would lose their positions,” said the prisons official.
He said the inmates at the Nyeri Prison exhibited aggression, complaining of poor diet, dirty linen and at one point boycotted their sleeping wards.
Mr Ngare said he ordered his officers to use reasonable force to make the inmates go back to their wards and restore order.
The prison’s boss said in the course of the commotion, an inmate who had been serving a 10-year jail term for a sexual offence died, creating the impression that he might have been battered.
He later said that the inmate died of tuberculosis, adding that the warders were well trained to effectively handle rioting prisoners.