FOR many years, night-runners have operated under cover. However, they are now putting on a brave face and are coming out to push for their rights.
Jack Songo, aka Moses Okinyi, the president of Night Runners Organisation, recently shocked many by his demands that the government recognises night-running as a sporting activity.
Songo, who hails from Ndhiwa in Homabay County, is married and blessed with two children.
In a candid interview with the Star in Kisumu, Songo said night-runners, unlike thieves, do not harm anyone as they go about their business.
Songo says the government should recognise night-running under the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Art.
“It is unfortunate that we have been discriminated against for a long time yet we do not harm anybody. It is important for the government to categorise our pastime as a sporting activity,” Songo says.
He adds that part of the funds set aside for the Hassan Wario-led ministry should be channeled to the night-runners associations.
"We have been unable to form associations in the past since our group is regarded as illegal," he says.
“As night-runners we are innocent and do not harm anybody. We are ready to initiate development projects with the funds for the betterment of our communities.”
Songo claims to have been elected by his colleagues to head them at a meeting at the Menengai Crater.
He says in Homabay County where he hails from, they have had regular meetings at night to plan how to perfect their ‘sport’.
He says ones they are allowed to operate freely, they will organise sporting activities to sensitise people about night-running.
“Night-running is a talent that the government must now invest in just like other sports,” he says.
“Currently we operate under cover because the State has not recognised our activities."
Songo, who claims there are 2.6 million night-runners in Kenya, says their high number will generate income for the country if their operations are categorised as sports.
Songo says night-runners have the ability to tame wild animals and will aid the government to conserve wildlife and attract tourists to the country.
“We normally tame wild animals that we use to provide us with security at night. We therefore urge the government to support us in order to help conserve wild animals to generate income for the country,” Songo says.
Songo says in villages where they operate, insecurity is low. “This is because thieves feel they are threatened by our presence,” he says.
He, however, laments that many night-runners have become a target for thieves.
“They have killed or beaten some of my colleagues they come across at night for fear of being identified. Some of my colleagues have even been maimed and therefore cannot continue with our sport,” he says.
He says if allowed to perform in public, they will change some of their rules to suit the Kenyan laws.
For example, he says, while performing at night, depending on a night-runner’s level of experience, they run naked.
“If allowed by law to carry out our duties in public, we promise to change this rule and play while dressed up,” he says.
Songo says night-running has no age limit, saying some of his colleagues are aged between 46 and 70.
He adds that night-running skills are inherited or acquired. “If one has not inherited the skill and is interested in becoming a night-runner, he can join our group and take an oath so that he does not betray our cause,” he says.
Songo, who has 13 years experience, says his wife is not a night-runner.
“It is not advisable to have several members in a family engaging in this activity. That is why my wife has not joined me in my operations,” he says.
He says he inherited the skill from his great grandparents.
Songo cites rural electrification as a challenge to their night duties. “We, however, have no regrets and do not want to oppose government projects. We promise to follow the law to the letter if recognised by the government,” he says.
When asked whether they have ever been arrested by the police at night, he retorts: “It can never happen because even the police have no basis to arrest us.”
He disclosed that they will soon launch a nationwide recruitment drive to attract more members.
According Japheth Mecha from Bonyamatuta sub-location in Nyamira County, night-runners should not be officially recognised because they scare people and interfere with their nights.
Mecha says the night is usually associated with evil. "Even night guards and long distance drivers spare their time during daytime to sleep."
Mecha wonders what time the night runners will work if they ‘waste’ their precious time running at night and sleeping during the day.
"God created seven days and left the night for rest. These are people who want to contradict Biblical teachings and I cannot support them, he says.
Mecha wonders what kind of medals night-runners will bring to the country.
But Albert Ojonyo, a resident of Kisumu town, disagrees.
Ojonyo says night-running activities are likely to attract tourists to the country.
“I see no reason not to allow them to operate because in countries like Nigeria, witchcraft is the order of the day,” he says.
Ojonyo says the group should be recognised so long as it does not interfere with people’s safety.
“They say they want to streamline night-running and I have no problem with that. If it can be streamlined in a manner that does not affect other people they should not be barred from doing so,” Ojonyo says.
He says the government should put up some sites where tourists can visit to view the night runners in action.
Erick Odhiambo from Bondo, in Siaya County, says night runners do not help the society at all.
He says if they want to compete they should run with other athletes and if they do well, they will be selected to represent the country in international races.
“These people should be told to bring their teams for competition with other athletes and not to demand they run as night runners. This is illegal since some of the night runners have even turned to witchcraft,” Odhiambo says.
"Running in people’s homes with wild animals is despicable."
Odhiambo's opinion is shared by several members of the provincial administration interviewed.
Those interviewed disagree with the notion that night runners reduce insecurity.
Harrison Okwama, the assistant chief for Nyawita sub location in Kisumu County, says night runners have contributed to insecurity.
“They scare people and make people live in a lot of fear. It is hypocritical to claim they have reduced insecurity,” Okwama says.
He cautions against night-running, saying they will not allow people to perform illegalities in their areas of jurisdiction.
His Uriri counterpart Sam Odembo, in North East Gem location in Siaya County, concurs.
"If allowed to perform their duties, thieves in the pretext of being night-runners will terrorise people."