Omtatah: One man whose mission has humbled the mighty

Omtata says the threats are real but he does not use his cases to rent-seek

In Summary

• He has filed hundreds of cases

• He secured 843 acres for the government in Busia 

Activist Okiya Omtatah
Activist Okiya Omtatah
Image: FILE

In October 2017, Activist Okiya Omtatah dashed to court to stop the importation of duty-free sugar.

The High Court did not disappoint. However, the order was ignored by Treasury mandarins.

Thousands of tonnes of sugar soon arrived as barons rushed to make a killing. However, the bulk of the sugar was contaminated with deadly chemicals, including mercury. Government officials later admitted that the sugar had the potential of causing cancer.


“The contraband sugar case was brought to me by a government functionary,” Omtatah recalls as we settled down for an interview. “The court gave me orders stopping the imports but the mandarins ignored the orders, which I got when the cargo was still in the high seas.”


Just a year before, Omtata had secured a separate order barring the National Land Commission from making any payments in the controversial Ruaraka land. Then, not even investigative agencies had realised that the taxpayer’s money could be embezzled in a complex scheme.

But still, government officials ignored the order and paid Sh1.5 billion to firms owned by businessman Francis Mburu. The controversial payment still haunts then Education and NLC officials who okayed the payments.

These are among the hundreds of public interest litigations that Omtata is waging against rogue government agencies and powerful public servants disobeying the law.

Just last month, Omtatah spoilt the party for two NLC nominees when they were almost on the feasting table. He moved to court saying the recruitment process of the new commissioners was a sham and did not follow the due process.


The court agreed and quashed the appointment of former MPs Tiya Galgalo and Esther Murugi as members of the lands agency, just moments before they were sworn in.

Earlier, he had also thrown a spanner in the works and stopped the recruitment of members to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. Parliament had invited applicants and shortlisted candidates for a lucrative job.

However, Omtatah moved to court arguing that the recruitment of persons to be appointed in the public service is a preserve of the Public Service Commission and not Parliament. He said the role of Parliament if any was limited to vetting.

Among the cases Omtatah filed this year is a suit challenging a tax waiver following the merger of NIC Bank and Commercial Bank of Africa, a firm associated with the Kenyatta family.

He argues that the deal was done secretly without public participation and that taxpayers stand to suffer a great loss estimated at Sh350 million in tax revenues.

In August, Omtata secured a major victory after he recovered 843 acres of public land in his native Busia county.

The government acquired the land from residents of Nasewa in the 1990s and handed it over to Busia Sugar Company to construct a sugar factory. However, the firm was never set up and only existed on paper.

Busia Sugar Company was later put under receivership by Mumias Sugar Company, claiming the land on grounds the former owed it Sh100 million.

Among other Omtata court victories include an order to the Kenya Police to ensure restoration in working condition of emergency toll-free telephone number 999.

But despite taking up many cases, Omtata says what he has filed in court constitutes less than one per cent of complaints he receives.

“I pick up a case because of the kind of impact I am likely to get if I succeed… I believe in biting small and chewing finely,” he told the Star at his office in Upper Hill.

“I mainly handle complaints that concern public law. How the government may be trampling upon the rights of individuals or how the governments is moving away from Article 10 on National Values and Principals of Governance.”

Omtatah says he drafts, files and argue his cases alone in court, although he is not a trained lawyer.

But does he ever fear for his life?

“I was nearly killed at one time. I don’t have 10 teeth in my mouth. I got hammered on the head and had to undergo reconstructive surgery,” Omtata said.

He went on, “Threats are there but I have decided that I don’t use my cases to rent-seek. If I file my case, there is no reverse gear. Some of the people I take to court are very rich but I believe that when I am true to what I am doing, the other side will respect and have faith in what I am doing.”

Omtatah recalls the case against the recruitment of NCIC commissioners, where he says individuals made financial overtures to compromise him to drop the case.

“There was a lot of pressure by people who offered money for me to drop the matter. I told them to take the money to a lawyer,” he said.

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