John Ngirachu, Parliamentary Editor with the Daily Nation, was arrested on November 10, 2015 under the orders of Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery. His fault? He wrote an article on Wednesday November 4, 2015 in the Daily Nation titled Auditor-General questions Sh3.8bn expenses at Interior ministry. In the article, Mr. Ngirachu reported that the Auditor General questioned a one day payment amounting to Kshs 3.8 billion “related to the purchase of arms, insurance for the police, vehicles and repair of helicopters.” The article got Mr. Ngirachu arrested by the police so that he could record a statement and also reveal the sources of information he used to pen down the article. The part of the article that got Nkaissery mad reads:
The money in question was paid to local and foreign firms and mostly through local banks such as Kenya Commercial and National Bank of Kenya.
The firms include include: Agusta Westlands (Sh683 million), ISPRA/ISRAEL Product Research Co. (Sh271.9 million), Ecta (Sh31.2 million), Toyota Kenya Ltd (Sh56.1 million), D.T. Dobie (Sh59.4 million), Israel Weapon Industries (Sh68.2 million and Sh26.7 million), Lom Praha Trade (Sh370.4 million), Jino Motors Co. Ltd (Sh86.6 million), Polytechnologies Inc. (Sh38.9 million and Sh164.1 million), Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems (Sh17.2 million), China North Industries Corporation (Sh101.4 million), Pioneer Assurance (Sh1.6 billion) and Steyr Mannlicher (Deftech Ltd) (Sh245.6 million).
The expenses were incurred in the 2014/2015 financial year and the Auditor-General appealed to the Principal secretary in the ministry to intervene and have the necessary documents provided for audit.
Curiously, all the payments were made on June 30, 2015.
The arrest of Mr. Ngirachu got the attention of Kenyans and in no time #FreeNgirachu was a trending topic on Twitter. Many Kenyans condemned the arrest, stating that the Jubilee government was taking Kenya back to the days of single party politics where freedom of media and freedom to information was curtailed. Many Kenyans called on the immediate release of John Ngirachu as his arrest was a violation of his rights as journalist.
But not every Kenyan was of the opinion that John Ngirachu didn’t deserve to be arrested. There are a few who supported the hashtag #FreeNgirachu but went ahead to condemn recklessness journalism; to insinuate that John Ngirachu didn’t do proper research before putting up his article.
In an Interview by NTV shortly after his release, Mr. Ngirachu explained that his source of information were the public proceedings conducted by the Public Accounts Committee of the National assembly in which Joseph Nkaissery was called to explain the payments in question. His other sources of information were public documents signed by Auditors and the office of the Auditor General including those signed by S. K. Chibole.
Then there are those Kenyans who condemned John Ngirachu for recklessness stating that his article compromised national security. But is it true that the article compromised our national security?
Having read the article it is now obvious that hundreds to thousands of Kenyans rush to comment on social media before acquiring basic information that should help them make informed opinions on a topic. Specifically I have issues with those Kenyans calling for the lock up of John Ngirachu on allegations that he compromised national security by writing an article touching on expenditures incurred by the ministry of Interior Security.
Other than providing specific amounts paid to particular companies, information that was obtained from public sources and that, according to my own judgement, does not in any way compromise national security, there is no part of Ngirachu’s article that reveal any specific security plans, level of preparedness, intelligence information, or defence strategy that would compromise our security as a country. If there were any security compromises, the security apparatus or even the President himself could have acted in time to have the article deleted, but the article has been and is still up for the public to read.
The arrest of Ngirachu was also not based on allegations that he compromised national security, or that the information he published were erroneous, but the he needed to reveal the sources of the information he relied on to publish the article, sources that were obviously public.
What is obvious to me is that the arrest of John was uncalled for and must be condemned by any person who cares about freedom of the media and freedom to information. This is more so given the outrageous statement by Nkaissery to the effect that starting a few hours ago, any Kenyan with stories touching on corruption or alleged corruption must record a statement with the police, and that Kenyans must desist from alleging that the government is corrupt.
In the famous TV series 24, in Season 8, the wife to the assassinated president of Islamic Republic asked Madam President of the United States, “If the allegations are false, why arrest her? Unless they are not false allegations?” False allegations, especially political ones, are harmless unless the recipients of the allegations are unable to produce the facts to counteract the allegations. This I say since there are those dismissing the current corruption allegations facing Jubilee Government as propaganda by the opposition yet the government seem to be unable to defend itself, and public opinion keep on shifting to something currently being termed a third force.
If there is no corruption in the government, what the government needs to do is present indisputable facts to convincingly counteract the facts that have been presented to the public that allege massive corruption. If there is any form or level of corruption, then what the government needs to do and do immediately is to fire and throw in jail all government officers that have been engaged in corruption. Arresting journalists who publish allegations or facts on corruption will not help the government neither will it help Kenya.
We stand to defend media freedom and our right to information.