No one claiming to be conversant with Kenya’s political history will deny that, Jeremiah Joseph Mwaniki Nyagah was once the most powerful Embu politician.
Whether you ask my nonagenarian paternal grandfather – a Mau Mau war veteran who was Nyagah’s constituent when he made his debut in parliament in 1958 – or my quadragenarian maternal uncle – who was approaching teenage as Nyagah retired from active politics at the height of multiparty democracy frenzy in 1992 – they will tell you Nyagah was by any standard a political heavyweight in post independence Kenya.
I have to admit this from the onset or else this article will make no sense.
For more than three decades, Nyagah bestrode the region that is today’s Embu, Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Murang’a counties like the proverbial colossus.
A MAN OF MANY FIRSTS
Born in Embu as the British declared Kenya their colony in 1920, Nyaga started his primary education in Kirinyaga before being transferred to Nyeri. Coincidentally, he would later represent the three counties in the LegCo.
Notably, Nyagah was a man of many firsts.
He was one of the first Africans to sit the Cambridge School Certificate exam in Kenya, among the first 500 students of Alliance High School, one of the first Kenyans to join the prestigious Makerere University and the first teacher of Kangaru School in Embu with only 30 students.
But the story of Jeremiah Nyagah, as we know him today, actually began within the four-wall confines of a classroom; which he would later outgrow.
As Eliud Mathu made history by being the first African to be appointed to the LegCo in 1944, Nyaga was busy kick-starting his 14 year long teaching career; which he tactfully combined with moderate politics.
Nyaga was to later leave teaching for politics where he lasted 30 years, leaving behind a legacy – and consequently a dynasty – any budding politician would envy.
To date, Nyaga goes down the annals of history as the longest serving Cabinet Minister who held various full ministerial positions between 1966 and 1992.
Politics aside, Nyagah was a staunch Christian and a three decade Chief Commissioner of the Kenya Scouts Association.
And the list of his accomplishments goes on and on.
By the time he called it a day, Nyagah commanded unrivaled respect as a statesman; both from friends and foe.
BROWN UGALI FROM WHITE UNGA
Sadly, as Kenya celebrated 54 years of self governance – whose attainment Nyagah played a critical role – this week, the man’s legacy is on its deathbed; at least if the story of his three sons – the ultimate custodians of his dynasty – is anything to go by.
The senior Nyagah appears to have carried to the grave all his wit, talent and charisma, the day he breathed his last in 2008.
A single look at what the three Nyagah sons – Joe, Nahashon and Norman – are turning out to be confirms that, the saying ‘like father like son’ is a totally alien concept to a family that was once synonymous with Embu politics.
My grandfather once told me that ‘ngima yumaga mutu’ (Ugali resembles the unga that made it) but in this particular case, white unga seems to have produced brown ugali!
Otherwise, how else would you explain the following scenario:
Jeremiah’s scion Joe Nyagah, who ought to be the closest replica of his father – if the Mt Kenya saying ‘kihii kiria gikuru na ithe no undu umwe’ (the first born son is no different from the father) still holds any waters – is busy writing his own political obituary.
Once an MP and a Cabinet Minister in the Kibaki & Raila led coalition government, Joe is now a perfect case study of how short a political career built on an inherited legacy can last; and he is just about to land in the political dustbin even faster courtesy of his latest ill advised move to contest for the presidency in this year’s election.
Instead of raising his political stature, Joe’s candidature for the country’s top job has dwindled his political fortunes even further, effectively lowering him to the level of perpetual political jokers and career aspirants like Nickson Kukubo.
As a matter of fact, the day he declared he is vying for president a few weeks ago, is the day even the little respect Kenyans had for him disappeared.
Otherwise, how would any sane human being have even the slightest regard for a university graduate who decides to go back to class 8 and sit for KCPE afresh?
Then comes Nahashon, the son who once appeared promising during his days as Central Bank governor before the rain started beating him.
Today, you will only hear Nahashon’s name mentioned when this or that fraud story is involved. Whether this happens by default or by design by his enemies, I can’t tell.
Kenyans will remember him for the Euro Bank Scandal of February 2003, which crashed and its depositors lost KSh1.4 billion. The National Social Security Fund lost Sh256 million; the Kenyatta National Hospital Sh421 million; and the National Hospital Insurance Fund Sh479 million.
The latest I heard of Nahashon is when the multibillion Tatu City scam – in which he is adversely mentioned -came to the limelight.
For record purposes, just key in the words ‘Nahashon Nyagah’ on Prof Google and let the first three results tell the rest.
The story of the last Nyagah son, Norman is one which would be best left to historians to chronicle.
Norman who once represented Gachoka Constituency and later migrated to Nairobi’s Kamukunji – when the heat in Embu turned out to be too much to withstand – came, entertained us with his political theatrics and then suddenly disappeared. Just like that. No notice.
SHELL OF FORMER SELF
In a nutshell, barely ten years after the demise of the legendary Jeremiah, ask anyone from Embu what they think about the Nyagahs and they will confidently tell you, the Nyagah dynasty – which once controlled the politics of the county and it’s immediate neighbours- is now a shell of former self.
The senior Nyaga must now be turning in his grave everytime he looks at what remains of the legacy that took him years of hardwork and resilience to build.
But who knows. Maybe, just like the mythological phoenix, the Nyagahs may one day arise anew from the ashes.
DISCLAIMER: I hold no personal vendetta whatsoever against the Nyagah family.