Road Safety Association of Kenya chairman, David Njoroge Kiarie, has revealed that former Cabinet Minister for Transport, the late John Njoroge Michuki, warned him against flouting traffic rules because he (Kiarie) thought himself to be a ‘big fish’ in the public transport sector in Nairobi.
Kiarie, who owns a fleet of matatus plying Ngong – Nairobi CBD route, told eDaily that he opposed Michuki (the then Cabinet Minister for Transport) when he introduced strict rules in 2004 to stop chaos in public transport and effectively reduce road carnage.
“I remember when Michuki introduced drastic road safety measures, we (matatu owners) opposed him vehemently. He had realised, I in particular, was notorious for fighting him – both in public and during social discussions,” narrated Kiarie.
“One day, he called me to his office and sat me down. He told me: ‘In, however, much you are making money, make sure that no life is lost because of your greed. Young man, you were born when you did not know about law, but I will tell you: there is law that governs how matatus operate on our roads. If you cannot do this (matatu) business, you can sell those vehicles and try your hand at other trade ventures because so long as I am alive, I won’t allow your speeding matatus to kill people on our roads. You won’t like it!’”
Though as unspecified as the action was, it sent shivers down the spine of Mr Kiarie who knew Michuki to be a man who never minced his words.
“During Michuki’s tenure as Transport Minister, everybody supported him – and that is how he succeeded. He meant what he said. He did not care about the rich. His advice made me change my mind – from opposing the introduction of speed governors in the public transport to embracing the innovation.”
“In 2012, we (matatu owners) collectively wrote a book dubbed Death Traps on Our Roads, which we used to push the government to have a legal body that would ensure road safety is maintained on our roads. That is how National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) was formed,” Mr Kiarie said.
Now a vocal champion of safe driving, Mr Kiarie advises today’s crop of motorists to exercise patience when undergoing driving lessons.
“You might have money and you want to buy a car and go on the road. But let me tell you, you are buying your coffin if you don’t follow the right procedures. Legal procedures must be followed from how you acquire your driving license. You must attend proper driving schools. It is wrong when you find someone went to a good training school but he gets killed by someone who did not go to a proper driving school. It breaks my heart,” said Mr Kiarie.
In February 2004, Michuki, introduced tough rules which brought sanity on Kenyan roads.
The measures dubbed Michuki rules forced all commercial vehicle owners to install speed governors set at 80 kilometres per hour. On city roads, the speed limit was enforced at 50 kilometres per hour.
Carrying of standing passengers in city buses was banned. Meanwhile, the passenger capacity of matatus was reduced from 18 passengers to 13. In addition, crews of buses and matatus had to be vetted by police and receive a Certificate of Good Conduct before getting employment. Ex-convicts and school dropouts were immediately locked out of public transport business.
Michuki made it mandatory for bus and matatu crews to be in uniform and to have their pictures posted in the vehicle. So tough were the rules that matatu conductors could be jailed for rudeness.