Citizen Television senior political reporter Francis Gachuri says he has forgiven a group of disorderly youth, who attacked him at the Wiper Party headquarters in Lavington, Nairobi on Tuesday, October 31.
Mr Gachuri says despite pressure being mounted on him by quotas to file a report with the police, he won’t pursue that route of seeking justice.
“I have unconditionally forgiven those young people,” he said during an exclusive interview with eDaily.
Mr Gachuri, in the exhaustive interview, chronologically recounted an account of events that transpired at the Wiper headquarters.
“TUNATAKA MUONDOKE HAPA”
“We had gone to the Wiper headquarters at about 9:40am for the National Super Alliance (Nasa) Parliamentary group meeting, the same day that Nasa leader Raila Odinga was expected to make a grand announcement on the way forward for his supporters after the October 26 presidential poll.
“I did live links on Citizen Extra at 10:30am, 11:30am and 12:15pm and eventually at 1 O’clock. All along, the Nasa MPs and supporters were there. They had not asked me anything. Actually, I engaged quite a number of MPs who were attending the meeting.
“At 1pm, my colleague from Inooro TV, Waweru Nyambura, did his live links. Some youth, who had surrounded him at the time, started asking: ‘Wako wapi watu wa Citizen?’
“Upon looking around, they, of course, saw me. Some four guys came to me, and told me: ‘Wewe si ni wa Citizen TV? Tunataka muondoke hapa.’
“When I inquired why they were making such an order, they said: ‘Wacha kubishana na sisi, tunataka muondoke.’
“I told them: ‘We are not here for any other purpose, but to work like we do every other day. So, you cannot tell me to leave without a reason; and you are not the people who invited us for this function.’
“In the course of that exchange, the number of aggressors increased – they were now about ten to 20 of them. Some started pushing me around. Of course, I stood my ground. I could face off three people, and not the ten or 20. My instincts told me that the scuffle was going to become messy since more people were surging toward me.
“There was a section of them who were pleading with the aggressors to leave me do my work, while others were insisting that the Citizen TV crew had to leave. Those, who were calling for our exit from the meeting, were more in number.
“A video clip of the incident, which was aired at 1pm on K24 last Tuesday, was just a snippet of what had happened. Actually, I had already engaged those guys for 10 or so minutes before the K24 live link went up. That K24 video captured me running away from those guys. It was my last rescue option. A lot had happened prior to that.
“I got into a tent where the Nasa MPs were meeting, and went to the front and stood there. Unfortunately, some MPs were even shouting in support of the young men who wanted to eject us from the venue. It is discouraging to see lawmakers supporting hooliganism.
“It is (Homa Bay Woman Representative) Gladys Wanga, who told other MPs to accord me respect. Quite a number of MPs were, thereafter, convinced to let me sit with them in the tent.
“I sat there for 25 minutes, when Nasa leader, Raila Odinga, and his co-principal Musalia Mudavadi drove in and found me seated in the tent. At that time, the attention of my aggressors shifted to Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi.
“My instincts warned me that I could be attacked – again – the moment Mr Odinga leaves the venue after addressing the MPs. I, thus, consulted one of Mr Odinga’s bodyguards called Ogeta, who is a great gentleman. I informed him of what had happened to me. He said: ‘Stay here, I will find a way of dealing with this.’
“He and Kalonzo Musyoka’s personal assistant Roy Katisya arranged for my exit. They guided me to Mr Musyoka’s office, where I stayed until Mr Odinga’s address to MPs ended.
“At that time, my colleagues in the media had firmly stated they won’t cover that function. They also said they’d only leave the venue after ensuring I was safe. Philip Etale and a few other guys helped me leave Mr Musyoka’s office.
“What I found interesting was that the guys, who wanted to attack me, were still following us. It seems they had been instructed by some MPs to harass us.”
REASON FOR ATTACK
“They claimed Citizen TV had a parallel tallying centre which, according to them, validated the IEBC’s results collated from the constituencies during the October 26 poll. They also claimed that we were biased against them, which has never been the case.
“There are those who made tribal remarks against me. That was very unfortunate.”
WHERE DID THE ATTACKERS COME FROM?
“Those guys were there from the beginning of the function. We found them there at 9:40am when we arrived. I can pick out quite a number of them. If you happen to have covered Nasa functions, you’d spot the regular faces. It took me by surprise why they attacked me. I have covered a lot of ODM, Wiper and Nasa functions. I have never had a problem with them, I have never had a problem with honourable Odinga; he has never raised any complaint about my coverage of his functions. Unknown to these guys, I have more friends in the Nasa camp than any other political party. Though, they attacked me based on a perception and not based on what I do.”
“These people are youth-wingers of a political party. Some – in different instances –, masquerade as security officers, others ni wale huwa wanajifanya wanafungulia waheshimiwa njia. They hang around party officials, MPs; probably for cash handouts.”
“My family was extremely shaken when they learnt about the incident, which had been beamed on live TV. Word had spread very quickly. My phone was constantly ringing. I was more worried about three sets of people: my wife, my children and my mother.
“When that was happening, my wife was at work, and my children were at home, given schools have closed. Obviously, my mum was at home. She tried calling me on phone, but she could not get to me because many people were calling simultaneously. She was worried, my wife too was.
“When I got somewhere safe, I called my wife and my mother. The conversations were very brief. I told my wife: ‘I am fine. Do not listen to anything else, I am fine. If anybody calls and informs you otherwise, dismiss what he or she would have told you because I am okay. When they inquire, tell them I am fine.’
“I, thereafter, called my mother. She told me that the incident had gotten her extremely worried, and that she was praying for me. I assured her that I was fine. I did not get an opportunity to call my children because I did not know how to explain to them about what had transpired. I asked my wife to assure them that I was okay.
“Another person that I was worried about, was my 75-year-old grandmother, Jane Wangari Gachuri. She is very fond of me, and I knew she would easily get that information. She has (high blood) pressure issues. So, I was very worried about her.
“When I talked to my mum, I asked her to tell cucu (grandmother) that I was okay.
“Many of my friends called, texted me. To date, I am still receiving phone calls, SMS’s and WhatsApp messages. I am yet to respond to thousands of them.”
WHAT DOES THE ATTACK MEAN TO THE JOURNALISM PROFESSION?
“When a journalist is attacked, his or her independence, which is needed to effectively practice journalism, may get compromised. A physical attack on any human being is wrong, especially when it is unjustifiable. Unfortunately media houses and journalists are perceived variously. There are those who will think you are doing a good job, there are those who will think you are not good at your work. There are those who will like you, there are those who will not like you. It is normal, as long as humanity is concerned.
“It is important to let journalists do their work. If you have a problem with a specific media house, there are avenues and institutions to channel those dissatisfactions, that is why institutions such as the Media Council of Kenya exist.
“People should know that individual journalists do not control editorial policies of media houses. For example, the Citizen TV tallying centre that they claimed was the reason for my attack, I am not the one who started it up despite it being a good idea. Nonetheless, those are the dynamics and challenges of this profession.”
NTV JOURNALIST ALSO ATTACKED IN SAME EVENT
“Jane Gatwiri is a very good lady, a very good cameraperson. The main reason for her attack was because she recorded on camera what was transpiring when I was being roughed up. My aggressors, who did not want to be captured on camera, thus, set upon her with slaps. As a result of the video clip that she took, one can easily identify all the goons who roughed me up.
“It was very unfortunate. Just how do fully grown men beat up a woman? I could face off two or three men, but for Jane, with a camera in her hand, she could not even hurt a fly; she was very helpless. That was sad, really sad. Shame on those men! I am disappointed that quite a number of women MPs who attended that function, have not condemned the attack on Jane, even days after it occurred. I am tempted to believe that their advocacy for women rights is selective and fake.”
RAILA ODINGA’S APOLOGY
Nasa leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday apologised to Mr Gachuri over the Wiper headquarters incident. Mr Odinga termed the incident “unfortunate”, pointing out that Mr Gachuri’s aggressors were “completely uninvited” to the event.
“I have accepted Mr Odinga’s apology. I felt it was very states-manly and modest of him to issue an apology for mistakes he did not commit as a person, but by those who support his bid. Mr Mudavadi also issued his apology to me. I fully appreciate.
“Moving forward, to prevent such occurrences from re-happening, Nasa, Jubilee and all other political parties should ensure they secure journalists who cover them and their functions. Journalists should be protected against goons masquerading as party loyalists. Political parties have decent supporters, but there are a few who, by their incautious actions, spoil the reputation of an entire political outfit. A journalist should not go to cover a function, and end up becoming the newsmaker. I have never intended to make news; it is not about me. It is unfortunate that the day I was attacked, I became a news item.
“I FORGIVE MY AGGRESSORS”
“I hold no grudge against those who roughed me up at Wiper headquarters. I have unconditionally forgiven those young people. Most of them are my age mates, or younger than me. They are my peers, my younger brothers and a few of them are older than me. Most of them were, probably, misled. It was not their mistake. They were just victims of circumstances. I pray that our society – one day – gets to a point when such young men are meaningfully engaged, instead of hanging around party offices to be used by a few people to cause violence.
“I have been under a lot of pressure to go file a report so that those young people can be arrested. But, I am very reluctant to do that. One: I believe in justice, but not necessarily vindictive justice. Those young guys, if you ask me, I don’t think they attacked me – the person.
“Many of them are hanging around MPs for survival. Look at it this way: it is very easy to identify those guys, it is easy to have them arrested and taken to court. If they are arraigned and charged with assault, and some, who tried robbing me of my possessions, are charged with robbery with violence, will they be able to raise a bond of Ksh1 million or Ksh500, 000? Why would I facilitate the process of them being jailed, then a few years later, they return to the society with anger bottled in them? I think there are better ways of dealing with such kind of situations. I was not scathed, nothing was taken away from me; I don’t see a need of having them arrested. Nasa should take action against such people.
“I WILL CONTINUE COVERING NASA FUNCTIONS”
“Some people asked me if I will continue covering Nasa functions. Yes, I will. In fact, at the earliest opportunity, I will. Even the next available function, I will be there.”