Saturday, 19 October 2013

Pathologist with a knack for embarrassing government


Children love accompanying their parents on tours. They are often crestfallen when they have to remain behind. Of course they are excited when parents return after days of absence.

So when a couple returned to Nairobi from a six-day road trip to South Africa, their children were happy they were finally home.
As they narrated their experiences, the children’s joy turned to taunts when they realised how exhausted their parents were. They gleefully told their parents that their exhaustion was punishment for leaving them behind.
Such a trip had never crossed the couple’s minds. That was until the husband, Dr Moses Njue, won an award for the best Master degree thesis, Acute Leukaemia In Children at the University of Nairobi in 1995. The award came with a Sh100,000 token ­­— all that was needed to lure out the adventurer lurking somewhere within.
“To say we were exhausted is an understatement. I swore never to embark on such a journey again,” he says.
As the story is unfolding in his office at Kings Medical College in Nyeri, he orders lunch - chapati and tea.
He speaks calmly, laughs easily and is all concentration when on phone. As a consulting forensic pathologist, he is regularly on the move to handle tough cases.
But his life is not all about the morgue. “My best pastime is preaching. Sunday is probably the only day I can say with certainty where I will be,” says the doctor whose favourite drink is warm water.
Deeply religious, his life and work are defined by the desire for honesty.
“I’m driven by the love of God and mankind in everything I do. When you cherish these, there is no room for dishonesty in your work as public officer,” he says.
He worked for the government when everybody danced to carefully crafted official scripts. In cases where people died at the hands of security agents, pathologists conveniently found victims to have died of natural causes.
So when six King’ong’o prison inmates died at the hands of warders on September 4, 2000, a cover-up plan was launched by prison’s authorities aided by the police.
Initially, the police said the six had been shot by prison warders while trying to escape. In the course of the day, the story mutated with prison authorities throwing a second spin: the prisoners had plunged to their death from a 24-foot perimeter wall while attempting to escape.
The media on their part launched their investigations and revealed that the prisoners had been bludgeoned to death. The story was picked up by foreign media and flashed around the world.
What the government had hoped would die quietly was evolving into a monumental public relations disaster. That the dead had been swiftly and secretly buried in a mass grave pointed to an elaborate cover-up.
The pressure to unearth the truth continued to pile up. Finally, the government buckled and agreed to exhume the bodies for post-mortem examinations and investigations.
On September 24, the same year, government and independent pathologists representing family and human rights groups converged at the Nyeri Provincial Hospital where post-mortem examinations were carried out. Dr Njue was the provincial pathologist based in Nyeri.
The State team was led by Chief Government pathologist Kirasi Olumbe. The lead pathologist concluded that the injuries sustained by the prisoners were consistent with a fall. That should have been the end of the story.
But, Dr Njue threw a spanner into the works. “I almost dropped dead in shock. Personally, I had observed broken skulls, gouged out eyes, broken teeth, broken limbs and nails that had been pulled out. I insisted that the deaths had nothing to do with falling. I recorded my findings and made a report.
“The authorities were upset with my disclosure. I was summoned to Nairobi and severely reprimanded. I was warned to never again contradict the findings of my seniors,” he recalls.
With the matter settled, Dr Njue channelled his efforts to his work. If he had hoped that was the last time he was going to get engaged in a public confrontation with his employer, he was wrong.
In September 2002, officers at Endarasha police patrol base arrested a young man, Paul Kimani Wambiru. He was accused of stealing money from a complainant who was never named.
What followed was yet another pack of lies. According to the police, Wambiru was transferred from the patrol base to Mweiga Police Station. After complaining he was unwell, he was taken to the provincial hospital. Later he was reportedly taken to the provincial police headquarters from where he was released without charges.
The story would have ended happily for Wambiru only that a few hours after his release, he dropped dead a few metres from the provincial police headquarters.
Wambiru’s family raised questions about the manner of his death and sought help from the Independent Medico Legal Unit, a local human rights NGO. Dr Njue, the provincial pathologist, was requested to perform what was supposed to be a routine post-mortem examination.
His findings and bold report threw the local police and government into a spin, “The deceased had died of massive blood in the chest and abdominal cavity, a burst bladder, ruptured small intestines, crushed testicles and bruises,” he says.
The police could not prevail upon him to temper his findings. Despite threats and intimidation, arrest and nights in cells, Dr Njue stuck to his guns.
Something had to give. A policeman was arrested and charged with the murder.
“As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the matter. I immersed myself in my work.”
The defence for the policeman sought a second opinion on Njue’s findings. The body of Wambiru was exhumed and this time, the defence hired the Chief Government pathologist to perform the post-mortem in his private capacity. He concluded that Wambiru had died due inflammation of the brain most likely caused by meningitis.
“Once again, I was in for another reprimand. The chief pathologist berated me for coming up with ‘misleading’ conclusions,” he recalls.
The Attorney General rejected the second findings and a third post-mortem was ordered. This time, the post-mortem was performed in the presence of many witnesses including experts in pathology and Dr Njue was happy. If he thought the report had vindicated him, he was wrong. Four days later, he was summoned to Nairobi, accused of all manner ills and suspended. His attempts to resign were rejected in a protracted process of a cat and mouse game with his bosses. Eventually he was dismissed. He sued.
Even as he embarked on suing the government for wrongful dismissal, he had to put his energies in realising his other dreams. Though he could have secured a job anywhere in the world, he chose to slug it out in Kenya.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher. I had hoped I would one day teach medicine at the university. But with all my problems at the time, it occurred to me that I could start my own medical school and that is how Kings Medical College came about.”
Situated in Nyange-Lusoi plains on the Kiganjo-Nanyuki Road, the college opened its doors to the first 50 students in 2003. It offers certificate and diploma courses in medical laboratory and clinical medicine. More than 600 students have graduated from the college to date.
“We are expecting to have the first Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory, Nursing and Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery students next year. We are corroborating with other institutions towards this end,” he says.
As the college grew, Dr Njue was looking for an exit plan from the government.
“When Narc came to power, there was change. There was tolerance and an effort to redress some excess of the previous government. I was summoned in Nairobi and offered my job back as long as I dropped the case against the government.”
At the time, the chief pathologist had left government service for a job overseas. As things stood, Njue was the senior-most pathologist and it naturally followed that if the government was to offer him a job, it was to head the department. For Dr Njue, rising to become chief pathologist was an achievement. The job came with perks which he rejected.
“I refused an official driver and a bodyguard. I like and live a simple life. I enjoy living just like other ordinary Kenyans.”
He retired from his job in 2010 at the age of 50 to concentrate on running his college and doing private consultancy. Other high profile cases he has been involved in include those of the late Senator Mutula Kilonzo and Olympic Marathon champion Samuel Kamau Wanjiru. (READ: Mutula lungs ‘had blood’ and Wanjiru kin demand report of death probe)
The pathologist says he chose to be different and stick to the truth because he is a firm believer in justice and fairness.
“In criminal cases, pathology is a key component for justice to be delivered. We have people walking around free yet they should be in jail. Similarly there are people in prison who should be free because a pathologist somewhere failed in his duty as an advocate for justice,” he says.
The father of three lists preaching in church on Sunday’s among his hobbies.
Born in Embu, Njue studied medicine at the University of Nairobi. He holds a Master’s of Medicine in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology from the same institution.
His other qualifications include Diploma in Cancer Prevention, USA and Diploma in Forensic Pathology, Stellenbosch, South Africa among others.
He is currently putting final touches to his memoirs, Reflections Of A Forensic Pathologist.

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