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Forgiveness and tears

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Originally published in the Standard on Sunday

The year was 2010. Kenya was charged. Its inhabitants were faced by a decision that would alter the course of an entire nation. They had to vote for a new constitution that promised to deliver them to Canaan.

And as both sides of the campaign dug in, a section of respected clergy of the country lent their voice to this greatly important debate by holding one last mammoth prayer service at the historical Uhuru Park grounds.

All the while hoping that their calls to the almighty would be answered and the people would unanimously reject the proposed set of laws. But before they prayed, one last entry into the grounds stole all the thunder from the heartfelt prayers from the interdenominational gathering of religious men.

“You see us? You see us? We too have money…we are driving in cars that even ministers cannot afford!”

A sleek, seemingly spanking new Range Rover was making its way through the crowds that had gathered just below Uhuru Park’s main dais. The animated man had upped the ante. He wasn’t just talking about his big car. He was now jumping up and down the hood.

A closer look revealed the individual was a revered man of god whose church, located within the Nairobi city precincts, is home to thousands of faithfuls, who on a weekly basis pay allegiance to his teachings by turning up for the man’s services.

The man was Apostle James Maina Ng’ang’a of Neno Evangelism Centre. Eyes hid behind his trademark photo chromatic, prescription glasses, widely smiling as the momentum of his antics fed off the crowd’s energy culminating into a frenzy.

On this day, granted, apostle Ng’ang’a broke no law, but under that veneer of a successful, prayerful man busking in the abundance his maker has provided, lies a complex, controversial individual most recently judged by the court of public opinion to be guilty of murder. And the alleged weapon of choice? The same as that which he used to announce his arrival at Uhuru Park five years ago.

But Apostle Ng’ang’a’s story did not start five years ago. It goes back further than this. Back to 1989, where the Standard on Sunday encountered the first of a series of court mentions of the man in the annuls of Kenya’s justice system.

“James Maina Ng’ang’a had been brought from Nakuru remand cells and was facing a theft charge. At Molo Police Station his brother gave him a letter telling him that it was Mwai who had given it to him. Mwai was also in police cells. His brother told him to take the letter to Mbugua to give it to mother Wamwea. He gave the letter to Mbugua. He did not know Mwai nor had his brother told him who Mwai was. The prosecution did not call James Maina Ng’ang’a to give evidence, nor was any explanation offered for its failure to do so. Apart from the break in the chain of evidence in the attempt to relate the letter to the appellants…” reads an excerpt from the Kenya Law, the judiciary’s online case archive.

The then ongoing case was an appeal in a three year old robbery conviction in which the apostle’s brother had been sentenced to a jail term. The apostle, who had been brought as a defense witness, never showed up to give his side of the story and was never compelled by the courts to do so. The appeal was rejected by judges Cockar, Tunoi and Gachuhi.

Pastor Ng’ang’a has, on several occasions given his testimony as a jailbird to his congregation. Details of arrest and nature of crimes committed however remain scanty, and over the years he would be found, severally, either on the wrong side of the law or in the grey areas bordering right and wrong.

Those with intimate knowledge of the pastor’s different sides have said he is often found on the wrong side, completely unaware of the direction his moral compass is pointing to.

“He was a drunkard and very abusive towards me, to the extent of insulting my parents. I also later learnt that he was adulterous, sleeping with staff and even bringing married women to our matrimonial bed,” Ng’ang’a’s estranged wife Loise Murugi Maina claims in an array of accusations contained in the couple’s divorce papers.

She took issue with the pastor’s alleged behavior of texting and calling other women while in the house, which she claims caused her emotional pain. In addition, she alleges that whenever she confronted Ng’ang’a with her concerns, he would become very hostile and occasionally threaten her. She claims that the pastor would later try to calm her by apologising and blaming his behaviour and attitude on alcohol and the devil.

“We would then pray together and I trusted that things would change,” Murugi adds.

The prayers never worked and it seems the apostle, famed for performing miracles and casting out devils, could do nothing to salvage a marriage tethering on the precipice of a public divorce after and even more publicized wedding.

The couple married in 2012 at the prestigious Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club at an invite only weeding which was later beamed on national. Among the invited guests were Cord co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka.

The kisses he lavishly planted on his young wife’s cheeks and lips faded. And where love once blossomed, bile now boiled.

“He is an abusive man, a drunkard and a man who lacks good moral grounding as he has no respect for any one, not even my own mother. He mistreats his children and even brings women to his house. This has resulted in his children being stressed and adopting a ‘don’t-care’ attitude that I would not wish for my child,” wrote Murugi in her suit.

Psychiatrists say individuals who had a tumultuous childhood and formative years may tend to exhibit arrogance and little respect for authority.

Pastor Ng’ang’a has on several occasions spoken about his hard past that included stints in jail and a struggle to eke out a living as a hawker in the city streets.

“Such kind of personalities never deal with issues from their past. They shot to fame through no one’s assistance so they only pledge allegiance to themselves. They believe they are self-made. In order to prevent slipping back into a life of want and need they hoard power and crave absolute control,” psychiatrist Loice Okello told the Standard on Sunday.

According to the psychologist, most of such individuals have a criminal conscience with no concept of shame.

Might he just be misunderstood?

“The trouble is everyone commenting about this issue has ulterior motives. The focus is on him because he is an apostle with a certain past. Each one of us has our own weaknesses,” Pastor Mike Brawan from Nakuru said.

Does he know Ng’ang’a to be a good man?

“I know him as he knows me…a human being,” Brawan said. Brawan was a groomsman in the apostle’s wedding.

Sometimes, an outsider sees the absurdity of what society passes as normal.

In 2005, Jason Beaubien, a Nairobi based reporter for the National Public Radio, a privately and publicly funded non-profit media organisation walked into Neno Evangelism Centre to get a piece of the famed apostle’s wisdom. These were his first impressions:

“Much of the focus of Pastor Ng’ang’a’s service is on healing, on driving out demons. The other main topic is economic prosperity. Pastor Ng’ang’a recounts his own personal tale of being a street child, spending years in prison, being saved and proselytizing on a bicycle. He went from being an impoverished, wicked criminal, he says, to a successful preacher. He boasts that the new car he’s buying costs Sh20million, or roughly $300,000, and he tells the congregation that he’s one of the richest pastors in Kenya.”

Beaubien also notes the difference between the life the apostle lives and the realities confronting his congregation.

“On a continent where hundreds of millions of people endure the grinding burden of poverty every day, there’s little desire here to hear about the righteousness of the poor. Millions of Kenyans survive on less than $2 a day and in the capital Nairobi, unemployment is extremely high. In a service that jumps back and forth between English and Swahili, Ng’ang’a tells the homeless that it’s time for them to have houses. He tells the jobless that they’ll soon have work. He promises the congregation that what their enemies have stolen from them, God will give back,” Beaubien notes.

Somewhere in a Limuru village a family has had a daughter taken away from them. A husband, bruised and in pain, both physical and emotional has had a wife erased from his side. A daughter will never see her beloved mother again. To quote the apostle’s sermon, ‘an enemy stole from them.’ Will God give them back the life they lost?

On the same stretch or road, it is alleged that the same pastor was involved in a similar accident. Resulting in the loss of another life.

But in a country that loses almost 3,000 lives to road accidents annually, maybe the perpetrator thought to himself:

“What is one more life?”

But a national rage that has made the one life matter, finally blowing away a carefully cultivated smokescreen perhaps intended to mask not only the weaknesses of a shepherd who does not think leading by example counts, but also hide the lengths that a corrupt police force can go to as long as their palms have been greased.

For now, the jailbird from 1989, the man who in 1992 started an evangelical movement, the man who in his own words confessed in 2005 to being among one of the richest evangelical pastors of all time, the man who in 2010 stole the thunder from a gathering of religious men, the man who in 2012 got married in a much publicized wedding that a few years later ended in an equally publicized divorce, the man who in 2015 stands accused of vehicular manslaughter will today preach to a fully packed audience as if none of the baggage that seems to accompany him wherever he goes really matters.

Over the past few days, Ng’ang’a, through his lawyers, has denied ever being part of any accident on July 26t, the day of the accident. Multiple witnesses who have spoken to the media have placed the 63-year-old at the scene.

After going to social media and offering what is now a disputed chain of events surrounding the accident, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett later issued a statement ordering a fresh probe into the accident.

“In response to the mass of information provided by members of the public to the media that suggested the information given by the traffic police officers at Tigoni may not be entirely correct, I dispatched a team to the scene to verify the same,” Boinnet said in a statement.

The report has been handed back to the IG and he studies it, today, it will be business as usual at the pastor’s church in Nairobi, and several other satellites around the country.

The 1989 jail term seems a distant, perhaps more peaceful past for the man who has dominated the news for close to two weeks now.

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