The battle to have the body of a former employee of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) exhumed for reburial has taken a new twist following allegations of threats to lawyers handling the matter on behalf of the family.
Law Society of Kenya (LSK) President Nelson Havi has accused the health departments in Siaya and Kisumu counties of threatening the advocates in in order to scuttle the hearing.
The hearing of the suit filed at the High Court in Siaya on Wednesday last week by the son and sister of the late James Oyugi Onyango on behalf of the family is set to start on Thursday this week.
Justice Roseline Aburili, while fixing the hearing date, had on Friday directed the two petitioners to amend the petition to include the Siaya County Health executive as the fourth respondent since public health is a devolved function.
But on Sunday, Mr Havi took to Twitter alleging that health officials from Kisumu and Siaya were reportedly threatening advocates handling the matter with forced quarantine.
“James Oyugi’s family sued the Ministry of Health protesting his undignified, midnight, shallow grave burial. MoH officers in Kisumu and Siaya have resorted to threatening advocates for the family and LSK with forced quarantine to defeat the hearing scheduled for April 24. This is untenable,” read Mr Havi’s tweet.
But in a quick rejoinder, Siaya County Police Commander Francis Kooli said that everyone who had close contact with the family of Mr Onyango, who succumbed to Covid-19 on April 10, will be traced and put on quarantine in line with the protocols issued by the Ministry of Health.
The county police boss, who confirmed to the Nation that the advocates are being sought by the police, noted that the decision to look for them had nothing to do with the case filed by the Mr Onyango’s family.
He also confirmed that the victim’s son identified as Brian Oyugi had also been traced and placed on quarantine. He is listed as the second petitioner with his aunt identified as Joan Ajuan’g being the first petitioner in the suit.
“We are simply applying the law. The son is amongst the people believed to have had close contact with the deceased. Already, 15 immediate family members of the victim are on quarantine and we had been looking for him even before he went to court,” Said Mr Kooli.
Mr Kooli said that they also want to get the lawyers to clarify if they interacted with the immediate members of the family of the late former KPA employee.
By Thursday, 76 people who are said to have made contact with Mr Onyango had been traced by the county Covid-19 team and placed in forced quarantine in Siaya and Ugenya.
The family sued Simur-kondiek Chief Michael Owuor Osodo, who is listed as the first respondent, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and the Attorney-General as the second and third respondents respectively.
They want the ministry to be ordered to exhume the body and conduct a decent burial.
They also want a post-mortem done to ascertain the real cause of death.
The family will be allowed to nominate 15 immediate or extended family members to be present during the reburial and want the Ministry of Health to foot the bill.
The family is represented by Mr Edward Ambala while LSK, which was enjoined in the suit as an interested party, is represented by Kisumu-based advocate SM Onyango.
The burial of Mr Onyango raised uproar from across the country after a video of the event went viral. In the video, two men ferrying the remains in a white double cabin pick up were seen tossing the body which was wrapped in body bags into a shallow grave without a coffin.