Before allegations of blocking investigations into graft at the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) dimmed his rising star, Mr Geoffrey Gitau Mwangi, 48, had become a go-to man for church leaders raising money for various causes.
In Kenya, regular participation in community fundraisers is a sure betrayal of political ambitions and word in Nakuru was that he is a gubernatorial seat hopeful come 2022. The speculation had not escaped his parents, Laban and Felista Mwangi.
“Our son has never told us that he wants to be governor of Nakuru as people say. However, a leader is chosen by God and, if he comes and tells us he wants to run for political office, we shall bless him,” said Laban, his father.
So far the road for Mr Mwangi has been paved with silk, rising from an altar boy in Kamwaura, Molo constituency in Nakuru County, struggling through school as his parents are peasant farmers; getting introduced to Nairobi life in a one-roomed unit in Githurai in 1998 and rising through the ranks to become the NHIF chief executive in 2016.
From here, however, realising his ambitions could prove more torturous.
On Wednesday, the NHIF board sent him and Mr Wilbert Kurgat, the acting director in charge of finance and investment, on compulsory leave after they were charged on Tuesday with attempts to block investigations. They pleaded not guilty.
The changes followed a special board meeting the same day which resolved to replace the duo with Nicodemus Odongo as acting chief executive and Mr Bernard Njenga as acting finance director. Mr Odongo was serving as director of strategy, planning and marketing while Mr Njenga was in charge of management accounting.
“This is to allow continuity of service delivery by the fund and to maintain momentum towards achieving the ‘Big Four’ agenda on Universal Health Coverage,” the notice, signed by the board chairperson, Hannah Muriithi, said.
The board meeting was attended by Mrs Muriithi, Mudzo Nzili, Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko, board members Dr David Kariuki, Yussuf Ibrahim, Gilla Odera, Akello Misori, Dr Peter Cherutich and Mrs Ruth Makalla.
Sources said the NHIF code of conduct allows for suspension of officials once they take a plea on criminal matters, a far cry from other government agencies where officers charged with fraud still hang on.
“This is a criminal matter and once they took a plea, we had no choice but to suspend them,” a source within the board said.
Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi released Mr Mwangi and Mr Kurgat on a Sh1 million bond each and a surety of the same amount or a cash bail of a Sh500,000.
Lawyer Jotham Arwa, who is one of the eight lawyers representing Mr Mwangi and Mr Kurgat, confirmed to the Daily Nation that the pair walked out of Industrial Area Remand Prison yesterday shortly before 6pm after paying the Sh500,000 cash bail.
The suspended NHIF bosses had spent five nights in custody — four in police cells and one at Industrial Area prison.
Mr Andayi directed Mr Mwangi and Mr Kurgat to deposit their passports in court, and not to leave the country without permission from the trial magistrate.
The charges relate to conspiracy to defeat justice and disobedience of a lawful order issued on September 25 by Resident Magistrate Sinkiyan Tobiko.
The order allowed investigators to confiscate payment vouchers and other materials that could help them unravel how members of NHIF had lost about Sh2 billion through online payment system JamboPay.