John Cheruiyot, jailed for a 21 year-old Kanu debt, was born and brought up in a strict Christian family.
He is the son of the late Ezekiel Birech, an African Inland Church bishop and one of President Daniel Moi’s most trusted clergymen.
Mr Moi is known to have trusted Bishop Birech so much that he would pull out his cheque book and sign out millions of shillings to the cleric in full view of the public.
At least this writer saw it at AIC Limuru Church in 1980s when the President opened his briefcase and wrote a cheque to Bishop Birech.
When Mr Cheruiyot joined politics in 1988, during the much discredited Kanu queue (mlolongo) voting system, he was among politicians who came to be known as “Barng’etuny babies”, after the Mr Ezekiel Barng’etuny, the maverick king-maker from Nandi.
Famous for his dramatic chaperoning of Kimalel goat auction on the eve of Christmas Day, Mr Barng’etuny was among the few privileged powerful politicians outside a small and closed cast that starred Mr Shariff Nassir (Coast), Mr Kariuki Chotara (Naivasha) and Mr Moses Substone Mudavadi (Western) — all deceased — who were close to the President.
They made politicians and kicked them out at will.
That year, Mr Barng’etuny kicked out all MPs in the then three Nandi constituencies and brought in Mr Cheruiyot (Aldai), Mr Stanley Metto (Mosop) and Mr Kimaiyo arap Yego who later became Minister for Commerce and Industry.
As fate would have it, Mr Yego fell out with Mr Moi and got sacked. Mr Cheruiyot, who was then an assistant Minister for Education, was elevated to Minister for Co-operatives Development.
It capped the apex of his career to prominence from a simple clergyman’s son, educated at Kakamega High School where he always carried a Bible on Sundays to the School Chapel.
He was in the 1971 Form Six Class that included Mr Philemon Mwaisaka, who years later, became a permanent secretary.
But Mr Cheruiyot’s AIC background was to hound him from politics after serving two terms when he fell out with his godfather Barng’etuny. Mr Barng’etuny stoked a religious tiff to do away with him.
The old man, a Catholic, spread rumours in Nandi that AIC people were receiving favours from the President at the expense of Catholics.
In fact, Mr Cheruiyot, the besmirching went on, was circumcised in hospital, not in keeping with Nandi traditions where “a man must go to the river, face the knife and stay in the forest”.
A little known Paul Sidi, then Chairman of Mumias Sugar Company, was to succeed him as MP.
This marked the beginning of Mr Cheruiyot’s fall from grace from which he never recovered.
Mr Metto, too, soon fell under a hail of rumours. It was said he was backbiting the President. He was replaced by Mr Mark Too as the Nandi Kanu man Number One.
Mr Too went on to be nominated to Parliament and later prevailed upon to give up his seat for Mr Uhuru Kenyatta in a Kanu succession plan ahead of the disastrous 2002 election.
Until this week when a court jailed him for six months for failure to pay businessman Antony Lang’o Sh2.3 million for Kanu paper caps he ordered in 1994, no one would have recognised Mr Cheruiyot as a former minister if he spotted him on Nairobi streets.
Scruffy and humbled, he is a regular commuter on the train to Syokimau where he lives.
Indeed the amount was Sh60,000, but rose to more than Sh2 million after it accrued interest.
For those who know the machinations of Kanu which decided if your company thrived or went under, it is difficult not to trace Mr Cheruiyot’s troubles to the party. In its heyday, it was normal for the ruling party to order anyone to supply goods in the name of party loyalty.
In fact Mr Lang’o had initially sued Mr Cheruiyot alongside former Kanu Chairman Wilson Ndolo Ayah, former Secretary-General Joseph Kamotho and treasurer Japheth Lijoodi.
At the time, any disobedience or dissenting view was regarded as opposing development.
And Kanu did crazy things. For instance, former Molo MP Njenga Mungai was expelled from the party for having refused a goat from Mr Chotara while a Rift Valley provincial engineer Kim Gatende was expelled from Kanu when he was not a member of the party.
Mr Gatende was accused of sabotaging Kanu activities in Nyeri. Former Mbooni MP Joseph Munyao was expelled for not having stood when his name was mentioned by the President at a rally. “I was so frightened that I wished the earth would open and swallow me,” he later told the Okiki Amayo-led Kanu disciplinary committee.
The Cheruiyot court precedent could open up a host of cases with many aggrieved by the monstrosity that was Kanu seeking justice.
And they are legion out there.