Daniel Nicodemus: Player by day, criminal by night

Daniel Nicodemus led a double life.On one hand ,he was the most brilliant utility player in Kenya during the 1960s and 1970s.He could play in virtually all positions,save for goalkeeper.But he was also something else-a gangster.For a a series of robbers,he did time in jail.His tragic end came by a way of a volley of bullets from Kenya’s most dreaded crime buster of that time,Patrick Shaw.

Long before professional image consultants came into vogue, Daniel Nicodemus had mastered the art. He was always who he wanted you to believe that he was. To Haq Malik, the Kenya national football team manager at independence, the athleticism, strength and clear-eyed sense of purpose in this young man seemed to personify the bright character of the newly born country. He fielded him in the independence tournament against Scotland, which Kenya won 3-2. Nicodemus established his place in the team – or so Malik believed.

To Kenyan football fans, he was the peerless utility player, at hand to play with competence in any position. He was the big boy who never tired. To his team mates, he was everybody’s player, always friendly and helpful. He trained hard and made playing with him easy. To his friends, he was loyal and reliable, if somewhat distant and mysterious. To his nieces and nephews he was the doting uncle who never forgot to bring a good gift every once in a while.

And to the good-natured Mr Wanjii, a career taxi-driver, he was the affable and regular client who paid well. Almost all his team mates came to know Wanjii because Nicodemus would sometimes offer them a ride with him. They sang his praises in wonderment because for most, it was not always easy to cough up the bus fare to commute with the old Kenya Bus Services. Some were permanently broke. Daniel Nicodemus was also Salome’s devoted son who helped in running her roast meat kiosk at Kariakor Market, and brought with him hordes of his team mates to patronise the place. She treated them as she would her child and they loved their friend’s hard-working, caring mother.

He dressed well, especially in the latter years of his football career. He had a liking for leather jackets which didn’t come cheap. In contrast, many of his friends often took their trousers to the market tailors for mending. And none of his size 12 shoes was ever stitched or patched up.

Playing for Luo Union FC and the national team did not pay anything that could make a player’s grooming stand out; it only brought one fame. So Nicodemus’ money had to come from somewhere. But for a long time, that somewhere was anybody’s guess. Such was his skill in managing his public persona.

After his selection to the national team in 1963, and following his superb performances, many people thought he would become a permanent feature there. But this was not to be. He was away for considerable periods, only to reappear as suddenly as he disappeared and nearly always after a clamour for him from the fans. Whenever Kenya played, its coaches, from Elijah Lidonde, to Peter Oronge to Eckhardt Krautzun to Jonathan Niva, came to know the hard way just how tough it was to field a national team without Daniel Nicodemus. Fans gave them no peace.

Stars players celebrate lifting the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after beating Zanzibar 3-2 on post-match penalties in the final at Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos on December 17, 2017. The teams drew 2-2 after extra-time.Photo/Mohammed Amin/www.Sports-pot.com

Like many players, Nicodemus liked to have a beer after a hard day’s job. But his friends soon established a pattern. He preferred to drink alone, even in team parties at Kanyim’s Bar in Kaloleni. He took it in gulps straight from the bottle and never from the glass that came with it. He wasn’t exactly a loner, but he enjoyed his solitude, even in a party. He had a habit of standing in a strategic corner where he had a view of the entire place, particularly the exit.

And he rarely let whoever picked a conversation with him know what was on his mind. This became more and more apparent with the passage of time and as the suspicions about what else in life he did besides football became louder than whispers in the world he lived in.

But despite his aloofness, he was still nice to be with. And then one day, everything burst into the open. After almost a whole day of searching, relatives and friends discovered his bullet-riddled cold body on the hard cement slabs of the Nairobi City Mortuary. Daniel Nicodemus was dead. Almost immediately, there was an uproar in Parliament. James Orengo, the MP for Ugenya, rose to make an inquiry on the floor of the House:

“I beg to ask the Minister of State, Office of the President, the following question by Private Notice: Is the Minister aware that on the 20th June, 1981, police searched the house of a Mr Nicodemus Odhiambo (Arudhi) in Nairobi in his absence? Is he further aware that Mr Odhiambo later reported to Shauri Moyo Police Station and the Criminal Investigation Headquarters as asked to do so by the police and that, thereafter, he was not seen again and his body was later found in the City Mortuary? Could he explain the circumstances that led to the death of Mr Odhiambo?”

The answer Orengo got fuelled further the now widespread legend of Daniel Nicodemus. The response was delivered by Isaac Salat, the Assistant Minister in the Office of the President. “Mr Deputy Speaker,” Salat began, “I beg to reply. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to consider the three parts of the question as one. I am aware of the death, on the night of 21st and 22nd June, 1981, of Mr David Odhiambo son of Nicodemus, alias Daniel Odhiambo son of N. Owiti, alias Daniel Odhiambo son of Nicodemus, alias Daniel Nicodemus.”

An MP asked: “Are all those names of one person?”

“Yes, they all belong to one person.”

But he had forgotten, or was not aware, of one more name: Arudhi Ogwanjo wuod Salome. This name was a favourite of people close to him. Fans who adored the work of his big boots also liked to mention her name alongside his for despite everything, he remained the ultimate mother’s boy. Now, the man with all these names had become the only sportsman whose fate would merit, even in infamy, debate in Parliament. It is doubtful that more colourful a personage had ever worn to the shirt of the Kenya national football team. Even more were the incredulous sub-sets to the tales that came with his legend, which began when he was still alive. His three day jobs were playing football – for Luo Union FC and in Kenya’s best eleven – helping Salome in her kiosk, and robbing people. For the last, he frequently did time in cells and in jail.

People said that he was such an indispensable member of the national team that arrangements were routinely made to free him from jail for just the time needed to play for Harambee Stars in do-or-die matches – and then return him to serve out his term.

Harambee Stars players pose for a photo before their AFCON Preliminary tie against Comoros Island at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on May 18,2014.Harambee Stars won 1-0.Photo/Stafford Ondego/www.pic-centre.com

It wasn’t true, but it was coming from somewhere – from two directions to be precise: First, he was a good friend of John Rabuogi, then a senior officer at the Kenya Prisons, who also happened to play for the Luo Union and Kenya.

They visited together often, but in Rabuogi’s house at work. Second, he was in and out of remand jail so often that many people could no longer keep track of when he was free, when in custody or even outside the country, as legend sometimes had it.

In January 1973, he appeared before a Nairobi court charged with stealing Kshs10 at the Bird Cage Club along Government Road – now called Moi Avenue. He was released on bail. In May of the same year, the hearing began. But before proceedings could start, his lawyer, D.N. Kibuchi told the court, “My client no longer wants me to represent him. I therefore apply to withdraw from the case.”

The Magistrate SP Handa, granted Kibuchi’s application and then ordered Nicodemus, to get himself another lawyer by noon the same day. Nicodemus was unable to find one and was forced to conduct his own defence.

He swore a statement telling the court that he was a regular patron at the club dance. On the material day, he submitted, he accompanied a girlfriend, Margaret Atieno, to the club. He told the court that the girl had been a friend of the club manager, a Mr Walter Ambala, but he was given to understand by the girl that they had since parted.

Nicodemus said that he had some drinks with Atieno whom, after a while, excused herself to go to the restroom. After waiting for some time, he grew impatient and suspected something. He decided to go find her.

“In my search,” he told the court, “I came across the manager near the club’s store. He asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was looking for my girl and I suspected she was with him since they were former friends. Suddenly, the manager started shouting: ‘Thief! Thief! Thief!’ after he told me that I was there to steal.

Later, after a crowd had gathered around us, I saw the police come and I was arrested. I also saw the manager hand over a chisel to the police officers, which he claimed I had used to break into the store.” For his part, Ambala told the court that he was called by some of his employees who told him a thief had been found in the store. On reaching there, he said he found Nicodemus with a chisel in his hand and detained him. Ten shillings was found to be missing from a drawer.

After a brief trial, Nicodemus was convicted of the offence. Handa said proof enough had been made that the now former football star, had broken into a store at the Bird Cage Club, Government Road and stole Kshs10/-.

The Naragoli team,runners-up in the 1959 FA Cup.

Handa said that Nicodemus was caught “red-handed”. Rejecting his earlier sworn statement alleging a quarrel over a girl with the manager, he observed, “I am satisfied that Nicodemus was found in the store on January 1 holding a chisel in his hand, which he used to break into the club’s store and steal the money.”

He sentenced him to three years imprisonment. In the run-up to the 1972 Africa Nations Cup, Kenya played a Swiss Division One side named Grasshoppers. It had three Swiss internationals. Player-coach Niva’s starting side was solid and the ace in his sleeve was Daniel Nicodemus who could play in a variety of positions at will. Perhaps he was the one true utility – in defence, midfield and attack, he was at home.

His name reverberated across the Nairobi City Stadium, especially when he was scoring the goals or making them one minute and defending stoutly the next. He had seemingly endless reserves of energy. The team that played Grasshoppers, and which remained the core team at the Nation’s Cup to the end included: James Siang’a, John Oduor, Jackson Aluko, Ben Waga, Jonathan Niva, Allan Thigo, Peter Ouma, Chris Chitechi, Daniel Nicodemus, John Chore and John Nyawanga.

Nyawanga, the captain, was tied up with career matters at Kenya Breweries, his employers. Allan Thigo stood in for him. He gives the most lucid account of the life of Daniel Nicodemus, his team mate at Gor Mahia. He recalls:

“I joined Gor Mahia in 1970. He had not joined the club at that time; he would come on board in 1971. In 1972, both of us were in the national team that represented Kenya in the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. Some people have alleged that he was freed from prison to strengthen the team for that tournament but that is just not the case. I know this for a fact.

He was good friends with John Rabuogi and Job Omino. These were senior people in Government who drove big cars. He was with them in Luo Union before joining Gor Mahia. His connection with Rabuogi was particularly close. That connection might have made people think that Rabuogi was using his offices to free him from prison for the convenience of the team and then take him back. But that never happened.

Nicodemus was a good friend of mine. He was very gentle, very humble, very generous and very hard working. You know, they had this nice kiosk at Kariakor where his mother used to sell goat meat. Kariakor was famous for that in those days. It still is today, even if so many other places have since come up. His mother was called Salome. Nicodemus used to go there very early and get down to work. From 12 o’clock to 2pm, he was busy serving people. He was also the cleanest, smartest man I have ever seen because he wore the latest fashion offerings – leather jacket, good shirts, trousers and shoes.

He was very smart, very humble and very quiet. And he trained like stupid! He wore big boots, Size 12. Our boots were usually size ten, so his were bigger and better. But he had a secret: the guy was a gangster! He never told us, though. He kept this to himself and never divulged it to anyone. If you were a friend to him, closer to him than the others were, he could bring you gifts every now and then.

He gave his friends beautiful things like radios, watches and shirts. Yet, for a long time, people didn’t know where he was getting these things. It was only later when the law caught up with him that it became clear. He had curious drinking habits. After a game, he would hail us and say, ‘chagueni mbili, mbili!’ (select two of your choice) and then retire to a corner in solitude. He took his drink quickly and quietly, and before you knew it, he was gone.

A K’Ogalo milestone as Gor Mahia chairman Peter Anyumba (right)receives the keys of the club’s original team bus from founding chairman Zack Ramogo.

He had a good taxi driver/owner called Wanjii, who was based outside what is now Ambassadeur Hotel. That is where they used to link up. Nicodemus was so generous that if you told him you didn’t have fare home, he sometimes connected you with Wanjii and he wouldsort it out with him later. That is how tight they were.

People liked him. He never quarrelled with anybody. He was so busy with his life. What I liked the most about him is that he never missed training, ever – I think he had to have some serious injury before for that to happen!

He was a clumsy player, not very fast, but it was very difficult to get the ball from him. He was good at weaving past defenders, going through people. And every once in a while, you saw him come to train in new outfits! As time went on and we got to know what he was doing, we got worried. Nobody had the courage to talk to him about it. People just whispered. He lived in Shauri Moyo with his mother. He was once married, but when he went to jail and came back, I never saw him with a wife again. And then Patrick Shaw killed him.”

This is how it happened. Patrick Shaw was the mountainous crime buster of the 1970s. He had two official jobs – Assistant Director of Administration at Starehe Boys’ Centre and School and a Kenya Police Reservist.

In his day, Patrick Shaw was one of Kenya’s most feared people.

One day, Shaw was on his way to Starehe Boys’ Centre. He stopped his white Volvo 244 GL Saloon with its distinct blue strobe light, outside a door to one of the establishments at Kariokor Market. He walked in, stayed a while and then left. Thereafter, word swept through the team that he had told Salome to “tell your boy to stop what he is doing or else I will stop him.” He was famous for issuing such warnings to the many criminals that he later executed in cold blood, that this last statement by Thigo is eminently plausible. Nicodemus’ fate was thus sealed and now it was only a matter of time before he made his rendezvous with death. It happened on the night of June 22, 1981 when his bullet-riddled body was dumped on a slab at the City Mortuary.

They buried him in his native village at Alego Ng’ia. Of his team mates, only his best friend, William Chege Ouma, attended the funeral. The rest were too scared of Shaw’s dreadful habit: he went to the funerals of his victims to scan the mourners using the common sense logic that funerals are attended only by a deceased person’s closest people. Nicodemus’ team mates were apprehensive that Shaw might pounce on somebody.

In Parliament, the furore caused by this extra-judicial execution remains without equal for an ordinary sportsman. His case was taken up by Orengo, then into his second year as a Member of Parliament, after a sterling stint as a student leader at the University of Nairobi.

At first, the Government was evasive and disinclined to give any comprehensive statement on the violent death of the footballer. But Parliament stood its ground and pushed Isaac Salat, the Assistant Minister, into a corner. Following is the transcript of the Hansard recording of the debate that took place in Parliament concerning Nicodemus:

Mr Salat: The circumstances under which he died are subject to an inquest file which is in preparation and on completion will be forwarded to a magistrate to decide whether an inquest should be held or not. Discussion on this issue at this stage will prejudice the results of the future judicial proceedings.

Mr Mulwa: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As far as the House is concerned, the matter is not yet sub judice and so the Assistant Minister should be able to answer the question I am going to ask him. In this question, it is implied that this man somehow disappeared at the police station. Would he confirm to this House whether what is implied here is true?

Mr Salat: Mr Deputy Speaker, I said that this matter is sub judice.

Hon Members: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker!

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order! I thought you understood, Hon Salat, if the matter has not been taken to court, the Hon Members have the right to be answered.

Patrick Matasi the goalkeeper of Harambee Stars saves a penalty during their Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup final against Zanzibar at Kenyatta Stadium Machakos on December 17, 2017.Stars won 3-2 on post-match penalties i.Photo/Mohammed Amin/www.Sports-pot.com

Mr Salat: With due respect Mr Deputy Speaker, I must say that my learned lawyer has just jumped on me. As I said earlier, the file will be sent to the court. But for the information of my friend, the learned lawyer, my people tell me that the deceased was apprehended in connection with serious, violent robberies and murders that have been committed in Nairobi Area during the last three years.

Mr Deputy Speaker, during the night of 21st June 1981, a suspect volunteered to take the police to an area where the deceased had previously hidden a firearm. On reaching the spot in question, the deceased decided to escape. In the process of being chased, he was shot and killed by the police who, on searching the area, found housebreaking instruments including several simis.

Mrs Onyango: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Arising from the Assistant Minister’s reply that the suspect was running away, is he aware that the police officers went to the home of the deceased three times to find out whether he was there, and when he went back, the mother of the deceased told the deceased to go and find out what Mr Shaw wanted him for. He did so and that is when he disappeared. He was not running away; he volunteered to go to the police station. Is the Assistant Minister aware of that?

Mr Salat: Mr Deputy Speaker, the Hon questioner’s information is just reported speech of what she was told. If she was there, she could have told us more about this.

Hon Members: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker! On a point of order!

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order! I am sorry we have to move on.

Hon Members: No! On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker

Mr Deputy Speaker: Mr Mwachofi, can you raise your point of order?

Mr Mwachofi: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will the Hon Assistant Minister admit or deny that since the suspect went to the police station himself and actually volunteered to go with the police, he was not trying to escape and, therefore, this was cold blooded murder by the police?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Can you not answer that Hon Salat?

Hon Members: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker!

An Hon Member: But he must answer the other one first.

Mr Deputy Speaker: We must move on. If you are not satisfied with the reply, you know the means to follow. So, could we please move on?

Mr Orengo: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, since I have not been given a satisfactory answer, I beg to give notice that I want to move a Motion of Adjournment on the rise of the House at 6.30 pm. (Applause)

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order! Hon Orengo, there was no need for you to say that. All you need to do is come to my office and we will speak about this. Let us continue now. Nothing came of this. As with the many victims of Patrick Shaw and all others ever executed without due process by agents of the Government of Kenya, Daniel Nicodemus left us with questions whose answers we shall never find. He was doubtless one of the best utility players in the more than 50-year history of Kenya as an independent country. But what we shall never know is whether he could have ended up in death row or as the poster child of a reformed criminal.

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