The (mis)adventures of a young magistrate

Justin Bedan Njoka Muturi believes the big ideas have always been there, and will always be there. To Muturi, what’s lacking in Kenya’s governance is
discipline and order. Yes, I know. The Speaker wants to bring order!
In this deep-dive on Muturi’s life and times, the Star and Debunk Media revisits his two-hour conversation, reliving the make-believe chase of the Speaker’s motorcade around town and other James Bond-esque moments, and explores the implications of a Muturi candidature and presidency.

Few cohorts boast of feats in public service equivalent to those of the University of Nairobi’s Law Schools Class of 1981.

It included Justice Mohammed Ibrahim at the Supreme Court, Justices Fatuma Sichale and Jessie Lessit at the Court of Appeal, presiding at the High Court are Justices Boaz Olago, Aggrey Muchelule, Fred Ochieng, Joseph Karanja, Roselyn Wendo, Martin Muya (facing disciplinary action), and there was Aburu Bauni (deceased).

The list of luminaries includes Justin Muturi.

To date, this group enjoys notable camaraderie.

"Before the pandemic," Muturi tells me, "we had ritual meetings twice a year...I hosted the last get-together here before Covid-19 and we put off meetings." 

The huge gazebo at Muturi's residence was ideal for merrymaking. Today, interactions are limited to their WhatsApp group, but he won't share the juicy encrypted shenanigans.

After acing his A-Levels at Kangaru, Muturi secured a coveted place at the University of Nairobi’s Faculty of Law in 1978. But first Muturi went back to his village at Kanywambora where it all began. He taught high school for a few months before Nairobi beckoned.

Muturi grew up there, herding goats, eating at random, growing mangoes in the wild and watering the family’s tobacco seedbeds. There he got the idea of working in the justice system, though he didn't fully comprehend it.

"As an active kid," Muturi says, "you are either bound to run into trouble or be a witness. I great miscarriage of justice when police arrested the wrong person or twisted the evidence against whomever they were arresting."

He always tried to intervene and argue with the police but it didn't do much good. "I wondered how I could be more useful."


Muturi's mother sent him off to school to prevent his getting into more mischief.

At the University of Nairobi, Muturi’s first-year roommate and classmate was a young man from Bungoma named Moses Masika Wetang'ula, now the Bungoma senator.

This is how Bungoma, the place Muturi had refused to go to for his A-Levels, started working its way into his heart as his near brotherhood with Moses and affection for his family blossomed.

"When Moses' father Mzee Dominic Wetang'ula visited, he always found us hanging together. Having lost my father, his always referring to me as 'mtoto wangu' meant a lot."

At Parklands Campus, where the Faculty of Law is domiciled, Muturi took to basketball, a towering player for The Terrorists, a name it retains.

He then made his foray into politics by defeating Wetang'ula and others to become secretary-general of the Kenya Law Students Society. He earned a seat on the Students Representative Council, a replacement for the Students Organisation of Nairobi University.

Sonu had been banned in 1979 following protests leading to the expulsion of student leaders, including two future Cabinet Ministers, Gerald Otieno Kajwang (deceased) and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi from the Faculty of Arts. Today he is Muturi's friend and neighbour in Thigiri, and he's also running for president.

Other than what Muturi terms "the normal things university students do" — a euphemism for juvenile debauchery — university life was uneventful

He trod carefully, never ruffling feathers. Muturi faced his Damascene moment after joining the then Kenya School of Law on Valley Road in 1981. There, he stopped doing things just because he could get away with them and learnt how to be a proper person, to think about the greater good and not just of himself.

At the time, KSL was under British barrister Tudor Jackson, a strict disciplinarian and Muturi had to toe the line.

"We suddenly realised what we had been doing at university hadn’t yet prepared us to become the advocates we hoped to be. We were  taught all manner of things, not just about the law but also how to be proper, learn etiquette and how to make our own beds."

Muturi survived KSL, passing his exams at the first attempt.

When Moses' father Mzee Dominic Wetang'ula visited, he always found us hanging together. Having lost my father, his always referring to me as 'mtoto wangu' meant a lot
Justin Muturi

Muturi's first station as a magistrate was in 1982 in Bungoma.

For Muturi, Bungoma was bearable for two reasons. The first one was the Wetang'ula family. Moses had been posted to Nakuru as a magistrate and often visited Bungoma.

The other reason was that Aggrey Muchelule, their other classmate, had been posted as a magistrate to nearby Kitale. 

As Muturi moved around Bungoma to Kimilili, Chwele, Sirisia and Webuye, one incident at the Busia law courts in 1983 struck him.

He encountered Gerald Otieno Kajwang' who had just graduated from Makerere University, where he, Mukhisa Kituyi and others sought refuge after their 1979 expulsion from the University of Nairobi.

After four years in Bungoma, Muturi was sent to Kapsabet, but he declined the offer. Working in President Daniel arap Moi’s backyard wasn’t Muturi’s cup of tea. Moi had a habit of commenting on magistrates' rulings he didn't like.

He was posted to Githunguri as acting resident magistrate.

"Githunguri didn’t have proper courtrooms," Muturi says," but I quickly cleared the backlog in six months."

His superiors heard he was out and about in the afternoons and worried he wasn't doing his job. They sent spies who confirmed he cleared all the cases. 

He needed a busier workstation. Exactly one year after his posting in Githunguri, he was sent to Thika as a resident magistrate in February 1987.

Until Muturi’s arrival, Thika was headed by either an Asian or a European. But here he was, a 31-year-old Black African covering a jurisdiction encompassing Gatundu in Kiambu, Kandara in Muranga and Kithimani in larger Machakos. He supervised a number of magistrates.


In 1987 he first met Uhuru Kenyatta.

"The Kenyatta family had business interests in Thika," Muturi recalls, "and while he took care of them, I first met my friend, the future President Kenyatta," Muturi says.

It took at least another decade for Muturi and Kenyatta to become buddy-buddy.  

A lot seems to have happened in Thika, but Muturi sidesteps it, saying he'd rather not discuss specifics.

Three years later, he got a call telling him to pack his bags and head to Machakos. He protested strongly, saying he wanted to go to Nairobi to keep abreast with the latest developments in the law. He grins at the defective argument.

He went to Machakos.

His three-year stint was a wake-up call on access to justice.

"People were having difficulties coming to the court in time," Muturi says, "then I learnt from court policemen that some had to get up as early as 3am in places like Kibwezi to attend court in Machakos.

The court served a vast area, including today's Kitui and Makueni.

"One day I took my family on a drive to Mtito Andei," Muturi recollects, "and the journey came to 226km. Three weeks later I drove my family to Waterbuck Hotel in Nakuru and it came to 221km.

Then he went to his superiors and made the case that people from Mtito Andei have no access to a court until they get to Machakos. And yet they are taxpayers. Driving a shorter distance from Machakos to Nakuru, there are courtrooms in Makadara, Nairobi, Kikuyu and Naivasha."

After some back and forth, a courthouse was established at Makindu.


As 1991 approached and the clamour for multipartyism reached a crescendo, Muturi had nyama choma sessions in Nairobi with his first-year roommate, Wetang'ula. He had quit the Judiciary and become a well-known advocate.

By 1992, Wetang'ula was considering or passively supporting the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford), but Muturi’s heart was with Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party, though he was still a serving magistrate.

"I had always admired Mwai Kibaki’s style and candour," Muturi says, "and the idea of a Democratic Party ideally modelled on the one in America seemed attractive to me."

The constant wrangling in Ford, which led to a split, made him see Kibaki's DP as stability. Muturi went down a slippery slope.  In 1992, Muturi’s cousin was running for MP back in Siakago, Muturi’s home constituency that he would later represent in the 9th Parliament.

Wanting to campaign for Kibaki as well as his cousin running on a DP ticket, Muturi left his work station in Machakos and set up base in Siakago.

"I had always admired Mwai Kibaki’s style and candour,"

There the Special Branch, Moi's secret police, photographed Muturi’s vehicle plastered with posters of both Kibaki and Muturi’s cousin.

After the election, Muturi was summoned to Nairobi and accused of taking part in active partisan politics while serving as a magistrate.

He tried to defend himself, saying campaigning in Siago had no correlation to my work. I knew I was wrong.

Muturi, who had once led the Judges and Magistrates Association, further argued unsuccessfully that being a magistrate did not limit his political rights.

The verdict, which elated Muturi, was that he needed to be transferred to Nairobi for closer supervision.

In 1993, Muturi reported to work as a principal magistrate in Nairobi— it was the beginning and end of his judicial career. 

Muturi was issued with a government house, the present-day Visa Place in Upper Hill, a residence hawk-eyed operatives n the judiciary wanted for themselves.

At the time, President Moi had powers to allot land, and so two senior judicial officers put in a bid to the President for the property, using their names and Muturi's, without his consent.

While this was underway, a Court of Appeal judge approached Muturi with the same proposition: petition the President so the prime real estate would go to Muturi and the judge.

Muturi obliged, the judge put in the bid, only to learn the earlier application bearing Muturi’s name had been granted, without his knowledge. The judge was furious and called Muturi a liar. Muturi confronted the other two officials and made enemies.

Muturi rarely speaks about this.

But against this backdrop of deceit, Muturi believes, a bribery case was fabricated against him. Muturi was accused of soliciting a Sh1 million buy-off from a medical doctor appearing before him. The medic was accused of fraudulently obtaining Sh145,000 from the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

Muturi’s photo was splashed on the front page of a local daily, an image that has since resurfaced online after Muturi announced his presidential bid. 

Luckily for Muturi, the case against him unravelled, however, the prosecution’s key witness produced a diary with dates and notes. They implied he had met and spoken to Muturi on the critical days, and had kept a meticulous record of their interactions.

Using his passport as his defence, Muturi demonstrated he had been out of the country on official judicial duty on the days when he supposedly met his accusers.

The case collapsed spectacularly.

Dejected and humiliated, 41-year-old Muturi left the Judiciary, knowing someone had tasted his blood and would come back for more.

He believed he was facing persecution from higher up in the ruling Kanu establishment —  even judges danced to the ruling party’s tune and wielded political and other powers.

Muturi needed protection.

As insane as this may sound, to run away from Kanu, Muturi ran towards and with Kanu. After all, the poker player in Muturi was still alive and well and had a card or two to play. 

The Star collaborated with Isaac Otidi, the Editor-In-Chief of Debunk Media in writing this article.


Click below to read the full article in the Star epaper on Mgazeti