Until November 9, 2016, when he announced his intention to oust Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, little was known about “Dr” David Kariuki Ngare, popularly known as Gakuyo, beyond being a televangelist who ran a struggling micro-finance and land buying business.
Then Gakuyo, the overseer of Calvary Chosen Centre Church in Thika, went on a publicity blitz, buying airtime on TV and radio to broadcast his sermons and promote his businesses — Gakuyo Real Estate and Ekeza Sacco.
But like a two-edged sword, his quest for publicity and power brought him fame but also scrutiny — from allegations that he had forged his academic credentials to questions on his businesses.
Immediately after his entry into the Kiambu gubernatorial race against the incumbent and main challenger, Ferdinand Waititu Baba Yao, Gakuyo was battling accusations that he not only had dubious academic qualifications but that he had also cheated his way into Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology where he was later kicked out.
The 50-year-old father of three, according to his credentials, sat his Certificate of Primary Education at Munyu Primary School in 1983 and got his primary school leaving certificate 21 years later.
However, an NTV expose on February 22, 2017, stated that the index number on his certificate was of a different school and his name was not in the list of candidates who sat the test in that school that year.
The bishop is reported to have also applied to study “county governance” at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology’s (JKUAT) Westlands campus in 2016, only to be kicked out after four months when questions were raised about his admission.
A university inquiry established that Gakuyo, who indicated he attended International School of Christ in 2000 and 2001 and got an honorary doctorate from Cambridge Theological Seminary in 2016, had not provided a secondary school certificate.
Despite maintaining that the claims of forgery were made up by his political rivals, Gakuyo dropped out of the race in support of Waititu, the eventual winner, but had to settle for the position of economic adviser instead of a high-profile county executive slot.
On Thursday, the controversies that have surrounded Gakuyo in the past few years came to a head when his businesses became the subject of a statement by Industry, Trade and Co-operatives Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.
Gakuyo is currently battling allegations of mismanaging over Sh2.5 billion members’ savings at Ekeza Sacco and swindling clients through fake property investments using his real estate company.
Until the intervention of the co-operatives regulator, the bishop and his senior managers had been accused of playing a cat-and-mouse game with clients who have been demanding their money back, and who want Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti to intervene.
To save himself and the company, which by October last year had refunded Sh116 million, Gakuyo announced the selling off of some property to raise money to pay more than 53,000 members seeking a total refund of Sh2 billion.
In a Press notice on January 24, Leakey’s Auctioneers, he put up for sale Lillies Hotel in Juja, Salama House and Swift Breeze Hardware on Garissa Road, Thika, a quarry in Murang’a and 250 acres in Murang’a and Machakos counties.
But on Thursday, CS Munya asked Commissioner of Co-operatives Mary Mungai to seek an injunction against the sale scheduled to take place on February 14, arguing that he is not convinced that the proceeds will go to members.
Gakuyo has in the meantime defended himself that he is not to blame that his clients have not been entirely refunded, saying he cannot access the money after the accounts were frozen following the government’s intervention.
In March last year, Ms Mungai revoked Ekeza’s licence upon receiving complaints that it was sharing office space and bank accounts with a sister company Gakuyo Real Estate, which is illegal and posed a risk to members’ savings.
A verdict as to whether Ekeza will go back to business or not is expected on February 21. The preacher can only hope that it will favour him.
But how did the clients end up entrusting their savings to Ekeza?
Started about five years ago, Ekeza says in its website that its mission and core values are to help members acquire land and homes, guided by transparency, trust and efficiency.
The sacco, which spent heavily on advertisement, had initially concentrated its operations in Thika. But after the preacher’s entry into politics, he integrated the political campaigns with the Saco’s marketing, opening branches in the main towns of Kiambu County.
For instance, the opening of Wangige and Kikuyu town branches doubled as political campaigns and were graced by Gakuyo, Waititu and running mate James Nyoro among other politicians under the “United for Kiambu” banner, who used the occasion to promote their political and business agenda.
It was a win-win situation for Gakuyo. By the end of the August 2017 election, the candidate he supported triumphed and sacco membership rose to more than 50,000, with a deposit of Sh2.5 billion.
The political-cum-business events, which were always broadcast in paid-up live coverage at least thrice a week, attracted thousands of people.
Buoyed by a wave of resentment towards incumbent Governor Kabogo, thousands of people — mostly from low income groups — joined the sacco as individuals, joint account holders or groups while others opened accounts for their children.
While joining the sacco, the members were convinced that their savings would also help them acquire land through sister company Gakuyo Real Estate. But it all crumbled like a cookie, attracting the attention of the regulator.
Other than Ekeza being flagged by the Commissioner of Co-operatives, it would latter emerge that members were convinced to make deposits with a promise that they would get three-bedroom houses in Joska at Sh3.5 million after registering with just Sh20,000.
The houses, which included Sh1.5 million two-bedroom units, which required a registration fee of Sh10,000, were to be handed over to members by March last year. This never happened.
Instead, the management began taking the members in circles, giving new pledges that the housing projects would be relocated to Nakuru and other places because the Joska project was no longer viable.
Gakuyo, according to those who know him, fits in the billionaires club, with most of his wealth in assets spread across the country.
The preacher owns a multi-million-shillings home at the high-end Nyari Estate near the United Nations offices in Gigiri, which he is said to have acquired early last year and drives high-end cars, among them Range Rovers.
In a July 2015 interview — which is also published on the Ekeza website — Gakuyo said that in the 1980s, after he ostensibly completed his O Levels, he left his Munyu village in Thika for Mombasa to start a maize roasting business.
Pushed by hardships in the coastal city — that led him to habits like chewing miraa — Gakuyo reportedly found himself working at his father’s farm in the village.
In 1990, his father, he said, introduced him to a survey firm where he was employed. In three years, he had started his company as a land broker.
Thereafter, he partnered with a friend and opened up Jaka Investments Company, which was registered in 1995. But four years later, the partnership died. He started Gakuyo Real Estate in 1998 and, by 2015, the company was worth Sh1 billion, according to his narrative.
The latest chapter in his story is one that Gakuyo would like to end fast. But it won’t go away any time soon.