He led a gang that was synonymous with unleashing terror. Through crude weapons, he mercilessly descended on anyone opposed to the progressive changes.
Today, however, Audi Ogada, 50, has opened a new chapter in his life and is a well know peace crusader and human rights activist in the lake side city of Kisumu.
Ogada was the leader of the dreaded ‘Bhagdad Boys’ that was formed in the early 90s at the peak of clamour for multiparty politics in the country.
The gang that comprised 17 heavily built men tortured and maimed those who were against the ideals of their key leaders led by the late opposition doyen Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Current Makueni County governor Kivutha Kibwana is among those who faced the wrath of the gang when he chaired a meeting in Kisumu in 1999.
Kibwana, who by then was the co-coordinator of the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) escaped death by a whisker when the dreaded gang stormed St Anna Guest House in Milimani estate, the venue of launch of the convention’s Nyanza chapter.
The gang, armed with crude weapons, threw a petrol bomb at the hotel forcing Kibwana and his team to seek refuge in one of the rooms. His personal assistant, Stephen Musau was kidnapped, driven to an isolated area where he was beaten and stripped naked before being dumped at Tom Mboya estate.
The late Gem MP Dr Oki Ooko Ombaka, who was visually challenged, also missed death narrowly after being attacked by the gang at Tumsifu Hall where he had gone to launch the Ufungamano constitution draft initiative. Ombaka was whisked away by his aides after a petrol bomb was thrown right below his wheelchair. During the melee, his Land Rover vehicle was torched.
Ogada, however, says he does not regret his past actions.
“We fought for our rights and I am proud that today many people are enjoying what we fought for,” he says.
Among his crew were Gwada Ogot, Joseph Oyolo, Odindo Sikeo, Okoth Otura, and John Nyambok.
Members of the Kenya Air Force, who participated in the aborted 1982 coup, were also part of the gang.
Ex-Air Force soldier Captain Lumumba Owade, who is a former aide to opposition leader Raila Odinga, headed the command in Nairobi whose headquarters was at the main Ford party offices.
Ogada says the sole mandate of the group was to protect the political leaders, led by Jaramogi, who were fighting the then President Daniel Moi’s regime.
“ We were ready to die just to ensure that Jaramogi and other leaders were safe,” he says. Jaramogi’s team included James Orengo, now Siaya senator, the late George Anyona, Martin Shikuku and trade unionist Dennis Akumu.
Others were Raila, the late Masinde Muliro and former Kabete MP Paul Muite .
Ogada says: “ You know, Moi had ordered the police not to allow any political rally to take place. Therefore, as a group, we had to cause chaos, fight with the forces which included the police, Youth for Kanu 92 and any other security agency to ensure that the rallies took place”.
Asked why the group was named Bhagdad, Ogada quickly answered, “At that time, Saddam Hussein was fighting Americans and Bhagdad was its headquarters. Therefore, our fight was similar to that since we were fighting the larger Kanu regime.”
Ogada admits that they used to carry crude weapons even though he denies harming anyone. Twenty-nine years later, Ogada has transformed the group to a peace organisation.
Peace and reconciliation
In 2003, it transformed to Baghdad for Peace (BAFOPE) through the assistance of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and Catholic for Justice, Peace and reconciliation (CJPC).
“The church was concerned about our past and what we had gone through and so they approached us to dissolve the group and transform it to something better and we agreed,” says Ogada .
The group’s mission is to engage the youth and former members of the squad in meaningful activities.
Since its transformation, Ogada reveals that over 500 youths have been trained in various fields.
“Most of the members now engage in income-generating activities that has uplifted their living standards,” he says.