Grief, laughter blend at Ojode Mass
By Peter Opiyo
| June 15th 2012
By Peter Opiyo
Government literally turned up to pray for the soul of a public servant whose dedication earned him the nickname Sirkal, which is a Kiswahili corruption of Government.
Sirkal or Joshua Orwa Ojode as Kenyans knew him, was eulogised as a hero. Leaders were united his tragic death following a chopper crash last Sunday was a loss to Kenya.
Pearls of mirth punctuated the requiem Mass, momentarily interrupting the sombre mood, as friends, relatives, and Government officials relived the life and times of the late Assistant Minister for Internal security.
The merriment mirrored the life the Ndhiwa MP lived in the social and political circles. A dose of it was deemed in order to bid farewell to a man who was described as dedicated, amiable, committed, and likeable.
And for the first time since Grand Coalition Government came to power in 2008, Prime Minister Raila Odinga broke his silence over the tension between him and Ojode over his failure to give him a Cabinet post despite his having earlier rejected Kibaki’s offer of a ministerial seat after Kibaki kicked out the PM from Government in 2005.
Raila told the congregation that included President Kibaki, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and House Speaker Kenneth Marende, among other dignitaries, Ojode actually complained to him on the matter.
“When the Grand Coalition Government came to power, Ojode was not happy that, I had not given him a flag. He complained to me and we discussed. I explained to him,” added Raila, without elaborating.
Ojode had been a strong defender of the PM and even turned down a ministerial position in Environment, after Raila was left out.
The Head of State had just dissolved the Cabinet following the defeat of Government in the 2005 referendum on the Draft Constitution.
Thursday, Raila told mourners that he later asked Ojode whether he could move him to another ministry, but he declined saying he was comfortable where he was.
And, indeed, despite his ranking as Assistant minister, Ojode bore the clout of a minister in Parliament as he answered questions. He gave his statement the finality and authority of Government.
After he finished speaking, you were sure his will would be done.
Earlier at the service, it looked like Ojode was addressing Parliament – in his trademark comedy-laced assertiveness – as a former MP and friend, Owino Acholla, narrated how the towering former Ndhiwa MP ‘baby-carried’ a taxi driver blocking the entrance to a night club they had visited.
Having been friends with Ojode for 20 years, Acholla confessed he took comfort in Ojode’s towering frame. He described to the congregation how people referred to them as the ‘Short Guy’ and ‘Tall Guy’.
“You know Ojode was lengthy (sic), and I am not very far from the ground,” he recounted, making the mourners break into laughter despite the cruel reality all that was in the coffin.
Face of Government
But amid the hilarity, the pain of the loss was evident as Government officials and friends, led by President Kibaki, talked passionately of a man who lived his life to the full and was the ‘glue’ that held the Grand Coalition Government.
Despite coming from Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement, Ojode was close to the Party of National Unity stalwarts, led by Internal Security Minister George Saitoti. They both died while airborne for Ndhiwa.
“He was a development conscious person who initiated projects across his constituency. His politics was moderate, and he made friends across the political divide. We have lost a resolute leader whose service to the nation would remain engraved in our memories,” Kibaki said.
A few feet way Ojode’s widow, Mary and son Andrew, listened pensively. Andrew, 21, is a deacon at his SDA Church in Liverpool, UK.
Raila described Ojode as being the “face of Government in Parliament, and one who practiced fully the principle of collective responsibility”. He is going to be solely missed, said the PM.
“He was the seam that bonded the two sides of the Grand Coalition Government. He never played partisan politics with his work, as he was passionate and committed,” added the PM.
Raila further caused laughter when he said while Ojode was defending the Police Force in the House he would then assure him outside Parliament he would deal with them from his office, as he did not want to reprimand them in public.
“He was a highly-regarded leader, and true Kenyan hero. We will forever remember him for the great sacrifice and efforts he made to promote peace and security,’’ said the President of Ojode. He described him as a personal friend, and not just a political friend.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka described Ojode as a good man who made friends across the board.
“He was simply a good man who went beyond party affiliations,” said the VP. “He was dedicated and an example for all to emulate. Let us continue to honour him in the best way we can,” Kalonzo said.
Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende, who perhaps spent the better part of every week listening to Ojode’s answers to MPs, described him as “an amicable personality who endeared himself to the Speaker as a performer”.
In his commitment to duty he likened Ojode to the Biblical Joshua. “Like Joshua, they both believed in fidelity to the law,” Marende said of Ojode, the man he described as the tallest man in Cabinet and Parliament. The Speaker, however, said the country couldn’t afford to continuously lose citizens to fatal accidents whose causes cannot be convincingly rationalised.
“The matter calls for urgent professional attention to reform aviation, embrace best practice, and make air travel safe,” he added.
Marende said Ojode performed his duties to the nation with “exceptional zeal and sense of purpose”.
He said those who interacted and worked with the late Ojode acknowledged that he was an outstanding member of the frontbench.
“Like his Biblical namesake, both believed in fidelity to the law. It is little wonder he was fondly referred to as Sirkali, he added.
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