Kenya

Man buried on neighbour's farm due to land dispute

Man buried on neighbour's farm due to land dispute

The family of an 84-year-old man who died five months ago heaved a sigh of relief this week after a neighbour allowed them to bury their father on his farm, following a land row.

Mzee Peter Kihagi died at the Mukurwe-ini sub-county hospital in Nyeri, and his body has been lying at the mortuary after his cousin, Mr Charles Wangungu, obtained a court order halting the burial at his home in Gichira village, Tetu.

However, on Monday, relatives and friends finally laid Kihagi to rest.

This is not the first time the family is facing such a predicament -- in 1992, Kihagi’s mother, Beatrice Waihuini, died, and was never buried by the family for the same reason.

Relatives said they did not know where the matriarch was buried, suggesting that she might have been buried by the County Council in a mass grave as happens when government mortuaries dispose of unclaimed bodies. The family was afraid the same fate would befall their father’s remains.

With the bills piling and the family having exhausted their financial resources, they approached their neighbour, Mr Stephen Muriithi, and pleaded for space to bury their loved one.

"It has been tortuous, mentally and financially. A very painful experience. We did not want a repeat of what happened to our grandmother," said Ms Beatrice Wambui, Kihagi’s daughter.

Peter Kihagi

Friends, relatives and neighbours at Peter Kihagi’s funeral in Tetu, Nyeri county, on January 10, 2022. The body remained at the mortuary for five months due to a land dispute. The elderly man was finally buried on a neighbour’s land.

Photo credit: Irene Mugo | Nation Media Group

"It's important that as a family we know where our father is buried. And the options were slim. He has brought us up here and we did not know of any other place to take him," she added.

"We are very grateful. My father died as he waited for the judgment on this case," Ms Wambui said.
Mr Muriithi was approached in December.

"I have already subdivided my farm and allotted it to my sons, so I had to consult them before making the decision. I floated the idea to them when they came for Christmas holidays and they had no objection,” said Mr Muriithi, who is in his 70s.

"We went to the area chief and district officer and we had an agreement and the funeral date was set to avoid future disputes," he said.

He explained that he agreed to have his neighbour of decades buried at his home because he was saddened by what happened to his mother.

"I am still very stressed about the previous incident and I did not want it repeated -- where we discard him just because he is dead. We need to be decent and treat other people like human beings, dead or alive. People need to be more sympathetic," he added.

The message was echoed by different speakers during the funeral, who castigated Mr Wangungu for blocking the burial.

Order stopping the burial

Mr Wangungu, who did not attend the funeral, said he had inherited the land from his father Gathuma Kagumo.

When Principal Magistrate Ruth Kefa issued the order stopping the burial, she dismissed claims that the property was ancestral land.

"The applicant was able to demonstrate the injury he would suffer if the temporary injunction order stopping the burial is not issued,” said Ms Kefa.

While applying for the court orders in which he sued Kihagi’s widow, Ms Cecilia Wanjiku, Mr Wangungu told the court that the deceased’s family lacked rights of interest to the property because the suit had already been determined.

The suit concerning the estate registered as Aguthi/ Mung'aria/206 has been before the courts for the last 36 years, and has been determined before on two occasions.

The case was initially presented before a Nyeri court in 1985, before it was referred to arbitration. Kihagi’s mother, Waihuini, had sued her eldest brother, Gathuma, for failing to share the land with his siblings.

She sued alongside her other brother, Mr Daniel Ngunjiri. She, however, died before the matter was concluded.
Since then, the matter has not been settled, precipitating the current dispute.