Hezekiah Ochuka, the mastermind of the 1982 coup attempt was born in Koguta village, Kisumu County in Luo Nyanza.
Ochuka was heavily influenced to join the Kenya Air Force by Omondi who graduated top of his class among the first six jet fighter pilots trained at the Royal Air Force Training College after independence in 1963. He was so mesmerized by Omondi’s antics of often flying the Buffalo transport aircraft low, when approaching Koguta village that he decided to join the Air Force which required academically bright recruits who are good in sciences, unlike the Kenya Army and Navy. Brainy Ochuka was then recruited as an instrument technician.
At the age of 26 when most Kenyan men are clueless about life, Ochuka, a Senior Private in the Kenya Air Force, the second lowest rank, thought overthrowing the regime of the late President Daniel arap Moi would be a very good idea. One of Ochuka’s later beefs with the Moi regime was that Air Force soldiers were underpaid and overlooked in promotions, yet they were the brightest!
This was how he managed to mobilize fellow disgruntled airmen into his People’s Redemption Council….. Ochuka who was fearless, had the ability to articulate issues and had rapport with fellow soldiers which increased his popularity, considering he was also the spokesman on welfare matters as an official of the junior soldiers’ welfare association.
The 1982 coup was planned by the swimming pool at the Moi Air Base, Eastleigh, Nairobi.
Interestingly, they were certainly not the first coup plotters from the Luo Nation. Before them were Frederick Collins Omondi who was implicated in the 1971 coup attempt against founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. But the coup failed after a tipsy Kenyan soldier in London began telling his mzungu pub mates of the coup plot, not knowing they were British intelligence officers. Of interest was that both Omondi and Ochuka did not only plot the coup at the age of 26 but also hailed from Koguta village in Nyakach, the ‘village of coup plotters.’…. Was Ochuka finishing what Omondi and Diang’a had started?
James Waore Diang’a, a soldier who was jailed for a coup plan against Moi in 1981 had recruited Ochuka before he was smoked out and jailed at Kamiti but released three years later after his co-conspirators were not traced and “there was no way one man could plan a coup.”
People’s Redemption Council and the nerve centre of the coup enjoyed the external support of Jaramogi and his son Raila, who offered Ochuka cash and ‘civilian logistics’ including setting up a communication centre in the home of Prof Edward Oyugi along Ngong Road, Nairobi, as Raila admitted in his biography.
Unfortunately, some soldiers Ochuka had recruited, specifically Lt Leslie Kombo Mwamburi from the Nanyuki Air Base, had chickened out and sold the coup plan including exact hour, date and venues of execution. But big shots at the Air Force did not take action.
Spy chief James Kanyotu had suspected the coup would happen that Sunday a day chosen as most Kenyans would be at home, going to church. That meant there would be minimal casualties. Also, the Kenya Army was in Lodwar for army games resulting in minimal resistance. Alas! that was not to be.
Fearing Kikuyu soldiers had similar idea, Ochuka thought it wise to pull the trigger first. That was how on the morning of Sunday, August 1, 1982 Kenyans woke up to martial music on radio and the announcement that Ochuka was the Country’s new boss
The air force pilot on the mission to bomb State House Nairobi later changed his mind and dropped the bombs on Mt Kenya
Anyway, the coup lasted 12 hours in which Ochuka was Kenya’s President for six hours. That was enough time to turn all cops into civilians besides releasing all prisoners including Diang’a who surprisingly never left Kamiti even after prison wardens fled, leaving gates open!
Ochuka’s drunk soldiers were no match for the army commandos shots led by Deputy Army Commander General Mahmoud Mohammed.
But while the coup lasted, over 100 soldiers’ most of them drunk and 200 civilians lay dead.
Over powered, Ochuka and comrade-in-arms, Pancras Oteyo Okumu, commandeered army pilot Nick Leshan fled to Tanzania where they sought asylum but President Julius Nyerere did not play ball. Both were later spirited to Kenya, charged with treason and sentenced to hang.
Hezekiah Ochuka died without a family as the lady he was to marry and had engaged Margaret, his sweet heart was still in school, clearing Form Six.
After a lengthy court martial, Senior Private Ochuka was hanged alongside his conspirators; Senior Privates Okumu, Sergeant Joseph Ogidi, Corporals Charles Oriwa, Walter Ojode and Bramwel Injeni Njereman.
The abortive coup later triggered a chain of events that irrevocably changed the history of Kenya for the next two decades