By Prudence Minayo
The late Lawrence Nginyo Kariuki (born in 1938) was a seasoned entrepreneur and politician. Having worked his way to the top, the reclusive billionaire went on to become a mover and shaker in the country. Nginyo is credited with founding the National Alliance Party (TNA), which was instrumental in the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth president of the Republic of Kenya.
While he loved a relatively private life, he brushed shoulders with the country’s who is who and was instrumental in shaping the politics of the national. His influence was so great that powerful politicians visited him to discuss the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) at his home.
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The businessman passed away in 2020 and his family is feuding over his Sh4 billion wealth.
Nginyo lost his father in 1942 at the age of four. Major Mbugua, his older brother, took care of him until 1952 when he was detained following the state of emergency declaration in Kenya by the colonial powers. He was killed in 1958 while trying to escape prison. This signified the end of Nginyo’s formal education as he dropped out in class four. He helped his mother to sell bananas, beans among other items and finally began selling manure.
The manure business grew and he began contracting lorries to meet the demand. Earning Sh10 commission per lorry, he would at times make up to Sh200. At the time, this was not a paltry amount. He also started supplying farmers with green grass and ballasts to help out with the bad roads that dominated the country at the time. The enterprising young man also began renovating latrines for the white man.
While cementing latrines, he fell in love with golf, a popular sport among the mzungus at the time. Thus, he began collecting stray balls at a price before becoming a caddie, practicing with broken clubs. He would later help in the formation of Ndumberi Golf Club in 1961.
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Nginyo graduated from a caddie to an amateur golfer. He represented Kenya for a decade and half and retired as a pro golfer in 1985.
After independence, Nginyo managed to secure a salesman job with Madhvanis. They were a billionaire family with interests in the manufacture of sweets, salads, vegetable oils and glass products. Nginyo negotiated for a Sh350 monthly salary even as Kenyans would ordinarily earn Sh100 or Sh120 at the time.
When Kenya began Africanising businesses, he was there to take a chance. He managed to secure a franchise that imported various products including padlocks from Romania and bicycles from Britain.
Seeing a greater opportunity as a businessman, he quit his sales job and co-founded Sawa Enterprise. The company distributed wines from Britain. It was later named Nairobi Wines and Spirits and it closed shop in 1990
The fact that he was involved in a number of business ventures that brought him decent income-by the late 60s and 70s he had accumulated a sizeable wealth.
In 1972, he bought 140 acres of tea plantation from a departing white doctor at Sh40,000 in Tigoni. The two had met at a golf club.
With the formation of National bank, Kenyans could acquire loans and Nginyo seized the opportunity. Using the 140 acres as collateral, he borrowed Sh150,000. With the money, he developed the tea estate and acquired 60 more acres from neighbors. Money from the farm enabled him to purchase 1000 acres coffee plantation in Makuyu, Murang’a. Later, he would also purchase land in Koinange street and build the magnificent Nginyo Towers, which housed his offices till the end of his life. He bought the property from the late Margaret Kenyatta- Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s daughter.
Swiss Lenana Mount hotel in Kilimani
The late businessman would then buy Swiss Lenana Mount hotel in Kilimani which was at the time a hostel called Lenana court. To give visitors a magnificent experience, he transformed it into a premium hotel.
In total, Nginyo Kariuki is reported to have had properties valued at Sh3 billion. He was also a shareholder in numerous companies including BAT, Kenya Airways, NCBA, East Africa Breweries Limited and Nation Media Group.
These shares were reportedly worth Sh17 million. He was also a major shareholder at Pema Holdings and Nginyo investment with shares said to be valued at Sh221 million. Pema Holdings was founded in 1963 and was into farming, land and estate management, and stocks and securities. Nginyo Investments, on the other hand, was owned by him, his wife Margaret and their son.
Having established his businesses, he ventured into politics. He unsuccessfully vied for the parliamentary and senatorial seats in Kiambu at different times. Despite the loss, he remained an active figure and was friends with both President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Nginyo Kariuki passed away on 24th February 2020.
Following his death, a property dispute emerged between his family. Brenda Nyambura (his daughter out of wedlock) is locked in a battle with his widow and four children. She wanted to be formally acknowledged as hER daughter prior to Nginyo’s burial. The family agreed and while filing for probate, the executors of the billionaire’s will (his widow Margaret and her four children) listed Nyambura and two other biological children of Nginyo Kariuki as the dependents.
Nyambura went on to file a case at the Kiambu court and challenged Nginyo’s will made in 2014. The deceased daughter wants to be involved in matters pertaining to the late businessman’s wealth. She also asked the banks operating Nginyo’s company accounts to freeze his accounts. The banks involved are: Consolidation, I&M and Co-operative. She accused them of allowing funds withdrawal and threatened to file a criminal case against them. After a few correspondence with the banks, she sued them, Margaret and her children at the commercial court.
The mother of Ndoria and Wachira (the deceased two other children out of wedlock) also wants to be recognized as Nginyo’s widow.