The Double Life of Nicodemus Arudhi

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Nicodemus Arudhi led two lives, one on the pitch and one in the underworld.

One of the most interesting chapters in Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend, a biography by John Nene, is about a famous Gor Mahia player called Nicodemus Arudhi. He was also in the national team, and scored several key goals in his decade as an international player.

A prolific player on the pitch, he was also a convicted criminal and often, a wanted man.

Born in 1944, Arudhi was the lastborn child and perhaps, the most conflicted. Of the two talents the children of Nicodemus Owidhi were born with, sport and music, Arudhi got the sports genes. He started playing for the national team when he was barely 20 years old, distinguishing himself for his fast and powerful shots. Although his elder brother had once played for the national team, it was Arudhi who’s name became synonymous with football.

In the league, he played for Luo Union and then Gor Mahia after his team joined with Luo Stars on February 17th, 1968. To spectators, he was a thrill to watch. He was Gor Mahia’s version of Joe Kadenge. They both played football with a fluidity that made it seem like a performance, and they were successful goal scorers.

To his teammates, he was a tormentor of opponents and the man who always found a way out when it seemed all hope was lost. A slender, powerful man, Arudhi often left defenders confused and breathless. He was simply too fast and too agile and at the front with Chege Ouma, seemingly unstoppable.

Arudhi played for the national team for more than a decade. From FIFA records, he played three international matches for Kenya in 1972, against Togo, Mali and Cameroon. He scored Kenya’s lone goal against Mali in their 26th February 1972 Africa Cup of Nations match.

He was 28 at the time.

Arudhi, on the left.
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Away from the pitch, at night, Nicodemus Arudhi became something else. He became a criminal.

Arudhi was not even his name. Neither was Nicodemus.

His name was Daniel Odhiambo. Nicodemus was his father’s name. The best place to find a concise list of his many aliases is a Hansard record after his execution in June 1981. Arudhi was David Odhiambo/Daniel Odhiambo son of Kedowa/Daniel Odhiambo Nicodemus Owidhi/Daniel Dhiambo/Daniel Odhiambo son of Owiti/Daniel Nicodemus. They were all plays to his and his father’s names.

At the time, the official police narrative was that Arudhi had surrendered to the police on June 21st 1981 and offered to show them where he hid his guns. When they got there, he ran away. So they shot him. In typical extrajudicial killing-style, they said they found a cache of weapons. That narrative didn’t work because Arudhi had always been a wanted man, and he had been jailed several times, and at least once arrested for murder.

His mother had been warned by PD Shaw, Starehe-school administrator by day and police executioner by night, that Arudhi was on his last days of crime.

The government eventually paid the family Shs. 250, 000 as compensation. What had been two decades of spectacular football and a prolific criminal record had ended with a bullet. He was only 37 at the time.

In Kadenge’s biography, the octogenarian says most of them knew about Arudhi’s other life but never brought it up. He never missed practice unless he was in prison, or he had to jump over the stadium fence because the cops were after him. A former colleague at Gor also describes a time Arudhi stole an expensive suit from a man in Paris, in 1976.

Kadenge’s biography traces the football star’s 19 years in the game, and is a concise history of the early years of Kenya’s football. It talks about the intrigues of the game, within teams, and the football administration.

Some of them saw the pistol, sometimes accidentally, and noticed that Arudhi had money for someone who didn’t have a job. Football didn’t pay anything but allowances at the time. They also noticed his fast-paced, secretive nightlife, even when they were out for beers.

Still, how this man managed to maintain a balance between two seemingly conflicting lives is fascinating. At least once, in 1965, Arudhi was temporarily released from prison to play for the national team. Think of it like a temporary outing, with presidential approval.

Among his spectators at City Stadium that day was a heavily armed contingent of prison wardens, presumably knowing how wily Arudhi could be. At the end of the game, they cuffed him again and took him back to his cell in Kamiti Prison. There seems to be no record of why he was in jail at the time, but it was most likely for robbery. He had many run-ins with the law, many of them unrecorded.

16 years after he was released to play a game, on a cold June night in Shauri Moyo, Nicodemus Arudhi’s luck finally ran out. He was shot in the back by Patrick Shaw, a lone ranger cop who also led a double life.

You can get a copy of Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend by John Nene at Bookstop for KShs. 1200.

Owaahh, 2016.

One story is good,

till Another is told.

Last modified: March 5, 2020