That Nairobi businesswoman Esther Muthoni Passaris is the rare combination beauty and brains is not in doubt. The Adopt A Light advertising company founder has fought many battles with men in instances where women with her looks would have chosen the easy way to achieve what they want.
Her current battle with Equity Bank Chief Executive James Mwangi is not the first. And, in any case, it may not be the last!
She has previously fought vicious battles with City Hall since the days of George Majiwa as Nairobi mayor to Governor Evans Kidero over the pulling down of her advertising poles amid disputes over remittance of rates, which at one time were said to be in the excess of Sh40 billion.
In fact, the sour deal behind the current saga saw the courts last year compensate her with Ksh35 million for breach of contract. At a personal level, Passaris fought a headline-catching court battle with billionaire Pius Ngugi with whom she had cohabited for years seeking maintenance .
In the suit filed in 2003 but which was controversially dismissed, Passaris sought a monthly up-keep of Ksh 200,000 and a good car to ferry her children to school. The nature of their relationship is the interesting bit. She met Ngugi, the owner of Thika Coffee Mills and Kenya Nut Company, when he was a married man, though she claimed he lied to her that he had been divorced for 10 years.
According to her, he also lied to her that he had undergone vasectomy and hence she does not need to use birth control. By the time they were parting ways, they had two children, who custody she retains. A third one died. About five years ago, they were again in court over the ownership of a prime property in Spring Valley.
However, Passaris is protesting at the manner her past has been tied to the current saga involving alleged sexual harassment by the Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi, accusing the media of exchanging facts for tabloid in pursuit of profits.
“In between birth and death, life takes us through many experiences to teach us lessons along the way. Some we attract, others we deflect. Today’s media would rather trade facts in exchange for tabloid for the sake of readership and profits. Unfortunately, It is where we are as a society so I will weather this storm,” he wrote on her Facebook page this morning.
On social media, where she first made the claims against Dr Mwangi, she acknowledges that it is a double-sided sword that unleashes both justice and injustice depending on the maturity and compassion of the user, adding that she does not expect everyone to believe her.
“However, don’t be quick to judge me without getting all the facts. To drag the case with my husband into this saga with Mwangi is to stoop too low. My husband and I disagreed and I took him on. All relationships go through ups and downs, ours was not different.
“To label me as opportunistic in a situation where a man is a confirmed polygamist in a polygamous society is not only immature but also insensitive to our African cultural legacy, flawed as it may be. I won the cases because they were based on facts. I fought for our children like any mother would do and I have no apologies to make for that, not even to my husband,” she said.
“I believe in justice and want those who are weak amongst us to have the strength to stand up for what is right, no matter what. Nothing personal. Everything’s possible. Good morning!” added Passaris.
Earlier reacting to the backlash that followed her claims against Dr Mwangi, Passaris sought to put the record straight by giving a step-by-step chronology (see below) of her dealings with Mwangi and Equity Bank.
In it, she reveals that she made senior managers at Equity Bank, including chairman Peter Munga, who were aware of her tribulations but there is nothing much they could do to help her.
“HOW IT ALL STARTED
This is the story of how Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi destroyed my business after #ISaidNo. In 2006, I met Mwangi through a mutual friend and he soon agreed to bring his organization on board the Adopt A Light project by sponsoring and running an advertising campaign for the bank on 400 streetlight poles as well as High Mast structures. In fact, this act of corporate social responsibility is captured in their company records.
The campaign was supposed to be rolled out on Thika Road and Outering Road among other locations. In anticipation of this business, Adopt A Light took a facility with Equity Bank and ordered the High Mast structures from our partners in South Africa. However, the whole project was thwarted before it could take off after Mwangi made several sexual advances towards me and I categorically turned him down. He was a friendly, listening and caring partner only as long as the chase was on. Later on through changes made to our contract after the fall-out, I realized he had all intentions not to honor our agreement in case I declined his advances.
It didn’t take long after Equity Bank breached our agreement for Adopt A Light to be left with a massive bill to pick up. Before the matter spilled into the courts, Equity Bank hired Neptune Credit, an unlicenced debt collector whose approach to debt collection was unprofessional and not what one would expect from a bank of Equity’s stature. This was also unlawful as banks need or seek court orders before contracting the services of a debt collector. Or if they appoint one, the collector must start with the courts before taking any action. The story of how Neptune Credit harassed me and my children is captured under OB 38 of 15/4/2009 at Parklands police station. But as is pretty much the norm in Kenya, the case was closed before it started.
Mwangi only went to court for alleged debt after I won the highly compromised award (after lots of applications to deny me justice ) to try and stop the award. In spite of an IRAC report on the interest overcharge and the irregular debits, Mwangi adamantly refused to reverse the same. Even his managers realised his motives were personal and not professional because it is standard for banks to reverse proven irregular debits. This prompted me to go back and demand that the Bank pays in full what it owed my business and I have every intention of pursuing damages for destroying my company and the ensuing psychological distress.
WHY I CAME OUT
It took a lot of soul searching for me to share my experience after reaching my tipping point. It is true that Mwangi is a brilliant and talented banker, looking at what he’s achieved with the Equity brand. However, he was highly unprofessional with me.
At the time, I informed Chairman Peter Munga ( as well as other senior managers) of the happenings but he couldn’t defend me as his hands were tied. Wherever Munga is right now, he knows the truth and I hope one day he’ll stand up for me. But even if he doesn’t, I know someone will eventually vindicate me.
Make no mistake, this is not easy for me but I stand by my every word.”
An avowed feminist, Passaris says she is a believer in the inalienable rights to non-discrimination, dignity, equality and respect of all human beings of whom women is an integral part.
“I know for certain that liberating women – allowing them the space to fully express and fulfil themselves intellectually, emotionally, economically and socially will release powerful fountains of intellect, knowledge, creativity, entrepreneurship, and inherent goodness that reside in the being of every woman and thus contribute towards making our world an infinitely better place. I am therefore passionate about the empowerment of women,” she previously wrote on africanfeministforum.com.(SOURCE: MADAM)