By Musa Jibril
My first encounter with him was in the company of my editor-in-chief, Shola Oshunkeye. He had just finished his Maghreb prayer and we launched straight into a marathon interview. His parting shot was: “My next story will shake Ghana.” Shortly after, he released The Devil and the Orphanage.
And I went back alone to interview him, the second time. And I asked: “Is this the big one? No, it is coming, very soon.” It did come and a big one it was––a story that netted 25 justices in the net of corruption and saw them losing their job.
That is what Anas does. Investigative journalism. If you are counting the good things that have come out of the Nazareth that is Ghana––Kwame Nkrumah, the Black Stars, Kofi Annan––you have to mention Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
Who really is Anas? That is the million cedi question. We don’t really know. Ghanaians don’t know him. Nobody knows.
You can talk about him as the masked undercover journalist seen on Youtube or at international journalism forum or the witness who appeared in court in a mask. He moves incognito and he does his job incognito. That is why the fear of Anas in Ghana is the beginning of wisdom. He put the fear of God in the heart of the ever-corrupt elements in his society.
He has no particular address. No recognizable face. He is like a ghost that goes after corruption anywhere he finds them.
Hospital. Brothel. Court. Cocoa board. Mortuary. Marketplace. His stories are vast and varied they permeate the society. For him, there is no forbidden ground, just as corruption knows no bound, Anas has no bound in his pursuit of the corrupt. That has led to the growth of a myth about his omniscience. The week before I left Ghana in 2015, I was in the car with my editor, Nana Acheampong, driving through the Awudome roundabout. A police patrol van was parked by the roadside and the officers of the law were busy conducting illicit business. It was dusk, a time convenient for anonymity. Passersby hissed and raged impotently, but a woman shouted repeatedly and Acheampong burst into a hearty laughter. He told me what the woman said: “May God give you the grace to continue in your corrupt ways until the day Anas will find you out. Surely Anas is coming for you.”
I found Anas a constant reminder about the nobility of the journalism profession. His body of works is a metaphor for what journalism means digging the dirt, fishing in the dark for the concealed truth and bringing it to the world for action. Anas’ stories are nifty, tidy and watertight. They make for open-and-shut cases, each trussed and stuffed with incontrovertible evidence that makes prolonged trial absurd and unnecessary.
Where the government is grappling with corruption issues, Anas is usually the last resort. On two occasions, he had been engaged by the government to root up corrupt elements embedded in the system.
His philosophy enthrals me: To name, shame and jail.
It takes a heart to do what he is doing.
The following conversation is an excerpt from the first interview.
If you come across a situation where you have to indulge in the vices you are investigating, how do you reconcile that with your faith?
I am a firm believer that whatever I am doing is a kind of crusade, so anything I do to make it successful is the right way Allah wants it.
So, if you have to smoke, drink and sleep with a woman to get your story, so be it?
Allah will stamp it for me.
In the Mad House story, you pretended to be a psychiatric patient and actually took treatments, including cocaine into your system?
I came into contact with cocaine, that is what I say officially, whichever way people define it, but I am not the one to say I took cocaine.
How did you come into contact with cocaine?
Well, as part of the investigation, there was a syndicate in the hospital that was selling cocaine to the patients who had come to be cured of cocaine. That was what was happening. And you can only belong to the syndicate if you take it, so I belonged, I got in there.
Did you sniff cocaine?
I don’t answer those questions. It is bad to say publicly that I sniffed cocaine. I garnish it by saying I came into contact with cocaine. Eventually, when the story came out, the guy ran away from the hospital before the authority could arrest him.
When you took cocaine, how did you feel in your body?
I guess it’s a mindset.
You mean you had prepared your mind that something is going to enter your body?
Exactly. When you have a mindset, you can go through anything and it will not take anything away from your person.
How would you describe the feeling when it entered your system?
Within the first 20 minutes, you feel very good, some very nice feelings. But it doesn’t last for too long. Very good feeling, almost forgetting about everything. But I don’t think there is anything that is stronger than the state of mind, even as you are getting that feeling, your mind tells you that this is not you, for me, that is how I felt.
What is the best moment of your life?
When a story breaks and the bad guys are arrested, we are in court and they’ve been jailed. I am a happy man.
And the worst day of your life?
When the story broke, they arrested 260 people who have committed crime at the Soulja Bar. The next day all of them were released. Then another sad story, Osu Children Orphanage story, where very little was done about it, and the one who perpetrated the act was left in post. Those are things that can really get to me. They can put me in such a bad mood.
If you die today what would be your regret?
My biggest regret will be the story I am investigating now, that I couldn’t show it, because I think it is the very first time in the history of this country that such a topic has been broached. I just want us to see that sometimes, those who sit on moral high grounds and decide and say things for us are really not what they claim to be. But I can assure you, even if anything happens to me, the people I work with will ensure that it comes out.
Anas’ stories are too numerous to mention on this page.
His works are national events. Announced on radio and in Daily Graphic. People troop to the national theatre, queue and buy tickets to watch the latest faces of corruption. Some friends, families and colleagues were in the audience when he screened his last investigative report and 34 judges were unveiled as the faces of corruption.
The documentary featured secretly filmed footage of 34 judges taking bribes. “For two years he pretended to be a relative or friend of an accused, offering to pay judges in exchange for passing shorter sentences. Twelve high court judges and 22 lower court justices were filmed accepting money – and in one case, a goat.”
Anonymity is his biggest weapon. He is like Zorro, the masked Messiah whose identity is unknown but always appears in time of need to fight for the oppressed. Anas is invisible and invincible. Indescribable. Very few Ghanaians can point him out with certainty on the street. And even fewer journalist colleagues knew him.
Twice I have met him, this “Africa’s most intrepid undercover journalist.” The first time, he was dark, bushy-haired. The second time, he was fair, sporting a clean cut. But for his voice, I could not have recognized him.
He is thorn in the flesh of corruption in Ghana. You never can tell if Anas is sitting next to you.
“He owns an array of wigs, prosthetic masks and tiny cameras; once he feigned madness to infiltrate Ghana’s largest psychiatric hospital; and he has posed as characters ranging from street hawkers to an albino body parts trafficker. He has even dressed up as a rock to film cocoa smugglers along Ghana’s western border.”
Now you understand why no one knows him even if he is playing himself. Anas is Legion.