Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Undercover journalist who undertakes risks to uplift society
With these words, Anas Aremeyaw Anas held his audience spellbound on Thursday at the auditorium of Dangote Business School, Bayero University, Kano.
Anas was the star guest at the two-day workshop on experience sharing in investigative journalism organized by the Faculty of Communication in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation.
In the last two and a half years, the foundation has been supporting the Faculty in organizing a series of capacity enhancement activities such as lectures, workshops, curriculum review, and internship programmes. The aim, majorly, is to strengthen the teaching and practice of investigative journalism as tools for fighting corruption in the country. Besides, the MacArthur support includes scholarship grants for female students and the establishment of a digital radio station for the BUK communication students to practicalise what they learn in the classrooms.
Designed as a platform to promote exchange of experiences and transfer of knowledge on investigative journalism, the workshop attracted the participation of professional journalists, media managers, veteran broadcasters, communication scholars and teachers as well as Mass Communication students from institutions across the country.
The exploits and successes of the Ghanaian undercover investigative journalist are stimulating and inspiring. The spirit of the student journalists in the hall was lifted. This was reflected in the quality of questions posed to the world-renowned and multiple-award-winning journalist after his 35 minutes presentation that was interjected with the video clips of some of his outstanding reports. They all appreciated the interface as Anas underscored the need to embrace practicality of the teaching of journalism. “It ennobles society and uplifts humanity.”
His kind of journalism requires being anonymous “and my anonymity is, in fact, an important tool in my investigations,” Anas clarifies.
His undercover investigations focus primarily on issues of human rights abuse (especially child abuse) and corruption. He has carried out undercover investigations in many countries and on different continents. But his primary focus remains Sub Saharan Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria especially. “My human right investigations deal with creating a better life and providing equal opportunities for children and adults, whilst my corruption investigations focus on government employees and executives who instead of working for the people, rather loot the national kitty and thus deprive citizens of essential amenities that would create a better standard of living for them.
“In our part of the world, sometimes, simply gathering information is not enough, you need to back it up with hardcore evidence and this is what I do.”
Through journalism, Anas has led the charge to fight corruption in his home country of Ghana, bringing to light injustice and improving people’s quality of life. In 2009, the then United States President Barack Obama praised him for having “risked his life to report the truth.” In disguise, he finds his way into asylums, brothels, prisons, orphanages and remote villages, where he methodically gathers evidence for hard-hitting stories, then presents the evidence to authorities to see criminals prosecuted and held accountable.
For 20 years, Anas’ seminal work of undercover investigation and advocacy has sparked controversy but has also sparked even greater change. He has received support from the likes of Bill Gates and the late Kofi Annan and several progressive leaders who revere him for his method to “name, shame, and jail” – to pursue stories until the relevant stakeholders take action on the investigative reports.
His experience in defending universal human rights, particularly child rights, drives him and his team to empower more young journalists who are eager to stand up for those who find themselves susceptible to exploitation and abuse of power.
Notable examples of the tangible impact of Anas’ work are the jailing of the leaders of a sex trafficking ring in Ghana, the passing of a mental health bill to protect the rights of neglected and abused mental health patients, the discharge of dozens of corrupt judges found to be accepting bribes in high courts in Ghana, the dissolution of the Ghana Football Association and suspension of football officials found to be accepting bribes, the arrest of groups found to be mutilating and engaging in sinister trade of albino children’s body parts in Tanzania, the expose of Nigeria’s fake doctors in 2014 among many others.
Despite the danger he and his team find themselves in, they continue to produce award-winning stories that change lives and change legislation, institutions, and departments.
The ‘deal’ of bringing Anas to Kano was sealed in Jakarta, Glasgow, and London during which the Dean, School of Post-Graduate Studies, BUK, Prof. Umaru Pate interacted with Anas and applauded great attention the journalist commanded on the global stage.
“This is his first time in Kano. I am confident his presence and experiences can inspire and motivate our journalists and students to develop greater interest in investigative journalism. Nigeria needs a lot of Anasses,” Prof. Pate had remarked at the start of the workshop on Thursday.
But Nigeria is not alien to Anas. “Many times, I have been in Nigeria to work with young and senior journalists who are tough guys when we talk about undercover journalism here. Emmanuel Maya, Misikilu Mojeed and many others. We have collaborated doing some investigations here. They are journalists who have also brazed the trail on the African continent. We are still working together, and on Monday, October 7, the BBC African Eye will show another film on Nigeria… the lecturers seated here today might not be happy about this… the film is about sex for real and some Nigerian universities are featured in the film.
“The point I am making is that my kind of journalism is doable in Nigeria and there are people who have the capacity to undertake it. And they are doing it.”
He appreciated the intervention of the MacArthur Foundation whose support has empowered his outlet, Tiger Eye Foundation, to train some young journalists in the art of investigation.
“I am confident that this partnership will lead to practical journalism done on campuses across the country to the benefit of our students so that they can taste the heat here before they enter the world of practice.”
Responding to a question on the difference between undercover and investigative journalism, he said, “undercover journalism is a sub-set in the entire gamut of investigative reporting. For instance, in a film, you will see conventional camera interviewing somebody. In that same film, you will also see undercover footage which is the investigative camera. Before we embark on any issue, proper investigation comes first. We don’t just get out and start filming, we first gather primal facie evidence. Without it, you can do anything. No! What this means is that you must show incontrovertible proof that the subject you are investigating is in the habit of doing a particular action repeatedly. For instance, if I say that somebody is a thief, there must be evidence to show that he/she has been engaging in stealing for a longer period of time. It is only when you can prove this that the likes of BBC or Aljazeera can believe in you and give you permission to take the hidden camera out for filming.
“Another important point is whether the issue being investigated is of public interest. This is very key! You don’t embark on stories that will invade people’s privacy. Otherwise, you will suffer in the court of law.”
But where does Anas get money to do an investigation which is known to be capital intensive? “I insist that not all investigations require huge money. Some are as easy as anything! For instance, when I was an undercover patient in the psychiatrist hospital, we didn’t spend anything. This is because the hospital was within the vicinity and I was going there every day. Besides, there was free food, free injection, free drugs….
“The problem is that we underestimate our environment, whereas, a lot of unwholesome things are going on under our nose. No money is sitting somewhere for you to do an investigation. Majorly, it requires your commitment and desire to make a difference and impact your society positively. Other things, including money which is required in some other big investigations, will certainly fall in line.
“For us at Tiger Eye, getting money to embark on an investigation, sometimes, is difficult! Most of the time, people will approach us, ‘go and investigate this, go and investigate that…’ Sometimes, we ignore those requests. Because we assess our resources and capacity before we embark on any investigation. Sometimes, we get support from donor agencies, stakeholders in the industry that value investigative journalism and some media organizations such as BBC and Aljazeera. But before you become known as an investigative journalist, you must have invested with your personal resources.”
Anas graduated from college in the late 1990s, and he became a journalist. He began working at an independent newspaper in Accra called The Crusading Guide. Something caught his eye, and his first case was born. He came to journalism with a highly developed sense of justice. He began to realize that the street hawkers would offer bribes to the police to let them sell their wares – an illegal practice. He wanted to expose this practice, but he needed real evidence. Disguising himself as a street hawker, he obtained footage and audio that he then released through the media. Around the same time, he revealed evidence that a flour factory was ignoring cleanliness standards in violation of the law.
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