In the mind of Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Anas Aremeyaw Anas generally can’t go on holidays, and at times finds having to keep so anonymous embarrassing. In his first interview for 2016, the legendary investigative journalist opens up to Pulse.com.gh news editor Betty Kankam-Boadu.
He is meeting Pulse.com.gh at an outdoor setting in Accra, and has three of his team watching on as he is interviewed.
Anas is known for being unknown.
Over the past 16 years he has revealed some of Africa’s most shocking corruption and has been a constant thorn in the side of evildoers.
He has had both international acclaim and criticism, and it is generally Ghanaians who are both the heroes and the villains in his work.
He has busted people in the judiciary, operators of orphanages, quake doctors, fake pastors, cocoa smugglers and corrupt officials at Tema port amongst many others.
While seeing the levels of ignorance, corruption and cruelty he has been exposed to could be jading, Anas is an optimist.
He has hope for the future of Ghana, and is inspired by the energy of his people. He points to the way people react to issues on social media and through civil organisations like OccupyGhana.
“It’s fantastic. I am very, very hopeful that if we all put our hands on deck as a people we are going to move this country forward and it can be the best country in Africa.”
A divisive character, regardless if people agree with his methods or not, whenever one of his stories breaks, it will be the main topic of conversation in the media or on public transport.
“The people of Ghana, [they are] very interesting people - make a mistake they will bash you morning, afternoon, evening. Do the right thing they will praise you and make you feel like you are their darling,” Anas says.
With his usual mysterious air, he is reluctant to reveal his plans for 2016. There’s a new prosthetic look but the details are shrouded in mystery.
“On the international front a lot is happening, when you talk about Africa Investigates we have some shocking revelations that are going to come out in 2016 and I am very excited about them.
"Locally we may have a few things going off, but it’s quite interesting, I see a lot of prospects in 2016 and whatever is going to be, is going to be to the advantage of the average Ghanaians, the village folk. My pieces are going to be driven by the people.”
It is these ‘village folk’ Anas says he relates to, as a self-described village person. With this is mind, he says his job takes into account people in the “hinterlands”.
“Anybody who knows me very well, you can find me in the village very comfortably observing and thinking quietly.”
A controversial figure, Anas’ motto is “name, shame and jail.”
He’s unapologetic about his style, stating “extreme remedies are the most appropriate for extreme diseases. So take it or leave it, my journalism is a bit militant, it has no mercy for evildoers, it is based on hardcore evidence.”
Anas’ work in undeniably effective, and he has lost count of the number of people he has put behind bars. In saying that, he doesn’t set out to “take food off the table” of the people he looks into.
“I do it because in society at a particular stage we all have to realise that we have to say that some people ought to stop what they are doing to make society genuinely better. I don’t keep count but I keep saying that it's not exciting to put anybody behind bars but we have to do it to serve as a deterrent so that others won't want to do it. So we can have a better society.”
When Anas hits, he hits hard and his work is life-threatening, he generates enemies with his investigations.
“It is a hazardous profession and once you touch the fire you cannot expect it not to burn,” he says.
He’s quick to point that he is not alone in his work. Friends and family respect what he does and protect his identity, and Anas is not able to open up to many people.
It can be difficult always hiding his identity, only allowing that of his public persona to be revealed.
“Sometimes it’s difficult when I get to introduce myself. Sometimes I want to find my real self then they ask what’s your name and I want to be real… I say ‘no you can not be him, you are not him’, so you get lost sometimes.”
Anas balances the uncomfortableness his work can create, with the outcomes it generates.
“Sometimes when the heat is on and you go masked it’s very embarrassing because these are people you grew up with, these are people you have eaten in the same pot with for a very long time and yet you are going and have some bodyguards because, at that time, its not everytime, at that time there is something at stake where if you are not careful you will be shot.”
These life sacrifices may not be comfortable, but it's worth it.
“I love what I do and I think that is very important so in spite of the difficulties I am not that person who can go out on an ordinary holiday where everybody goes out to have fun. I don't have that luxury but over the years I have learned to live it, and I learned and trained under the formidable and energetic hands of Abdul Malik Kweku Baako Jnr of the New Crusading Guide and all this was part of the training.”
With the path he has chosen, Anas has accepted the things he will miss, but says there is a consolation when he sees the smiles on the faces of children his work has helped, “it is able to free many people who otherwise, but for your piece of work, could have died. That is what keeps us going.”
There have been many times in his life that Anas has been around people debating his work, unaware that the author of those investigations is in the same room, like when he was studying law, though he makes sure he learns from the conversations.
“I take all this in good faith because if you do your work and don’t expect critique to come then it means you are not serious. We learn every single day. I alway open up to accept criticisms where you are wrong, you are wrong, I accept it in good faith and I move on.”
While his investigations take time, once they are released to the public, it’s not a closed book for Anas.
“I go through a lot. I am now going to go to court, I am now going to testify. I have been sued left, right, centre.
"I have got to find lawyers the lawyers have to come and defend me, I have to remain consistent...you have seen the judicial scandal, I will get out of this in the next four or five years. I still have to be frequenting the court.”
If images of scenes he has witnessed in his investigations keep him up at night, Anas says that means he needs to work harder.
“Sometimes as journalists if we are not careful, grief could let us lose that story. But the whole purpose is for us to be stronger. If we are not strong, we are unable to tell the story. If you see that children are being killed and murdered and you start crying, what communication are you communicating?
“We need to be able to tell the world this is bad. We have got to stop it.”
It;s about being “resolute and very fair" Anas says.
"Once a touching moments comes up you need to stand firm, because you stand for those people who are being killed and butchered and your strength is what is going to make them better tomorrow.”
And, if Anas ends up joining his scores of colleagues whose work has taken their lives, it will be for the right reason, he says.
“Even if you are caught in action, the world should be able to know that you have embarked on a meaningful course, that it is important.”
Being killed while trying to get information out to the public is the reality of the profession, he says, and journalists should not “ elevate ourselves into some kind of gods” who can not be killed.
“If we are shot, we should be shot doing the right things then you can be proud.”
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