Practicing investigative journalism the masked way

Aremeyau Anas… the masked journalist at the event

Aremeyau Anas… the masked journalist at the event

HIS own genre of journalism is a peculiar one that could be heard of in more advanced countries of the world.  Backed up by Al Jazeera under the Africa Investigate project, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a Ghana-born undercover journalist had done some notable land breaking investigations that had resulted in people ending up in jail for a long while.

At a three-day training on investigative journalism in Abuja recently facilitated by the Ford Foundation in collaboration with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Anas narrated how he began his career in journalism as a regular print reporter but discovered that investigations do not yield desired results a lot of times time due to the tendency for people to deny even having spoken to a journalist and the fact that there may not be any revelation except when one is a participant in the issue being investigated.

Anas had busted crimes in many countries in Africa including Nigeria.  He told participants at the training that the only thing that gives him joy is to see people who had made people weep put behind bars.  Because of the peculiarity of his assignment, he has to wear mask when delivering seminars in order to protect his identity for the purpose of safety.

The Africa Investigate project stemmed out of Al Jazeera’s quest to give voice to the voiceless using Africa journalists to tell Africa stories as a departure from the western narratives using their local knowledge and voice to expose abuse, corruption and theft.  With hidden cameras and other state of the art gadgets, Anas has been able to bring to the open the hidden secrets surrounding the sale of albino body parts in Tanzania, exposed the way people steal and sell drugs meant for HIV/AIDS victims in Zimbabwe, revealed the theft and black market sales of foreign food in his home country and expose fake doctor’s episode in Nigeria.

Anas said he had under-covered as priest in the prison, inmate in the prison, patient in the hospital, customer as a drug trafficker etc.  The most intriguing however was his undercover as a patient in a psychiatrist hospital where he had to play the role of a mentally derailed person.  He said the challenge came when he did not know the quantity of the sleeping drugs he was being administered in order to counter it with the same quantity of the specially prepared caffeine based drugs with him.

His words, ‘’I knew I was not there to sleep, I had to stay awake to get the information I needed, but you know what operates in psychiatrist hospitals, patients are knocked off with sleeping injections which they shook on any part of your body anyway.  So immediately they left me to sleep, I had to take the caffeine-based tablet on me in order to counter the effect of the sleeping drugs I was injected with.  But the challenge came when I couldn’t calculate the exact quantity of the sleeping drugs so that I could take the same amount of caffeine drugs.  The effect was I began to sleep when I was supposed to be awake and vice versa.’’

He went further, “Another challenge was when I had to take cocaine like other patients in the hospital.  Staffs of the hospital were actually selling hard drugs to patients and I had to play along.  You can imagine cocaine being sold to someone in a psychiatrist hospital, I had to take it and when I began to see one individual as five people, I knew there was trouble so I had to press a device on me to alert those monitoring me from outside.  Whenever they received such buzz, they knew something wasn’t right so what they did was to withdraw me immediately from the hospital and began to detoxify me because of the cocaine and drugs that had been injected into my system.  In that kind of scenario, you are not allowed to go back in again, if the work has not been completed before the withdrawal, then another journalist is prepared to continue.’’

Anas, also a lawyer recounted his encounter with the Nigeria police when he exposed quack medical practitioners in Nigeria.  He said working with the Nigeria police was so rewarding as they were so excited about the ‘drama’ that they busted into the place where a fake doctor was supposed to perform a purported abortion on another undercover journalist.

“In fact, the police came in just when the quack was about to inject his purported patient, I don’t know what I would have done if they had not come in at that moment.  They were few minutes ahead of the time we calculated, but their arrival saved the day.  What I learnt from all this is that police too are frustrated because of some of the ills in the society, the challenge is that they do not have the wherewithal to investigate some of these things, if they do, I am sure they will be busting most of these crimes.  I would like to work with the Nigeria police again and again, they are interesting and very effective.’’

Although investigative journalism is not an everyday thing and one any journalist can just delve into, but given the right impetus and guarantee of some level of safety, some Nigeria journalists would be more than willing to tread into areas familiar to Anas and few others across Africa like him.

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