Accra (AFP) – Few people in Ghana would be able to recognise Anas Aremeyaw Anas on the street — but almost everyone knows his name and his burgeoning reputation as the country’s anti-corruption hero.
The journalist keeps his identity a closely-guarded secret and on camera wears a trademark hooded tunic, his face covered by a veil of red-and-white beads.
His latest undercover documentary, “Number 12”, was released last Wednesday, and as the start of the World Cup finals loomed, detonated with the force of a bomb.
In it, he and his team of reporters caught dozens of football referees and officials accepting bribes.
The head of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi, was accused of requesting $11 million (9.3 million euros) to secure government contracts.
He later stepped down and apologised unreservedly after world football’s governing body FIFA launched an ethics investigation into his activities.
Ghana’s government is trying to tackle corruption, which its special prosecutor Martin Amidu has called “an invisible violence that kills millions without anybody seeing it”.
Anas has already shone a light on graft in the judicial system.
Football, he says, is a symbol of a wider problem of pay-offs in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
“Football is a very powerful tool in telling the African narrative,” Anas told AFP in an interview. “We have a decision to make, either save our continent or not.
“This is not just about football but any other issue that affects us and will create problems for us.”
– Think twice –
Anas said despite not being a football fan, a tragedy involving a match between two teams — Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi’s Asante Kotoko — always stuck in his mind, reminding him about decisions that cause a cascade of victims.
On May 9, 2001, 127 fans were crushed or suffocated to death as they tried to escape tear gas and rubber bullets fired by police trying to stop crowd trouble.
The disturbances began when the home side, Accra, scored two late goals to beat their long-time rivals 2-1.
“Number 12” includes footage of officials planning to end a more recent game between the two sides with a Hearts penalty.
Despite his widespread appeal, Anas has faced some criticism for his unconventional methods.
Filming with a hidden camera, Anas offers money to officials, who agree to taking the loot in what could be interpreted as entrapment.
In 2015, he used the same methods to uncover widespread corruption in the judicial system: more than 20 judges and staff were fired.
At the very least, his investigations may have influenced court decisions, or, in the case of “Number 12”, sports scores.
“I do know that if any referee, any club official, wants to take bribe today he will think about it twice before he does that,” said Anas.
– ‘Burned talent’ –
The thick-skinned journalist said he has no qualms about using undercover sting operations to root out corruption in Ghana.
“If you’re a criminal, you’re a criminal,” he said.
“You voluntarily went, you sat, you converse about the crime you were going to commit and you took money for the crime you were going to commit.”
In the past, Anas has gone undercover in orphanages and psychiatric hospitals.
“Shaming those who engage in these practices is the best way and putting them behind bars is an additional benefit,” he said.
Andrew Muchineripi, a South Africa-based football analyst, said the revelations in “Number 12” were not surprising.
The former president of the Confederation of African Football, Issa Hayatou, has been accused of accepting a $1.5 million bribe to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
In April, the head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s football association was arrested on suspicion of embezzling $1.0 million.
“It saddens me that many football officials across Africa are not in the game for the love of it but to gain financial reward,” he said.
“I read all too often stories from around the continent about officials being probed over missing funds or non-payments. It’s a curse that hangs over African football.
“The temptation to take money from the kitty, which should be going to those who play the game, seems irresistible for many African officials.”
Anas equally said it was hard to overestimate the damage that corruption may have caused to African football.
“How come that Africa is not doing so well in the World Cup in order to get to the finals? Africa has some of the world’s best players but how come we don’t get there?” he asked.
“Do we know the number of talents that are burned as a result of money being taken and the wrong players being chosen?”
With Anas, perhaps Ghana is closer to getting an answer to those questions.