My full-time career as a journalist and my journey into investigative journalism began in 2012 with a call from a man who introduced himself as Elvis Kwashie. Until that day, I hadn’t heard his name before. And it wasn’t strange.
For many years, my exposure to the media had been limited to the Ghana Broadcasting Cooperation (GBC) and the Daily Graphic. GBC reached us in Kete-Krachi through GTV and GBC’s Volta regional station, Volta Star Radio.
Fifty copies of the Daily Graphic made it into Kete-Krachi a day after each publication. They were distributed to heads of departments, secondary schools and influential personalities who subscribed to the newspaper. (The paper is still distributed in Kete-Krachi a day after it is published).
I did not switch my loyalty from the GBC when I came to Accra in 2006. Later, I would listen to news or special programmes on Joy FM from time to time, but GBC was still my default station.
Therefore, my knowledge of Joy FM was limited to some popular on-air personalities, my friends from journalism school and the journalists at myjoyonline.com.
Elvis Kwashie, like Kwasi Twum, did not crave the limelight. So, it was normal that I hadn’t heard about him until I heard from him.
He called that morning to request a meeting. The purpose, he mentioned, was the possibility of working with me. I had left journalism school less than two years at the time and had won seven journalism awards, including the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) most promising young journalist of the year and the overall best journalist of the year. That was, perhaps, what caught the attention of Elvis and the management of Joy FM to look for me.
I was embarking on a three-week trip to Germany the following day, so I told Elvis I’d call him for the meeting when I returned.
Before we met, I consulted a few friends for advice. An overwhelming majority of them were against the idea of working for Joy FM. They said the kind of journalism I was doing was unique and that Joy would hinder that progress. I had been working as a freelancer and often travelled across the country to do compelling developmental stories.
When I decided I would experience Joy FM myself instead of relying on the experiences of others, I called Elvis for the meeting. At that meeting, I got to know him as the Managing News Editor of Joy FM. He came to that meeting with Kofi Ansah, the Programmes Director of Joy FM.
Joy FM wanted to work with me, Elvis said, and they wanted to know whether I was interested and what my terms were.
I told them I enjoyed the kind of journalism I was doing and would only join if I was assured that I would be allowed to travel around the country and do stories instead of being in the newsroom calling politicians and recording interviews.
That was exactly what Elvis said he wanted. I mentioned my salary expectation, and a deal was closed, even though I got slightly below what I mentioned.
I started work on November 1, 2012. The 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections were a month away, and I couldn’t have joined Joy FM at a busier time. In the next month, I produced two hotline documentaries – one on the Melcom disaster, which took the lives of at least 14 people and the injury of almost 80 others. The other one was one titled The People’s Manifesto, which outlined the expectations of young people in the elections.
However, before the dust of the 2012 elections settled, my focus in journalism was already changing. Then, in January, someone gave me a tip-off about some shady dealings at the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA).
I discussed the idea with Elvis, and he said I should pursue it. At the time, I didn’t know it was investigative journalism until I was far advanced in the story. All I had was the desire to get to the bottom of the matter and the disdain for those thieves who operated with the misguided notion that everyone has a price.
I had done my first and master’s degrees in journalism, but I hadn’t studied investigative journalism as a course at both levels. That story turned out to be the most impactful in my career as far as saving the public purse is concerned. I did it under the guidance of Elvis Kwashie.
It was the launchpad for my career in investigative journalism. I would later travel across the country, as I had mentioned at my first meeting with Elvis. However, instead of showing how bad the road to Kete-Krachi was, my focus now was to find out who got the money to build the road but had failed to execute the project.
Elvis helped my investigative journalism career in several ways. When I joined Joy FM, there was no investigative journalism desk. Some of the editors were not used to allowing a journalist to assign himself to a story and work outside the newsroom or being absent from editorial meetings. Some could not take the fact that I was unavailable to be assigned to stories discussed at editorial meetings.
In all these years, Elvis was the one who intervened. Whenever the newsroom looked depleted, and I had a story I was investigating, he would appeal to me to assist before leaving to chase my dreams.
I also realised very early in my investigative journalism career that people are willing to pay anything to kill a negative story about them or their businesses. But, unfortunately for them, I have never felt tempted by such offers. On the contrary, I have always found it demeaning that a thief will even have the courage to want to buy my conscience.
Fortunately for me, Elvis Kwashie was not the editor who would go behind to kill a story when the reporter could not be compromised.
Later, Joy FM and Joy TV newsrooms were merged into JoyNews, and Elvis managed both. It meant more work and more impact. It became the hallmark of quality journalism, the kind of journalism that has challenged authority and caused the change.
I worked under Elvis for nearly seven years, and we did some of the most daring works.
Of course, we did not agree on everything. We had our differences. And we had our fights. But we didn’t hold grudges against each other. What held us together was stronger than our differences.
In most of my investigations, he was the only one who knew the stories until they were ready. He was a good “partner in crime”.
I caused him headache. He shared part of the dangers I faced by virtue of my stories. That wasn’t all.
Those who could not confront me about my work and writings complained to him. If I had enough evidence that someone was a thief, I didn’t see why I should call that person by any other name. If I had enough evidence that the president or minister of state was lying, I didn’t understand why I should say they were inaccurate instead of saying they lied. When they felt hurt and thought it was pointless to contact me, Elvis was the one they cried to. I wouldn’t yield to their concerns when I knew I was right and they were wrong.
“Bongo, I’m not asking you to stop what you’re are doing. You can still write, but just tone down,” Elvis would say. And I would reason with him until someone misbehaved and I had to call them by their names. We had a relationship that went beyond work. We were friends, and our families knew each other. I could, therefore, sense how hurt he was when I went to his house that early morning after making up my mind.
“I have taken a decision, and I feel it’s only natural that I tell you before I communicate it to management,” I began after we exchanged pleasantries.
“Bongo, don’t tell me you’re resigning,” Elvis sounded alarmed. That was exactly what I was doing. I told him I’d printed my resignation letter and would submit it that day.
Later that day, Elvis and Kofi Ansah called me to a meeting at a restaurant in East Legon.
When I was writing this piece, it occurred to me; they were the two people I first met before I joined Joy FM. They were not going to be the last to talk me into rescinding my decision, but I had decided, and nothing was going to change that. I felt sorry I broke many hearts, especially that of Elvis.
My resignation, however, did not end my relationship with Elvis. We were still friends. And we still worked together. I left on the matter of principle, but I knew that JoyNews was still the most credible, independent and fearless newsroom in Ghana. In a statement I released after my resignation, I mentioned that if I had to work full-time with any traditional media house in Ghana, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose JoyNews again. That was the newsroom Elvis built.
Elvis wasn’t the kind of leader who craved attention. He was not intimidated by the rise of his team members. He was active in the things that brought some of us the glorious moments in journalism, but anonymous, he preferred to be anonymous in that glory.
It’s difficult to accept the reality that he’s gone. He gave his all to his work, and while we mourn, those who encountered him will learn from his qualities and strengths.
And we’ll take cues from his weaknesses, one of them being his unwillingness to rest when he’s visibly tired.
Efo, I’ll miss your unique pronunciation of “Bongo” ever since I taught you that the “G” is silent and that together with the “N”, it should sound like the first syllable of the Ewe word for nose.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate.
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