Murdering Journalists Just Got a Little Bit Easier in Africa
Ahmed Divela uncovered massive corruption among soccer officials in Ghana and Nigeria only to discover “the beautiful game” can be a deadly business.
UYO, Nigeria—For years, Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela worked as an investigative journalist for an outfit in Ghana that exposed some of the most glaring corruption of politicians and senior officials in the country’s government.
The impact of his undercover reporting was felt elsewhere in Africa as well. The journalist played a key role in an investigative video that showed the coach of the Nigerian national soccer team, Salisu Yusuf, apparently taking bribes, and he co-operated with the BBC on a number of stories, including an investigation into the sale of human body parts for ritual magic in Malawi .
For a very long time, Divela’s name and face were unknown to the public. When he did make appearances, it was in disguise. But after he shot a documentary last May exposing alleged corruption in the world soccer federation, FIFA, a bitter Ghanaian politician revealed his true identity and the journalist began to get death threats.
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, as the 34-year-old reporter approached his home in the Accra suburb of Madina, two men on a motorbike pulled up next to his car and shot him at close range—twice in the chest and once in the neck—killing him instantly.
“We heard loud gunshots at about 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday,” says Samuel Addo, who lives close to the place where the shooting took place. “I came out of my home about 15 minutes after and saw a few persons gathered at the scene,” he told The Daily Beast.
Divela worked for Tiger Eye Private Investigations, a journalists’ cooperative run by prominent Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
The Tiger Eye PI documentary that made Divela a marked man was Number 12: When Greed and Corruption Become the Norm. It showed Kwesi Nyantakyi, a member of the FIFA council and head of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), taking a $65,000 bribe from a supposed businessman seeking to sponsor the Ghanaian soccer league.
Following the report, FIFA banned Nyantakyi for life and fined him nearly $500,000. As a result, he lost his positions as president of the GFA, vice-president of the Confederation of African Football, and member of the FIFA Council.
“Number 12” didn't just expose Nyantakyi. It also showed numerous match officials receiving bribes. FIFA banned eight referees and assistant referees for life and handed 10-year bans to 53 other officials. The revelations also caused the Ghana Premier League to be suspended in June. It still has not resumed after nearly seven months.
“Those who benefit from the corruption in the league will be hurt by its suspension and will definitely blame Hussein-Suale and his colleagues for it,” says Okon Nya, editor of Busy Buddies, which covers the soccer leagues in West Africa. “Ordinary Ghanaians celebrate them, but the corrupt ones want to bring them down.”
Divela’s identity was first revealed on May 30, 2018—three weeks after “Number 12” first aired—when Ghanaian lawmaker, Kennedy Agyapong, who was also implicated in the documentary, showed pictures of the journalist and revealed the neighborhood where he lived in an interview on the national television channel, Net 2 TV, which the politician owns."That boy that's very dangerous, he lives here in Madina. If you meet him somewhere, break his ears," said Agyapong, pointing at the reporter’s picture. He also promised to pay supporters who took retribution against Divela.
Those comments quickly resurfaced in the media shortly after Hussein-Suale was killed, but the lawmaker rejected claims that he is behind the journalist's murder, telling Neat FM, a local radio station: “He has never offended me. So, they should go and investigate those he has offended, not me. He and his boss [Anas] have offended so many people in this country. The evil they have been doing will follow them.”
Months before his death, Divela had feared Agyapong's action could cost him his life.
Last September, the journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he believed certain “criminals” in Ghana sought to harm him and that these persons are “associated with powers that be in Ghana and can do anything and get away with it.""Since my image was published and [the] public was incited against me... many people have attempted [to attack me]," he informed CPJ via WhatsApp. "Indeed, it [has] been hinted in some quarters that the very man who published [my image] said he was doing everything possible to quell [my] existence."
Some reports in the local media claimed Agyapong was questioned by the police after the murder but was released without charge. These reports have however been debunked by lawmakers from opposition parties who said in a statement on Jan. 21 that “till date,” Agyapong “has not been invited by the police for questionings.” They called for his arrest and prosecution.
“Mr. Agyapong appears to have abetted several offences ranging from assault, causing harm, causing harm with the use of an offensive weapon, attempted murder and murder by instigating the public,” an official statement by members of parliament in the minority said. “By the operation of our law, the offence of abetting a crime through instigating violence is committed even if no member of the public lifts a finger in furtherance of the invitation.”
Two days after Divela’s murder, The Daily Beast tried to contact Agyapong, who is a member of Ghana's ruling New Patriotic Party, but was told by a close associate of the politician that he is “out the country.”
Another close source to the lawmaker informed The Daily Beast privately that Agyapong flew out of the country a day after the journalist was killed, in an Emirates Airlines flight that was heading to Dubai.
“We're not sure if [Dubai] is his final destination and when he will return,” the source said. “Let's wait and see.”
Eventually, Agyapong returned to Accra and was present in Wednesday's parliamentary session, where Speaker of the Parliament Aaron Mike Oquaye referred him to the privileges committee to determine whether or not the he was liable in the journalist's murder. It is not clear when the committee will meet on the matter.
Divela, who was Muslim, was buried on Friday, Jan. 18—two days after he was murdered—in accordance with Islamic rites, but his death continues to be of intense interest to his compatriots.
The build-up to his murder suggests the journalist may have been closely monitored. Moments before he was killed, Divela, who was in the home of a relative, reportedly received a phone call from home asking him to return to attend to his sick child. He was ambushed by his killers as he rushed back to his house.
“It's possible that his phone line was tapped,” said Christian Anozie, editor of Events Diary magazine which has covered major events in Ghana for over a decade. “Somebody definitely knew he was going to return at the hour he did.”
Attacks on journalists are rare in Ghana—an unusually stable nation in an often turbulent West African region. Only one other journalist has been killed in the country since 1992, according to the CPJ. But media practitioners now fear attacks on journalists could become the norm if Divela's killers are not brought to book.
Divela “raised alarms a long time ago about threats to his life, yet nothing tangible was done,” said Anozie. “If he doesn't get justice, others who are uncomfortable with the press will be encouraged to attack journalists.”