It was still dawn when I set out. The ravaging sunshine that often afflicted those of us living on the cusp of the Sahara had not thrust its way through the clouds when I met up with an old friend and also my middle man. He was called Target.
Target had an inside knowledge of Zamfara state, where we were going to hunt for gold. His father - a prominent chief - knew a reliable gold dealer in the region, so he was taking me there.
Nigeria is not a country associated with gold. We are oil producers. So even I was surprised to learn that there were gold deposits in Zamfara state – a next-door neighbour to Kebbi state, where I lived. Kebbi state is a mass of arid land that shares a border with Niger republic.
Before we set out to seek our good fortune, Target asked for 300 Naira to buy a special perfume for his good luck ring. He said he could not travel without the ring, and the perfume made the ring effective. I granted his request. Then he said he needed to smoke igbo (weed) before we set out. I let him. After that he wanted to down some cough syrup. Young men often take it to get high. I put my foot down at that point. I needed him to be completely self aware during our forage.
Soon afterwards, we set out on a road blighted with clouds of dust to a place called Zuru. It took us some thirty minutes to get there. We travelled in a very old fashioned, miniature Datsun car. Three people were squeezed into the front seat: one shared a seat with the driver, the other two shared the passengers’ seat. There were four of us at the back. It was so tight, my ribcage was compressed. And there was one person in the boot.
In the last leg of our journey to a place called Onashi (where the gold mine was located), we boarded an old Toyota starlet full of Fulani herdsmen with their long sticks hitting the ceiling and poking out of the windows.
When we got to Onashi, we approached two commercial motorcyclists known as okada men, and told them we were going to the gold mine. They usually charge 20 Naira per journey, but they charged us 800 Naira each.
My okada man was smallish man and talked a lot. He told me he was also into the gold business and it was helping him take good care of his two wives.
The journey to the mine was very bumpy. The road was fraught with hills, narrow desert paths and a lot of trees – which the okada man had to keep swerving to dodge. People were very friendly. All the people we met on the way – including herdsmen - waved at us and greeted us ‘Sanu.’
Between intervals, we would ride past a pond where people were bathing or camels and donkeys were drinking water. At one point we were riding through a stream that came up to our buttocks.
The road got progressively worse the farther we travelled. It was worsened by a recent rainfall that had rendered the roads muddy. Sometimes the bike would skid and fall. We'd get up and mount the bike again.
At some point we had to journey through farms. Some of the farmers had grown millet trees (which were now due to be harvested) and the trees towered up to 15 foot high.
Our journey was still in progress when we noticed that Target and his okada man had disappeared.
We had to make our way back. We hit upon Target and his bike man some metres away. The chain of their bike had cut and the bike man could not go any further, so Target joined me on my newer bike, and the journey continued.
As the day grew older, we got to a village. It was very rustic. All the houses in the village were made from mud. Then we got to a river. We had to pay 200 Naira to hire a boat to take us and our bike across. There were little children swimming in the river. The boy at the helm struggled to steer us in the right direction, as strong currents kept pushing us off course.
At the other side, we continued the bumpy journey on our bike. The terrain was so rocky. Sometimes we would virtually carry the bike in our hands to navigate a certain terrain. It took us three hours to get to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill, we looked down and saw a river teeming with people washing out gold particles from sediments.
(To be Continued)