After we had arrived Onashi, where the goldmine was located, we went in search of Alhaji. Alhaji was the renowned gold dealer that my friend and middleman, Target, had recommended.
At Alhaji’s residence, we were treated us with suspicion. Two men outside his house asked us many questions centering on who we were and where we were coming from. I think my towering frame had convinced them I was a policeman. They backed down when Target mentioned who his father is and told them we were sent by him. Alhaji emerged from the house shortly after. He greeted us warmly and offered us soft drinks and ram suya.
I told him I had come in search of gold and needed his help. Alhaji explained the various ways of buying gold. We could sponsor a labourer to go into the mine and dig up some gold, or buy directly from the mine owners, or buy gold through a dealer.
We chose the latter and opted to get started the following morning.
After our chat with Alhaji, we decided to visit the village square.
I don’t think I have come across any village as rustic as Onashi. All the houses were mud houses, including Alhaji’s (his was the biggest). The doors were so short that you had to duck to enter. Only the UNICEF headquarters looked slightly modern.
We entered the market where, to our surpise, only juju was sold. There were various people selling juju or magic potions. They demonstrated the strength of their products in the most extraordinary ways. Taking my place among a crowd of spectators, I watched a boy swallow a knife before urging people to buy his juju for protection. Another seller slashed himself on the head with a cutlass repeatedly but there wasn’t even the tiniest cut or bruise. He told us his juju ring was so powerful, and if worn could repel any kind of attack including bullets and sharp weapons.
The eeriest was a ‘remote control’ juju. The seller of this peculiar juju was sitting on top of a car roof. There was no driver in the car. Wearing his juju around his neck, he commanded the car in Arabic to start spinning round. The car started spinning round. The told the car to move. It started moving. He even told the car to dance and it started jerking back and forth. After his demonstration, there was a rush to purchase his juju.
Early the next morning Target, Alhaji and I went to wait along a marked route for gold washers coming from the river.
Alhaji was adept at spotting higher quality gold just by the look of it. He could automatically tell when gold offered was 24 karat, 19 karat or less. A gramme was going for four thousand naira.
We sat under the shade and waited for the labourers to bring gold to us. With the help of our gold dealer, Alhaji, we selected quality gold from seller after seller until my money ran out.
During the day, I was able to observe labourers in the mine at work. The strapping young men that entered the mine had bodies ripped with muscles. Before entering the mine, they bought marijuana to get high. Only after getting high, would they descend into the pit where they would spend days digging deeper and deeper into the earth, searching for gold. They dug up to 300 feet deep in sweltering conditions.
Sometimes when they alighted upon rocks that wouldn’t give way, they would exit the mine, throw in a dynamite to break up the rock, then wait for a day before reentering.
In the mine there is a big space like a parlour where the men go to rest and pray. I was told on one occasion, the mine collapsed over the parlour and several men were killed. Mines collapsing were a regular occurrence, and it usually cost human lives. When a mine collapsed, the labourers would move onto another area to dig.
The dry season was often a more favourable season for digging up gold than the rainy season, as more gold could be found.
The labourers that made it out alive emerged from the mine after days of hard labour looking white with their bodies covered in mud from head to toe. They were the highest paid in the chain of production, but they risked their lives for every venture.
to transport us out of Onashi as we started the long journey back to Mahuta . The cyclist wore an amulet which he claimed allowed him to predict when the road was clear and when thieves were lurking along the way.
From Mahuta I travelled to Lagos where I sold the gold for a reasonable price.
It was my first forage into gold selling and it was really an eye opener.