Seven days after the death of Malama Saida Lawal, along with four other sand excavators in Minjibir Local Government Area of Kano State, Amira Lawal, her 12-year-old daughter, is still in disbelief over the tragedy that claimed her mother’s life.
In tears, Amira and her elder brother, Mubarak were led to Ramin Farin Kasa, the sand site in Dauni village, where their mother was trapped to death while extracting soil particles used by rural women for cosmetic powder.
Unlike others, the late mother of six, however, was said to have fallen victim of the tragedy while trying to fetch some of the sands for her daughter, who was desirous of having some for makeup.
When our correspondent visited Dauni community recently, the residents were yet to recover from the shock of the tragedy as they besieged the site to see for themselves, where five local excavators were buried alive.
Few yards south of the field were five graves where the charred bodies of the victims were buried.
Some of the residents who spoke to our correspondent could not hold their tears as they narrated how the whole tragedy unfolded and the scar it left in the sleepy agricultural community.
They attributed the incident to the level of poverty among the women population, which forces some of them into sand excavation business in spite of the dangers attached to it.
According to Malama Yahanatu Idris, one of the residents who spoke to our correspondent at the scene of the tragedy, the use of the sand for powder started about five years ago when young women in Dauni village discovered it.
She said owing to lack of viable economic activity, the villagers started trading in the sand to neighbouring communities and subsequently major markets in the state capital.
She said, “Go to Kofar Wambai now, you will see young girls from these communities selling the sand and people are buying it. They are using it as powder for makeup. In fact, to tell you that this has gone wide before this tragedy, people were coming from wide and near to buy this sand directly from the excavator for onward sale in the market.”
Although the use of this product could be associated with people in rural areas, findings by Daily Trust Saturday, however, revealed that the product is beginning to get prominence and wide acceptance, even among urban women in the state.
Hajiya Zainabu Abdulmumin, one of the patrons of the sand, in Kano metropolis said, “The sand comes in five different colours – pink, brown, dark brown, peach. But the common ones used for makeup are the pink and brown, while dark brown is used to smoothen the skin.
“Few minutes before taking your bath you have to robe it all over your body. It cleanses the skin.”
Before the tragic incident, our correspondent was told that young women between the ages of 12 and 20 from surrounding villages were visiting the site to scoop the soil particles for sale at Kofar Wambai in Kano metropolis.
The villagers said others would come to the site to buy directly at cheaper prices from the locals for onward sale and distribution in parts of the city.
A bowl of sand is sold at N20 at the site, but at Kofar Wambai, after undergoing necessary processing, costs at least N1000.
The soil particles, which come in multiple colours and textures, are embedded in layers in a deflated surface, formed either through human activities or wind aberration over a hundred years ago.
Our correspondent gathered that during the rainy season, the field is usually filled up with water; and it has been a reservoir for animals and communities within the area.
The head of the community, Alhaji Bello Rabiu, who said they all grew up to meet the field, however, noted that sand from the field was initially used for local architectural decorations until the women within the community discovered another use for it recently.
He said since the women started using the substance for cosmetics purposes, the field became an attraction to many women from neighbouring villages. He said that for fear of unforeseen consequences, he had to give an order stopping them from further excavation.
He, however, said that despite efforts to stop them from excavating the sand, the women couldn’t listen until the sad incident befell the community last week.
Narrating how the incident happened, Rabiu said, “The tragedy occurred on Thursday last week at 12 noon. I was about to go to market, suddenly some of women came and told me that six people had been trapped in a cave at the sand site. Hearing that, I immediately mobilised people within and surrounding villages to see how we could rescue them.
“We started at 12 noon, but it was past 4pm before we could find the first person in the debris. The first person we evacuated was Saida Lawali, then Khadija Shaibu, 12 years. Then we were lucky to get the four-year-old boy, Ibrahim Shuaibu unhurt. We also retrieved Hadija Shuaibu. Five of them, including one Wasila Nuhu, were brought out dead; only the four-year-old boy survived and unhurt.
He said that after the five bodies were evacuated, he immediately reported the matter to the district head, who in turn informed the chairman of the local government.
He said the Police and personnel of the Fire Service in the state were mobilised to the scene for assistance before the lifeless bodies of the victims were evacuated at 8:30pm.
“The following day, I wrote a report and summitted to the district head and they gave us permission to bury the dead close to the site to serve as warning to others.
He said with the instruction of the Emir of Bichi, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero excavation activities had been banned in the area, with a stern warning that anyone caught in the act would face prosecution.
Rabiu, who was still in shock, said, “Since I was born, I have never seen something like that – five people dead in such tragic situation. The memories of that day could hardly be erased from my mind. It was one of the days I will never forget in my life. I was very disturbed, and up till now, I am yet to recover from the shock of that tragedy.
He called on the government to help in fencing the area to avert future occurrence.
Speaking on behalf of the affected families, Malam Idris Mohammed, who lost two of his daughters in the incident said, “It was a horrible experience, but we just have to take solace in God, believing that it was their destiny from the almighty. This could have been averted if they had listened to warnings the leadership of this community sounded. It happened that they went to the site without anyone knowing, and this happened. We give thanks to Allah and pray that such a thing will never happen here again.”
Daily Trust Saturday observed that as families of the deceased mourn, the sand business is waxing strong in Kano, with dealers coming from Niger Republic.
When Daily Trust saturday visited Kofar Wambai, where the product is being traded, many women were on hand to obtain the product, including a dealer from Maradi in Niger Republic.
Malam Mubarak Ibrahim Gwarmai, a dealer in the product, said he received supplies from rural women, which he processed and packaged it for sale.
A packet of the product at Kofar Wambai is sold at N250.
Although he refused to disclose his daily earnings from the business, Gwarmai, however, said he had achieved a lot from its proceeds, including his education.
He said he started the business about four years ago and subsequently got some people working under him to process the sand.
He said women from different parts of the city patronised the product for use as cosmetics.