By Tony Okafor
The 2022 Press Week of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council would go down in history of the union as very unique. Unique in the sense that it was the only week ever celebrated by the union that featured different activities lined up: including facility tour, picnic, visits to charity homes, novelty match, lectures/symposia and installation of awards and a church worship in a Pentecostal Church. Thanks to members of my committee. Great people!
Thus, before 9am on Wednesday, 26th October,2022 scores of journalists had converged on the NUJ Secretariat, Awka waiting to be lifted to Ogbunike cave on a picnic. Male and female members of the union, all in high spirits for the event.
Two male tour guards were assigned to the journalists from the ministry of Culture/Tourism/ Entertainment for the picnic.
At about close to 12noon a coaster bus filled to capacity and another 14- seater bus lifted the journalists to the picnic venue.
On arrival after about 45 minutes drive, the picnickers had a long bargain about terms and conditions for entry into the cave.
While the journalists were not expecting any such bargains, some able-bodied native guards insisted that the journalists must pay N1000 per head of the picnickers amounting to close to N40,000 before they could gain ingress into cave
The development prompted phone calls to government officials for intervention. All efforts to explain to the local guards that journalists would give the cave more publicity by embarking on the picnic ,fell on deaf ears. In the end, the journalists paid and were taken to the cave by two fierce- looking young men in their late 30s or early 40s as native guards.
At the entrance of the cave, the native guards reeled out instructions for qualifications into the cave.
Top of the instructions are that : ladies on menstrual period would not be qualified to enter the cave: secondly, no one would enter the cave wearing shoes. With the instructions sounding more like a spiritual order , two ladies, one a journalist and the other a daughter to a female journalist declined ingress into the cave. Others pulled off their shoes and began the journey into the dark alley.
Located in a valley blanketed by tropical rain forest, the collection of caves has been in use over centuries by local people for whom it has particular spiritual significance. This spiritual significance is still apparent, as the “Ime Ogba” celebration is undertaken every year to commemorate the discovery of the caves, the native guards narrated with a sense of pride.
Descending into the valley where the caves are located is a lengthy walkway made up of about 317 steps said to have been constructed by the Anambra State Government in the mid 90s. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the caves, as per tradition. And women who are having their monthly cycle cannot go in.
The main cave consists of a massive structure with a big open chamber of about 5m high, 10m wide and 30m long at the entrance. There are ten tunnels at the main chamber leading to different directions. Within the tunnels are big chambers and other tunnels of varying lengths, some of which are inter connected. The caves are occupied by a large colony of bats of various sizes. There are streams and body of water at various places. A stream flows out from one of the tunnels into a rapid flowing river (River Nkissa). At the meeting point of the river and the stream one can feel the warm water from the caves and the cold river water. Beside this portion of the river is a table land of about 5 X 5 square meters used as a relaxation spot by visitors to the caves. The immediate environment of the caves up to about 200 meters radius is a thick tropical rainforest type of vegetation. The site has sufficient boundaries (20 hectares) to protect its values from direct effects of human encroachment.
More than half of the journalists that attended picnic described the experience as a fun as they danced and had light refreshment at the end of the picnic up the entrance to the cave were two buildings situate.
1) Inside the cave should be illuminated. The impenetrable darkness in the cave can cause avoidable accident should the cave remain as it is. The local guards even attested to this fact.
2) Since the place is a potential world class tourist centre, the sacrifices inside the cave should be discouraged. Whatever god(s) the sacrifices are made to can be redirected to a corner of the cave where such sacrifices shall be out of sight and out of hearing.
3) Since the adventure inside the cave is arduous, the guards should forewarn picnickers about the task ahead before they would embark on the journey to prevent those with cardiovascular/ respiratory problems from imminent danger.
4) Government should redirect the orientation of the local/resident guards to see the place as tourist centre instead of a kindred shrine. The resident guards should be civil to picnickers instead of threatening them with curses from the gods should they not meet their pecuniary demands.
5) Motels and hotels as well as a police post/ station are recommended near and around the cave to boost confidence and fun so that the cave will continue to resonate in the tourism industry as a wonderland of joy.