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Ogbunike Cave… Finally, Light Beams On ‘Abandoned’ Heritage

By Chuks Nwanne
29 March 2015   |   4:24 am
WHENEVER the name Ogbunike is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the Ogbunike Cave, only a few will remember the town as country home of the late flamboyant politician and former Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo.
Visitors to the cave descending its staircase

Visitors to the cave descending its staircase

• We Will Transform It To A World Class Tourism Haven, Says Obiano

WHENEVER the name Ogbunike is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the Ogbunike Cave, only a few will remember the town as country home of the late flamboyant politician and former Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo.

In fact, it was rumoured at some point that the Oyi of Oyi once hid the Mace inside the Cave for ‘protection’– that was during the plot to get him impeached. Really, there’s myth around this cave, but to an average Ogbunike man or woman, the Cave is more like an identity; it’s a thing of pride.

Unfortunately, over the years, the site has received little or no attention from both the state and federal government. Aside from listing it as one of the major tourist sites in the country, nothing tangible has been put on ground to lift the heritage and attract more tourists. If not for community effort, through the traditional ruler of Ogbunike, HRH Igwe John Ositadimma Umenyiora, who had set up a committee to oversea affairs of the cave and provide security for visitors, the place would have been overgrown by weed.

On different occasions, Igwe Umenyiora had interacted with top officials of the Nigerian Tourism Development Council (NTDC), including paying a courtesy call to the agency, with his cabinet members, to get the government interested in developing the tourism potential of the cave. But beyond the male and female toilets erected there, which are usually under lock and key, the story of the place, over the years, has been empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile, a recent economic impact study by the National Park Service in the United States of America revealed that Mammoth Cave National Park generates $62 million for the South Central Kentucky area each year. Starting from the national level, the study shows how the national park system as a whole, has a trickle-down effect that pays out big dividends to the communities adjacent to each park. The Money Generation Model is based on a park’s annual visitation; approximately 500,000 people visit Mammoth Cave National Park each year.

The programme calculates a park’s economic impact in this manner: 500,000 visitors spend $32 million in the park and surrounding communities each year; visitor spending supports 525 jobs; these park-supported jobs generate $11 million in take-home pay for employees; take home pay spent in area communities multiplies to an added value of $19 million. This spending has a ripple effect ($32 million + $11 million + $19 million) totaling $62 million generated in South Central Kentucky. This shows how lucrative a cave could be when fully developed. And from all indications, Ogbunike Cave has the potentials.

On assumption of office as Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, made clear his intentions to grow the IGR of the state by diversifying the economy and taking the state beyond buying and selling. In doing so, he indentified tourism as a key sector, with Ogbunike Cave on top of his priority list. In fact, the Governor vowed to transform the historic site to a tourism haven.

Initially, Obiano’s statement, to an average Ogbunike man/woman, sounded more like the usual lip service by government officials, who had promised heaven on earth. But on the day he stormed the cave with his cabinet members and current Miss Tourism of the state, Queen Collette Nwadike, it became obvious to the people that the governor is determined to match his words with actions.

Explaining to the community that the cave had been designated a world heritage site by the UNESCO, Obiano declared that his administration would strive to acquire the surrounding areas of the cave and ensure the preservation of its pristine outlook.

Earlier, the governor had flagged off construction work on the Ugwu-Nwasike-Azu-Ogbunike-Azu-Amawa-Osile-Ifite-Umueri-Saint Monica College Ogbunike Cave road and promised that more roads leading to the heritage site would soon be flagged off as well.

He restated his administration’s resolve to re-introduce leisure and recreation into the lives of Ndi Anambra, adding that work had reached advanced stage on the construction of the Agulu Lake Hotel Resort in Anaocha Local Council as well as the three ultramodern shopping malls currently being built in the state.

“I’m currently working on a stretch of road that will lead to the Ogbunike Cave. It is one of the best caves in the world with 11 entrances.

By the time you go to that cave, you will be amazed. You will see waterfalls and I believe that there are rivers in there that can be explored. We will get a team of explorers to go in there to make sure that there are no dangerous animals like lions there before we open it to the public to explore,” Obiano said.

To ascertain the level of development on the project, which is expected to grow the economy of the state, The Guardian recently took a tour of the Cave. Though major work has not commenced at the main site, all roads leading to the tourist destination are currently under construction.

“When we saw the state of roads in Ogbunike, we resolved, to first of all fix them, especially the ones leading to the Cave; that’s the only way you can move equipment to the site. So, right now, we are paying attention to the roads and once that is done, the contractor will move into site,” Obiano hinted.

On ground assessment shows that the road from St Monica’s College to Umudioka is wearing new look, while drainage system is currently being constructed on the Ugwu-Nwasike-Azu-Ogbunike-Azu-Amawa-Osile-Ifite-Umueri-Saint Monica College Ogbunike Cave road.

However, the governor has charged the contractor handling the Ogbunike road project to complete the work on schedule or risk immediate revocation of the contract terms. He gave the warning during an inspection of the extent of work at the project, where he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of work done so far and directed the contracting firm to accelerate the pace of work to complete it on schedule.

Meanwhile, the inability of the government (both federal and state) to show determination in developing the cave has forced the Ifite Community, Ogbunike, to encroach on the land surrounding the cave. So, unlike the days, when St Monica’s College was the closest structure to the cave, new buildings are springing up within the area on a daily basis, which if not checked now, could affect the development of the cave.

It would be recalled that the production team for the last Gulder Ultimate Search had selected Ogbunike Cave as one of the possible host for this year’s search, but the noise from construction sites around the cave force the crew to look towards Aguleri Forest.

A member of the community, Harrison Chuma, who spoke to The Guardian, commended the state governor for taking interest in Ogbunike Cave after years of neglect.

“Naturally, this cave is a great gift from nature; it’s only but natural that God used this heritage to bless us. This cave has the capacity of opening up Ogbunike, empowering our youths and also improving the economy of the state in general. So, economically, this project will benefit our people; it’s not something you find everywhere,” he said.

He criticized past political office holders from the community for their inability to get the government to develop the site, adding, “I’m not surprised because I know the character of leaders we have; they are not interested in developing the community. We have been producing prominent people in government, but the problem is that they are usually detached from home,” he said.

. . . Inside Ogbunike Cave

OGBUNIKE Cave, which lies within the tropical rain forest belt, is situated in a valley behind the Ogba hills in which lies St. Monica College, Ogbunike. 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.

At the end of the walkway is an open space used as a reception point, where visitors are by tradition expected to remove their shoes.

The main cave consists of a massive structure with a big open chamber of about 5m high, 10m wide and 30m long 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 rapidly 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 tableland 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 metres radius is a thick tropical rainforest type of vegetation. Among the fauna of the site are deer, antelope, grass cutter, porcupine, rabbit, alligator, snakes and frogs. Others are fish, crabs and birds.

Ogbunike Cave is associated with living traditions and has been used by the people for many centuries; the site still retains its historical and spiritual significance. The biodiversity of the site has remained almost in tact. The integrity of the site can be attested to by the presence of the primary forests around the caves.

The Nkisa River flows by the side of the caves into which the water that drains from the caves empties itself. The entire site is of undulating hills and valleys, which stretch across other communities and farmlands. The site has sufficient boundaries (20 hectares) to protect its values from direct effects of human encroachment.

In 2007, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments submitted Ogbunike Cave to UNESCO, under mixed category, to be considered as a World Heritage Centre. For now, the Cave is still on the tentative list.