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Save Ogbunike Caves For Tourism Development

Ogbunike Caves, a UNESCO Heritage Site in Southeastern Nigeria is set amidst the Ogba Hills around Ogbunike. Inhabited by colonies of bats, the caves consist of 10 tunnels and a main chamber, which snake their way underneath the hillside. The tunnels are filled with streams and small pools.

The caves have retained the same biodiversity for hundreds of years, and are like a glimpse into another world.

The rainforest surrounding the cave is home to alligators, snakes, antelopes, deer and porcupines.

There is an impressive waterfall at the northwest end of the caves. During the years of slave trade, people escaped slave raiding activity by running into Ogbunike Caves.

The people of UgwuOgba fondly refer to it as Ogba Ogbunike.

Ogbunike town is located in Oyi Local Government Area, about 10km from Onitsha the ever-bubbling commercial city in Eastern Nigeria.

The cave is segmented into sections and there are different stories about each section.

Leading into the cave is a track comprising 60 steps which leads into a number of other mazes, a complex and baffling network of paths.

The entrance to the five tunnels of the cave is a wide, tapering vault of solid rock with all season cool spring water dripping from the top and the corners. Once inside the vault, you feel quite at peace as though you have come to a wonderland.

The naturally-carved networks of chambers and tunnels have two levels. The lower level is about 100m long and leads to an underground river. The upper level is about twice as long and dry, with a bat colony and a waterfall at the north-western end.

Visitors to the cave are advised to go with torch lights, wear trousers and prepare to do some crawling. Within the vicinity of the cave is Mbida Ogba stream.

The bat colony produces a large deposit of guano which supports a rich and diverse invertebrate fauna, but also the reason for histoplasmosis infections.

According to oral tradition passed down the line, it is said that there was a spirit called Ogba who lived inside the cave in the middle of a large rock.

Despite the opaque nature of the rock, the people believed that it is an all-seeing spirit who could detect crimes, especially, theft.

When someone was accused of some sort of crime, he could prove his innocence by entering the cave. The guilty ones never returned alive. Hence the locals call the cave Ogba after the god. Due to this religious belief, visitors to the cave are mandated to enter it with their feet bare.

At the entrance to the cave, rules for visitors are clearly displayed on a sign at the entrance.

The warning reads, Ifite Youth Movement warning; no entry except by permission. Remove your shoes before entering into the cave. Ladies under period banned. Receive receipt after payment. Herbalist or spiritual ceremony in the cave is banned.

Deforestation of cave will be prosecuted. Defaulters will be prosecuted?

Unfortunately painting graffiti on the walls is not forbidden, so the walls are full of graffiti. The site still retains its historical and spiritual significance. There is an annual festival in commemoration of the discovery of the caves.

The biodiversity of the site has remained almost intact. The integrity of the site can be attested to by the presence of the primary forests around the caves. The entire site is within a range 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.

Nduka Nwosu lamented that despite UNESCO approval of the cave as one of its heritage sites, there is no tangible development on the site.

?We are disappointed that despite our contributions, we gave land and made other offers, people even volunteered, but we are hopeful that someday, a government that is tourism-friendly will become our governor in the state.

First published in Daily Times, Feb 20, 2015.