1. “Our people are blind. Instead of hiding this place from the public, we could turn it into a tourist attraction, and make money off it”

By 07:019 AM, January 3rd 2017, I got up from bed, and the first thought that came to me was myafurika.com. I’m passionate about everything the site stands for, and duty bound to support it in the only way I currently can; by going to those remote places where the spirit of Africa and nature still lives, and by trying to use written words to reignite that fading embers of Africanism, and love for our rich culture and heritage, in our people. So I picked up my phone, and after a few calls, I had a destination.

Nkanu West is a Local Government Area of Enugu State , Nigeria . Its headquarters are in the town of Agbani. Bordering the town of Agbani and several other towns is the town of Akpugo, a town so large that there is ongoing talk of making it a Local Government Area. But the size of Akpugo isn’t what this story is about. Akpugo has, amongst other interesting things, various natural spots sacred to the people, and I’d like to take my reader on a trip to one of those places.

Ihunekwe-agu is a community in the town of Akpugo, and deep inside the community is Ogba Ihunekwe-agu, a big cave said to have tunnels leading to every part of Akpugo, and wild animals residing deep inside the tunnels. And of course, Ogba Ihunekwe-agu is also a deity, and a few traditional natives still worship at the small hut standing some meters away from the entrance to the cave.

When the bus arrived at my destination, Orie Mba, Akpugo, the first thing I did after alighting was get something to eat. I was starving, and there was no way I was going to fully enjoy my little adventure, or even remember enough about the place to write, unless I ate. Yes, I’m a foodie. So I walked into a restaurant, ordered Awah soup and fufu, downed the meal under ten minutes (I couldn’t wait to see this cave!), paid, and briskly walked out to look for a bike that would take me to Ogba Ihunekwe-agu. Now that took a while as the first to the sixth bike man said they were not going to be able to venture in there. In retrospect, I still wonder why they wouldn’t go there. The cave isn’t far from Orie Mba. However, after a few more minutes of pleading with one Okada rider, he agreed to take me at double the amount I paid for the trip from Enugu metropolis to the Akpugo. I negotiated some more (this economy has made a good negotiator out of me). In the end, the guy sliced N150 out of the fare, and off we went.

Speeding down a dusty road on a motorcycle in Harmattan is not an experience I had ever enjoyed; one turns brown before they reach their destination. However, it would be dishonest of me if I said I even thought about the dust on this trip. I was too eager to see this place, I felt like I did as a child the first time grandfather took me to the Enugu Airport. And this was also a first time experience, only difference is that an Airport can never hold an much captivating beauty as the abode of Nature that is Ogba Ihunekwe-agu.

Unable to control myself any longer, I asked the bike man whether we were getting close to the cave, his answer dampened my spirits.
“Amahom ebe obu”, he replied. I don’t really know the place.
“But you agreed to take me there!”
“Don’t worry, we will ask people”, he replied with a chuckle, obviously in an attempt to cheer me up.

Unbelievable! I concluded not to give him a dime unless he covered his end of the deal, which was to take me from Orie Mba to Ogba Ihunekwe-agu and wait to bring me back. Just as I was pondering these thoughts and trying to keep my anger under, we burst unto a junction with two roads leading to different directions. This was what I was afraid of! The bike guy, however, suggested we go into a compound by the roadside and make inquiries. Looking into the near distance and noticing a thin fog, I pointed out the road by our right, and told him to take it because I think the fog is a product of some body of water. He refused, pointing out the stress it would cause me physically and financially if I was wrong. The mention of financial stress (additional fare) instantly brought me back to my senses, I don’t like the idea of disturbing a family gathering but who in their right senses likes the idea of indulging in unnecessary spending. So I agreed we disturb the family gathering.

I sighed in frustration when we walked inside the compound just as the gathering was standing up to pray. Time is money, I was dying to see this place, and the only people who could point me to the right path were about to pray. Nigerian Christians spend so much time in prayer each time they want to pray that one sometimes wonder if the Christian god answers prayers according to the amount of time dedicated to each praying session. Nevertheless, I instinctively smiled at the lead intercessor when he rounded up his supplications in under a minute! Apparently, the crates of beer sitting in the middle of the gathering appealed more to them than praying. I quickly called out one of the men before they get down to the main business of the morning (getting drunk obviously), and after exchanging pleasantries, my Okada guy asked him for directions to Ogba Ihunekwe-agu.

“Why do you want to go there?” he asked.
“Sightseeing”, I patiently answered. What a nosy bloke!
“Rituals are not allowed there, the youths are against it”, he vomited. By now the only thing stopping me from going all sarcastic on this guy was the simple fact that I need his help, and I didn’t have the patience to start looking for someone else to ask.
“I’m not a ritualist, just here for sightseeing”, I politely replied with a smile, calling him all sorts of names in my mind. Just then another nosy man from the gathering joined us.
“You want to go to Ogba?’, he asked.
I nodded, calling him ‘Old eavesdropper’ in my mind.
“You mustn’t step into the place with your footwears, and cameras are not allowed there” he added, looking at my phone. The first man agreed with a nod.
“Your phone will explode or worse things will happen to you if you take pictures”, the first man said.
Smiling again, amused at how most Nigerian Christians still have residual fear for old traditional beliefs, I assured him that I wouldn’t dare take pictures. We were showed the road. It was the road I pointed out to my bike man earlier. The fog was gone though, along with the minutes I could’ve utilized in taking some good photos inside the cave. I mourned the wasted time like a loved one gone too soon.

Once again I was speeding down another dusty road, cultivated fields on both sides. In a short time, we came upon a tiny one-room building by the roadside. It had two doors facing each other, both covered with white clothing. This was a shrine. I was close to my destination, and my heart was close to my mouth as it wouldn’t stop jumping up and down in anticipation inside of me.

As the bike slowly bumped down the slope, I saw a few big and old-looking trees a few yards ahead and told the bike man to stop. This was it. Not waiting for the bike man, I hopped down and walked towards the trees. On nearing the trees, I noticed two pairs of slippers on the ground, and stairs leading down to the very mouth of the cave. As is normal with me when am in such places, a chill swept through me and goose bumps covered my body. Yes, this is holy ground, Nature doesn’t just live here, Ogba Ihunekwe-agu is Nature. Ever the lover of Nature, I stepped out of my shoes in reverence, yes, in reverence of not just Nature but also the forefathers who passed down the belief that is the clearly the only thing protecting this place from those who have been wrongly led to believe that African spirituality and anything relating to it is evil and should be erased from existence.

Now standing at mouth of Ogba Ihunekwe-agu, I found myself slowly slipping into another world. Ogba Ihunekwe-agu is so vast that I couldn’t see the dark extreme where the opening to tunnels was said to be found. And after venturing a little deeper and seeing a recently shed snake skin, my fear of getting bitten by a snake in a cave several miles away from the nearest hospital conquered my desire to further explore. So I just stood beside the scaly skin and explored from afar. There were a few large rocks sitting close to the dark extreme, where I couldn’t reach because even as I write this, I feel the dread that snake skin and dark extreme of the cave stirred up in me. It’s believed that those rock outcrops were thrones made by the deity of Ogba Ihunekwe-agu. Nobody sits on them, but I sat on the one closest to the cave mouth though. There was an opening on the cave ceiling that lets in some daylight but I couldn’t keep my eyes upwards for too long in this place, snakes don’t fly.

“The forefathers live here, I can feel them”, the bike man blurted out, jostling me out of my reverie. And for the first time I noticed the owners of the footwears up the stairs. They were nodding in agreement with the bike man’s assertion. I don’t know if the forebears live here but I can relate to what they were feeling in that moment : an awakening of a gene-deep sense of belonging and connection to a people and times long forgotten. My companions were feeling exactly what I want my readers to feel.
“Our people are blind. Instead of hiding this place from the public, we could turn it into a tourist attraction, and make money off it”, I quipped, and obviously I said what we all were thinking as my bike man and the other two guys echoed “Exactly” in mutual agreement.

Time to break the rules. I took out my phone to take some pictures. My bike man walked a little bit up the stairs as I told him what I wanted to do. He urged me on, trying to hide the fact that he was afraid of my phone exploding beside him. Lol. I ignored his facial expression of dread. The more educated we become, the less likely we are dopes to be duped with old stories or narratives. I tapped my camera and my phone refused to go bang till I was satisfied with the number of pictures I took.

Before leaving, albeit hesitantly, I drank from the spring water, which has in it time fishes that nobody harms . Talk of fresh water. This water should be bottled! As I walked up the stairs to meet my transporter, I felt like someone leaving the safety and comfort of their home to venture into an uncaring, chaotic world. In Ogba Ihunekwe-agu, one is thrust into a world of peace and quiet, making the real world seem like a distant planet. I needed to, but, I didn’t want to go yet, I didn’t want to ever leave. Stepping into my shoes, I knew I would probably never be free of the new kind of hunger Now raging inside of me, I knew I would be back here again, and again, and again. Ogba Ihunekwe-agu took a huge chunk of my heart. Ogba Ihunekwe-agu is now home, amongst other homes, and not many are able to stay away from home for too long. I lack that ability. There was no need to say goodbye, I will never leave this place, a part of me now lies here. However, turning on the moving bike to take a last look, I instinctively muttered, ‘Goodbye for now’.