By Nwabueze Okonkwo
When the Federal Government announced the takeover of the Ogba Ukwu Cave and Water Falls, now known as Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Water Falls, in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State in 2010, there were wild jubilations all over the place as both the natives, the local government council and the entire state believed then that the central government’s presence had been attracted by the cave.
The community, the local council and the state also had the impression that within a space of time, the area would be bubbling with life as tourists from all over the world would be visiting the cave from time to time and patronize their local products and boost their earnings.
However, there is nothing yet on the ground to justify the euphoria that greeted the announcement of the take- over by the Federal Government. Up till this moment, the cave has remained as bushy as it was during the celebrated handover ceremony, five years ago.
The community had in 2010, formally handed the cave over to the Federal Government, through the then Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, Otumba Olusegun Runsewe, OON, as part of the activities marking its annual cultural festival. During the ceremony, the community had noted that the essence of handing over the cave to the government was for proper refurbishment, marketing and promotion to attract tourists to the area.
Speaking at the ceremony, the chairman of Mbido Igbo (Origin of Igbo) Associations, Mazi Okafouzu Ugochukwu, said that both the federal and Anambra State governments had concluded arrangements to promote the cave and the community’s festival to a national festival to serve as a tourism centre within the South East geo-political zone, adding that the takeover of the cave was based on the recommendation of a 12-man fact-finding team that visited the South Eastern states in search of a natural site that should be promoted internationally.
Okafouzu further said that after visiting Ogbunike and other caves in the South East zone, the previous year, the team settled for Ogba Ukwu cave as the best tourism site in the zone. However, the cave has remained undeveloped and abandoned; a situation which has been generating angry reactions from the indigenes.
Among them include an Onitsha – based rights activist and lawyer, Jezie Ekejiuba, who cautioned Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State against what he termed as discriminatory policy of his administration, as it concerned the Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfalls.
Ekejiuba, who is the president of the Voters Rights International said that as a native of Owerre– Ezukala his rights to freedom from discrimination had been flagrantly violated by the discriminatory actions of the state government, in connection with the community’s cave and waterfalls.
“Sometime in July 2015, this year, I discovered to my greatest shock that Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfalls which is reputed to be the biggest in the West African sub-region has been deleted from the official website of Anambra State Government under the sub-title: Tourism in Anambra State… “
Earlier in March this year, the Government of Anambra State signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with a project partner for the development of Ogbunike Cave into a world-class Theme Park and Resort at the cost of N250 million, while completely feigning ignorance of Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfalls.”
Ekejiuba noted that during former Governor Peter Obi’s administration, contract sum was awarded for the development of Agulu Lake via construction of a five-star hotel complex which was still on-going under Obiano’s continuity agenda,.
He added: “The policy of deleting Owerre – Ezukala Cave and Waterfalls from the official website of Anambra State Government Tourism site and favouring Ogbunike Cave and Agulu Lake with development projects while completely neglecting Owerre-Ezukala Cave and Waterfalls which is the biggest tourist site in Anambra State is the highest degree of discrimination against me and my fellow citizens of the border community of Owerre-Ezukala.”
In his own complaint, the National Treasurer of Owerre-Ezukala Development Union, Anayo Emejue described the cave as one of the oldest within a beautiful terrain with water falls and natural swimming pool and privileged tourist centres in Africa.
Emejue stated that Nollywood actors had often besieged the centre for shooting films and trainings, adding, “however, we the people of Owerre-Ezukala especially the town union are passionately appealing for the tarring of the access road leading to the cave, extension of the recreational facilities in the cave especially the natural swimming pool and provision of indoor games and relaxation points.”
He also mentioned electrification of the appurtenances to the cave through street lighting, completion of the Nollywood village, construction of a guest house and a pavilion at the arena, among others.(Vanguard)