How did Nigeria, a concoction of ethnic groups, survive together as a country for more than a century? You can’t answer that question without mirroring the Nigerian civil war, and you can’t understand Nigerian civil war without visiting Eastern Nigeria.
Eastern Nigeria, home to millions of the industrious Igbo people has 5 states in contemporary Nigeria – Enugu, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Ebonyi. I am going to see all of them in the next few days, thanks to the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), South East chapter, under the able leadership of Lolo Ngozi Ngoka, who is hosting me on this weeklong trip.
Whenever I travel, I want to have as much experience in as little time as my trip permits. I am presently in Eastern Nigeria, an area rich in history, culture and arts. I have a short time on this trip, so I am looking for a quick way to learn everything, something like a crash course in everything; from the Igbo man’s culture, history and arts, to his food. Guess what, the National Museum of Unity, Enugu, does that for me perfectly, thanks to the on-site guide, Mr Ike Tochukwu.
“The Igbos believe in having a personal god called Ikenga,” my guide told me. As he would later reveal, the Ikenga is a sculpture. It often depicts the profession of the owner. Before beginning a business, for instance, an Igbo man will consult his Ikenga. He could make a pledge to his Ikenga that if he succeeds, he would make a big sacrifice to the Ikenga. If he later fails in the business, it means the Ikenga is bad and the Igbo man can destroy it and make another one. These Ikengas are personal gods that act as the intermediary between the person and the supreme God.
Mr Ike Tochukwu at the museum
From history to religion, arts to culture, myths and legends, Mr Ike enlightened me about the beauty of the Igbo way of life. He is reshaping my notion of a shrine. “The shrine is the only place Igbos believe that anything is safe so they keep important things there. I saw a lion skull once in the shrine and I asked the priest why they’ve had to keep it for years and he told me, ‘How would you have learned how we dealt with the lion that was killing our people in this village many years ago?’ As it turned out, the skull had nothing to do with ritual, but is a material preservation of history,” my guide said.
Aerial view of Enugu from Millkey hilltop
I am learning about the Igbo culture that has fascinated me since I started following the Nollyworld. I have read the works of renown novelist, Chinue Achebe, and I am happy to be walking the same path the legend of African literature walked.
I left the museum and decided to explore the city of Enugu itself. Enugu means a town on the hill. The name came from Enugu Ngwo – don’t mix this up with Enugu Ukwu – a different town in present-day Anambra. Enugu Ngwo is an ancient town where coal was discovered (?) in 1908. Before then, locals had been using coal to prepare food (so why the word discovered? Your guess is as good as mine – colonial appropriationism).
With coal to scramble for, the British (as expected) swooped in, promised the Onowu (King) of Enugu Ngwo a tarred road that’ll pass through the front of his house (what’s known today as Milliken road), moved the headquarters of Eastern Nigeria from Calabar to Enugu and started exploiting, sorry exploring coal.
If you drive through the long Milliken road – which I’m tempted to liken to the Franschhoek Pass in South Africa and Christmas Pass in Mutare, Zimbabwe, you will get an amazing view of present-day Enugu. From the Milliken hilltop, a maze of roofing sheets and greens lay before you, sprawling across a good span of land–as long as your eyes could see. There’s also the beautiful Onowo’s house on a side of the road, as well as historical spots like the Iva Valley.
I am not going into the city headlong; I am walking back in time to see what happened here during the civil war decades ago–and I am doing so with a different tour guide at one of Enugu’s ecotourism sites located at Ezeagwu Local Government; The Ogba Cave.
The Ogba Cave (this name is a tautology as Ogba in Igbo means cave) is a large, hidden cave tucked away from the main road. My guide, Mrs Chioma of the Enugu State Ministry of Tourism, told me that the cave was a hideout for locals during the Nigerian civil war.
The drive from Milliken hilltop to Ogba cave is about 30 minutes but worth every minute as my driver kept playing back to back Nigerian hit music. From Milliken road, we drifted into an untarred path that looks like the dramatic Namib dessert–just not as dramatic.
On either side of the road is a green forest. I am expecting a baboon or some funny wildlife to pop into the road but my guide opined that the animals around here are nocturnal, that they are rarely seen in the afternoon. She added that the area’s natural feature is being preserved for ecotourism.
One of the entrances to the cave
My teammates at the amazing waterfalls
The stunning splashes of sparkling water of the waterfalls
I am not leaving Ihuezi just yet. I have just engraved my name on the walls of the Ogba Cave, and now on my way to Ogbaagede waterfall with my guide. Luckily, the waterfalls and the cave are in Ihuezi village, Obinafoa in Ezeagwu Local Government.
I was expecting a tall cliff, with water cascading down like what I saw at Olumirin waterfalls in Osun State, Nigeria, but Ogbaagede waterfall is not like that. It is nonetheless an amazing site. I fell in love with the ambience merely from feeling the wind. Then stunning splashes of sparkling water of the waterfalls as it plunges down the short cliff swept me off my feet, and realizing that the waterfalls has a natural pool simply leaves me speechless.
The natural pool
I ended the trip with a taste of Abacha at a join in Amoke area (according to google map), though locals call the area Udi, along the old road.
Our Bottle of Palm wine
My verdict, Enugu is amazing and safe–I travelled around without any security escort and no threat at all. For a first-timer, getting a local guide throughAfro Tourismis a good way to go, and booking a tour through their Afro Deal is a good bet on your cash.
To book a post-Covid-19 tour of Enugu State, contact Afro Tourism on +2348090663389 or search for a travel deal here on AfroDeals
Michael Alvin is a lawyer and a UNESCO certified journalist. At Afro Tourism, he blends creativity with his training in telling moving stories about his personal experience on his various trips across Africa.