Sometime in 1959, a man in Igbara-Oke (Ondo State, SW Nigeria) was clearing a piece of land for construction when he stumbled on a collection of rocks on a patch. On a closer look, he noticed that one in particular bore strange marks on ts surface. Alarmed, he rushed to inform the then king, who also promptly notified authorities at the Ife National Museum and the Ooni of Ife, the paramount king.
By March 1963 the federal government, through the Federal Antiquities Department, declared the site a national monument. It has since been known and referred to as Igbara-Oke Petroglyphs.
In simple terms, petroglyphs are ancients markings or drawings on a rock surface or in caves and they are found around the world.
The other more known petroglyphs collection in Nigeria are the Ikom Monoliths (Cross River, SS Nigeria), numbering 200-300 and said to represent dead ancestors, meeting areas or points of sacrifice; then there are the Birnin Kudu Rock Art in Jigawa State, which show cattle, sheep, bulls, rock gongs and various geometric shapes.
While both sites at Ikom and Birnin Kudu are being scientifically studied and efforts made to preserve them, the rock art at Igbara-Oke appear to have been forgotten and abandoned.
I visited the site on 26 December 2018 and I was shocked to see a monument in a mess: though fenced around, the perimeter was overgrown with grass, it looked more or less like a dumping ground for refuse and a home for goats and sheep (I actually saw exceta on the rocks).
What’s more: the locals appear not to be bothered with the natural asset under their noses.
The National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), established by a decree in 1979, manages some 50 museums, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a zoological garden and an Institute of Archaeology.
The Petroglyphs at Igbara-Oke is one of 65 national monuments under its control, which includes: Gobirau Minaret, Katsina, Katsina State Benin; City Walls, Benin, Edo State; Okuta Fort, Okuta, Kwara State; Old Secretariat, Marina Lagos, Lagos State; the Old Palace of the Deji of Akure, Akure, Ondo State; King Jaja’s Statue, Opobo, Rivers State; Chief Okoroji’s House, Arochukuwu, Abia State; Obu House Elu-Ohafia, Abia State.