Tongeji Island is located close to Port Novo in the Benin Republic, but it’s actually situated in Ipokia Local Government of Ogun State in Nigeria. The Island, which is rich in oil has suffered neglect in terms of infrastructure.
In this report, this reporter who visited the Island captured the decay in infrastructure and why the residents find their way easily to Benin Republic than Nigeria.
Journey to Tongeji
Tongeji Island is an oil-rich Island in Ipokia Local Council Area of Ogun State. The Island that is five minutes away from Port Novo in Benin Republic by boat and 50 minutes to Badagry in Lagos is closer to the Republic of Benin than Nigeria, at least by proximity. With a landmass of approximately 200 hectares and a population of over 1,000 persons, Tongeji Island is surrounded by aquatic splendor. The island with its enormous palm/coconut trees, white sand, greenery, cool weather and large deposit of crude oil, should ordinarily be a tourists’ paradise. It was learned that the closeness of Tongeji to Benin Republic had prompted the traditional ruler of the Island, the Akoko of Tongeji, Oba Biolorunkosi, to always park his official car in Port Novo, Benin Republic and transport by sea to the Island and whenever he wants to visit cities inside Nigeria, he would travel to Benin, pick the vehicle and drive back into Nigeria.
Tongeji Island is reputed to have within its domain a marginal amount of crude oil which is enough to put the Ogun State on the global map of oil-producing states. It was learnt that the Island also has enough resources to attract significant attention, which can transform it into a financial treasure base. The Island with prospects waiting for development had remained unattractive to exploration, due to its location, which had also made government presence impossible. Getting to the Island from Lagos you will first get to Badagry and then travel by boat for about 50 minutes to the island, navigating through the mangrove forest and eventually arriving in a jetty which the community said was the only presence of government in the area.
The Island of neglect
Thirty metres away from the jetty is the huge signboard painted in green colour and allegedly built by the Ogun State government, welcoming visitors to the Island. Apart from these two, nothing else depicts government presence in the area, there was no government presence here, a native of the community who was identified as Joseph Okiki told Sunday Sun, adding that, “the only hospital that was built for us here, was built several years ago and had been in a dilapidated state, due to government neglect.
“As you can see, the place does not really look like a hospital, even if you were sick and you were brought here you will not survive because there are no doctors or nurses to attend to you.”
The hospital, it was learned, was commissioned by former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba several years ago, but it was discovered that the hospital personnel deployed to the area withdrew their services due to the difficulty in accessing the area and the inability of the government to give them enablement to continue to travel from the mainland to the Island to administer health services. Such enablement it was learnt, include, good engine boat capable of navigating the shallow waterways that lead to the island. The closest they’ve got to a school are two dilapidated buildings with no chairs and boasting of fallen roofs and burst zinc. These buildings serve as classrooms for children in primary one to six in the community’s primary school, which is the highest certificate awarding institution on Tongeji Island.
When Sunday Sun visited the area, natives of the Island could not hold back their feelings as they lamented their neglect by the Nigerian government, explaining that several of their kin have died in the last five years while expectant mothers were transported by boat to Port Novo in Benin Republic to be delivered of their babies or even get medical attention. Their reasons they told Sunday Sun is the simple fact that transporting to Benin by boat is only a five minutes journey, but seeking medical attention in any hospital in Nigeria could take them like one hour to access the hospital and the nearest is in Badagry. In terms of child delivery, Atinuke Oluwafemi, a native of the town told our reporter that sometimes too they resort to alternative medicine or engage local midwives to assist in order to prevent mortality.
Also another resident, Kiki Morris told Sunday Sun that the residents relied on herbal cures for their health care needs, particularly child delivery and nursing of newborns, explaining that sometimes these do not really work for them.
“Yes there are instances where we really feel that a hospital is domiciled here to take care of our needs, so rather than travel to Benin Republic to address our healthcare needs, it will be nice to have resident medical officers here, it will really help us,” Joseph said.
Navy to the rescue
Recently the community was agog over a medical rhapsody organised by the Nigerian Navy to celebrate its anniversary. The medical outreach distributed free medicine, mosquito nets and other medical needs to the people.
The Navy also took the initiative to renovate the only hospital in the community and for the essence of the outreach, brought its personnel to man the place.
The people were happy with the initiative of the Nigerian Navy, explaining that for several years that the Island had no contact with anything like orthodox medicine.
“It was the Navy who have assisted us to renovate our hospital, and make it look like a place to receive primary health care, but we still need government presence to tackle other areas, such as schools. You need to visit our schools to see for yourself what it looks like,” Joseph Okiki told Sunday Sun.
Residents of the Island lamented that the community is littered with ruined structures and no access roads, no electricity and not even a market for the people to readily sell their livestock and other farm produce.
They complained about the lack of proper means of transportation in and out of the Island, explaining that commercial boats from Badagry come to Tongeji jetty once every five days and charge as much as N800 per passenger.
They complained that assessing and staying on the island could be difficult, “but if you have government presence, here, things will begin to take shape and tourism could even be encouraged here as the serene environment has shown that this could be a good relaxation spot, but there is need to link us by bridge with the outside world.”
Ogun governor wakes up to look into island
Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, has revealed that his administration would not allow the Tongeji Island, an island that shares boundary with the Republic of Benin to be taken away by Nigeria’s neighbouring country.
He stated this when the Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, Ambassador Emmanuel Kayode Oguntuase and the Flag Officer Commanding Western Region(FOC), Rear Admiral Oladele Daji visited him.
The governor expressed the determination of his administration to make life meaningful for the citizens of the state living within the Island, adding that the Island, which had been on his administration’s radar because of its huge deposit of petroleum resources, is of interest to his administration.
Dapo said that the visit of the Ambassador would only make his administration to act even quicker and ensure that the Republic of Benin that shares boundary with the state does not take advantage of the Island located in the Ipokia Local Government Area of the state.
He said that his administration would immediately set up a team to visit the Island on a fact-finding mission on what can be done to assure the people of the area that they have not been forgotten.
He emphasized that he informed the Federal Ministry of Petroleum that the Island was of huge interest to the state government, adding that his government had also began discussions with investors on the way forward.
His words: “It is a place where we do have valuable reserve and I have mentioned to the Federal Ministry of Petroleum that the Tongeji Island and Ogun Waterside are areas of interest to the state government and we have began discussions with others to explore partnership agreements under a Public-Private Partnership to see what we can do in terms of prospecting the opportunities that lay beneath the soil in Tongeji Island and Ogun Waterside.”
He stressed that his administration would fast-track the process to see other services that could be rendered to the people of the area and promised that he would take the issue up with the National Borders Commission.
The Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, Ambassador Emmanuel Kayode Oguntuase also disclosed that his visit to the state governor is to intimate him on happenings in the area as the closest to the Island, adding that it is important to let the over 1000 inhabitants of the Island feel government’s presence as the Republic of Benin is presently trying hard to lure the people and take over the Island because of the huge petroleum resources embedded beneath the ground.