Akwa Ibom’s deadly beach ‘consuming’ picnickers
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ goes the saying, to indicate that in the midst of our busy schedule, a little recreation or time of relaxation is needed for balance. One such place of relaxation is the Ibeno beach in Akwa Ibom State, located at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Many fun-seekers and picnickers throng Ibeno beach on a daily basis for relaxation and recreation especially towards the evening time from 4pm, to enjoy the serene and cool breeze of the beach. But the beach is often packed full with people during festive seasons or the holiday period.
Ibeno beach covers an expanse of land that transverses about twenty villages and borders the Operational base of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited in Ibeno local government area, Akwa Ibom State. It is the biggest beach in the state, most frequented by tourists and visitors from within and outside the state.
From the edge of the beach, Mobil off shore drilling platforms can be sighted in the Atlantic Ocean, and countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon can easily be accessed from there. It beckons to all who gets close to it to have a feel of the calm but dangerous water.
In fact, the quiet movement of the Atlantic Ocean, amidst intermittent surge of water, urged on by the waves is a beautiful sight to behold. However, this has been the cause of many tragedies.
The waves have swallowed many victims who have been unfortunate to be trapped by the underground caving-in of the beach sand, giving the sea a reputation for consuming picnickers. Although no case of drowned picknickers have been recorded this year, it was gathered that a fisherman drowned in the beach, a fortnight ago while plying his trade on a speedboat.
The fisherman, who was not wearing a life jacket, was said to be fishing along the area designated as dangerous, a little away into the sea when his speedboat capsized and he drowned. But his assistant was lucky to escape alive. The unfortunate death of the fisherman is the first this year according to indigenes of the area.
The drowning of two brothers in December 2018 picnicking on the beach, the death of an engineer working with Mobil, Late Etido Ibekwe, said to have drowned while picnicking with his wife and children, are among deaths recorded in the beach in 2018, 2015 and 2011.
Ignorance on the part of fun-seekers on the beach have been blamed for the unfortunate cases of drowning. Mr. Ekpenyong Thomas, an indigene of the area, said visitors to the beach drown because they don’t know the area well, even if they are good swimmers.
He said there are some points on the beach that are dangerous, which cave in, and when picnickers venture onto those points, they are swallowed by the strong waves of the sea. “There is a place on the beach known as the creek area. This place is dangerous. Many visitors go into the creek area unknowingly and even though they know how to swim, the waves are very strong; that is why people drown.
During high tide, it is not safe. I would therefore advise people who are non-indigenes to be careful,” he stated. Another indigene of the area who frequents the beach often, Mr. David Ekanem, a Computer Science student at Heritage Polytechnic told our correspondent that there is a caution sign at the entrance of the beach, stating that the waters there are not safe for swimming.
He added that unfortunately, many picnickers either do not see the warning, or overlook it. He further said that the beach is not safe for anyone to swim without a life jacket and picnickers are supposed to come with their life jackets but the reverse is the case. He said, “Before you enter the beach, you see a caution sign, that the beach is not conducive for one person to swim except two or more people. This beach is not also safe for you to swim without a life jacket. The picnickers are supposed to come with their life jacket in case they want to swim”.
Unfortunately, the beach is not properly equipped to rescue a drowning person or even handle cases of drowning. It does not even have life jackets to give out to visitors. In fact, the state government has no business with the operations of the beach as it is said to be solely managed by the community where it is located. However, our correspondent gathered that Mobil helps in the maintenance of the beach by assigning people to clean up.
Though the management of the beach is poor, the beach handlers say they have to depend on the revenue generated from picnickers to run the place. According to the Task Force Chairman of the beach, Mr Samuel Christopher, the beach is managed by individual effort with the support of youths from the area. He said no fee is charged to individual picnickers but picnickers who come in groups are required to pay a merger sum to maintain the beach.
He added that the shop owners on the beach pay a token to erect stalls on the beach. “We belabour ourselves here and the little money we make is what we use to buy rake, shovel, wheelbarrow to clean the beach. The water brings in dirt and debris from the sea and what we do is to clean up the place but we are not paid for it. Chief IK Ikotekpo, the chief of Inuaanyin Ikot community, is in charge of the beach.
He is responsible for allocating portions to persons who are interested in building their shops here. He collects a merge amount from such people but no fee is charged for individuals who come here to catch fun except they come in groups or in buses,” he noted.
By Iniabasi Umo, Uyo