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Why Ibeno beach is wasting away despite tourism potentials

The beach beckons all who gets close to it to have a feel of the calm water. The quiet movement of the Atlantic Ocean

Ibeno beach is situated in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, a little distance from ExxonMobil’s operational headquarters.

The beach, which borders ExxonMobil by sea, not only affords one a pivotal view of the company, it exfoliates a serene ambience that would calm frayed nerves, entice any visitor in love with nature to remain and be caressed by the cool but gentle breeze.

The beach beckons all who gets close to it to have a feel of the calm water. The quiet movement of the Atlantic Ocean, amidst intermittent surge of water, urged on by the waves, is a beautiful sight to behold.

From the edge of the beach, ExxonMobil offshore drilling platforms can be sighted in the Atlantic Ocean, where countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon can easily be accessed from.

The beach is not only natural, it has the longest shoreline in West Africa and stretches over 176 kilometres that runs through about 20 communities as far as Mbo Local Government Area.

On week days, the beach is almost empty except for a minimal number of persons who visit the place, mostly in the evenings for relaxation. The beach however becomes a beehive of activities during weekends as many people throng the relaxation spot to have a feel of nature.

The crowd is often at its peak during festive periods like Easter and Christmas. It was gathered that the beach records about 5,000 persons during the festive periods, and 500 during weekends.

However, the number of visitors to the beach, especially at peak seasons, outweigh the facilities available there. Most of the facilities there, like relaxation shades and eateries are private initiatives for business purposes.

If the beach were to have an unexpected upsurge of visitors, the available facilities will not adequately cater to them. This is because the potentials of the beach are both under utilized and untapped.

For now, the beach is not under any dedicated or licensed management, not even the local government council. As such, the few persons who oversee the management of the beach have not been able to generate the needed revenue to transform the beach into a lucrative venture.

The immediate past Acting Chairman, Ibeno Local Government Area, Mr Sunday Isokobo, told our correspondent in a conversation that to harness the potentials of the beach, a lot of money would be required.

Isokobo said limited resources was the main reason behind government’s absence at the beach, adding that the meagre monthly allocation for the local government was only enough to pay salaries and run the Council Secretariat.

Fun seekers at the beach
Fun seekers at the beach

He explained that making the beach a tourist attraction that would generate revenue like popular beaches in the country was capital intensive, noting that this financial inadequacy makes it seem government has failed to generate revenue from the beach, as it has not provided facilities that will make businesses there thrive.

“We need a lot of money to make the beach generate a lot of revenue. It is very capital intensive to structure that beach so that it looks like the Lekki beach we all talk about.

“It is true that Ibeno beach, if properly structured will attract revenue to not just Ibeno local government but the entire state. You would recall that every 26th of December, a lot of people from around the country normally come to the beach to hold one or two programmes or to have fun.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to maximize the potentials that abound in the beach. When I was in government, we tried a little to ensure the place is secured enough for everybody coming as a tourist or to do business, to have a safe place to do their businesses,” he said.

The former chairman, who said safety of visitors and business owners in the beach was paramount, urged the state government, ExxonMobil and other multinational companies to take over the development of the beach so that its potentials are properly harnessed.

“For now, the place is safe but it needs a fence round so that it can be safer for people to come and do their businesses, but it requires a whole lot of money to make it a standard beach.

“Ibeno beach is one of the longest coastal beaches in the whole of West Africa. The potentials have not been fully harnessed. So, I use this opportunity to call on the state government to come in because we know the strength of the local government when it comes to finances, they don’t have so much money to structure the beach to the standard required.

“I am using this opportunity to call on the State Government, ExxonMobil and multinationals working around there to come and help because if that place is put into shape, it will not only benefit Ibeno, it will benefit the entire state and continue to promote the image of the state.

Sponsor of the annual Ibeno beach concert, and an indigene of the area, Mr Don Ekpenyong, who said he has been sponsoring the beach party for 20 years now, noted that the concert was conceived to attract tourists and utilize the beach for entertainment.

According to Ekpenyong, the beach party which holds every December 26th, usually has between 4, 000 to 5,000 people in attendance.

He however explained that the beach needs to be enabled to grow, and urged the government to come in to develop the place, adding that in 2020, he singlehandedly connected the beach to power supply by running low tension wires to every part of the beach.

He stated that the beach portends lots of business and money-making opportunities for both the government and individuals, and called on the Akwa Ibom State Government to consider the beach for tourism development.

“I am the sponsor of the popular Ibeno beach concert, and it has been on for 20 years now. Every 26th December, there is a big beach party that has about 4, 000 to 5,000 people in attendance.

“The beach needs an enabler from the state government. That beach was a bush and I had to open it up. So, the state government will have to be the one to provide the enabling environment. Last year, I had to electrify the beach, I ran a low-tension wire to every part of the beach.

Ekpenyong revealed that the beach has a golf course said to be owned by ExxonMobil, which has been abandoned, adding that if the golf course could be completed and put to use, it would boost the selling points of the beach.

He frowned at the continuous use of hurriedly built huts and shanties at the beach, saying a little effort in building resorts, adding sport facilities among other things would help improve the fortunes and growth of the beach.

The beach has 176km of sand and attractive to tourists
The beach has 176km of sand and attractive to tourists

“What we need is for the state government to take over the whole place and develop it. The truth is that you don’t have any place like this in Nigeria. I say so because Lagos beaches are sand filled, this beach is not sand filled, it is natural. That is why you need little or nothing to develop it.

“What we need is just to pad the shores to make sure that sea surge and erosion surge do not eat up the sand and building that are there. Every weekend, outside normal activity days, we have no less than 300 to 500 persons at the beach.

“During the festive season, take a trip to the beach and you will be amazed at what we have rusting away. There are lots of opportunities for both government and individuals. The place has been built up, but you need people that would have to buy those places up so that they can put up better structures there.

“So, if the state can pick the beach up, make it the number one tourism place in the state, it would not spend much in turning it around because there is no place like that in the South South.

“The beach has about 176 km of sand. It just needs a little effort to pump in a little sand, put up a relaxation spot where people who come to the beach can stay overnight. Bring in facilities like boating or key resort, where people can not only sit and drink but participate in water sport, and put a hotel where people can sleep over,” he emphasized.

On the daily management of the beach, the Task Force Chairman, Mr Samuel Christopher, in charge of managing the beach, explained to our correspondent that the beach is manned by individual effort with the support of youths from the area.

“We task ourselves here and the little money we make is what we use to buy rake, shovel and 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.

“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 meagre 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 revealed.

Reacting to calls for the State Government’s intervention, Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr Orman Esin, admitted that though investing in Ibeno beach was lucrative, it was also capital intensive.

Esin told our correspondent in Uyo that modalities were being worked out to develop the beach, adding that ExxonMobil has promised to partner with the State Government to develop the beach.

The commissioner, who said the project would involve a lot of processes, revealed that development work would commence at the beach in 2022, once every procedural issue has been sorted out.

“The government intends to develop that place but developing a beach area is not just putting sand together and telling people to come and sit down.

“First, you have to consider the environmental impact assessment factor, you have to consider security of the area because it is about the lives of people.

“We are carrying out the assessment first, and then we want to partner with ExxonMobil because they had promised that they would support government in terms of developing that area.

“When we are done with those processes, we will then commence the process of developing that area. Those things have to be taken into consideration first before any physical development.

“We are believing God that by next year, we should be able to start opening up the area. It is a very lucrative thing but it is also a very huge project that one has to take time to put together. But by next year, definitely, we should be rolling out,” he stated.

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