Tongeji Isand, despite being pregnant with huge oil deposits, excellent mangroove vegetation and potentials of being a tourist haven owing to its impressive water front and breathtaking scenery, is currently a sleepy town, surviving only through the activities of smugglers and pipeline vandals.
The island, inhabited by people who feel neglected and alienated by the Nigerian government, is located in the Ipokia Local Council Area of Ogun State, Nigeria but it is closer and dearer to the Republic of Benin because by boat. It is five minutes to Port Novo and 50 minutes to Badagry in Lagos.
A report by Precious Igbonwelundu in The Nation in July 2016, said “the closest they’ve got to a school are two delapidated 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 the highest certificate warding institution on Tongeji Island.”
The report said pregnant women are either ferried to Port Novo in neighboring Benin Republic to be delivered or they get delivered of their babies at home in very crude ways by local birth attendants. Commercial boats from Badagry, the report added, come to the Tongeji jetty once in five days and charges as much as N800.
It was therefore not surprising when on Friday, it emerged that the government of Benin Republic has stepped up its efforts in luring the people of the Island, since as so-called Nigerians, they are forced to survive without access roads, electricity and a market to sell their farm produce.
The Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, Ambassador Emmanuel Kayode Oguntuase, made this revelation during his visit to Governor Dapo Abiodun in Abeokuta. He said Benin was presently trying hard to lure the people and take over the Island because of the huge petroleum resources embedded beneath the ground.
According to a statement signed by Kunle Somorin, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Oguntuase, who was in company of the Flag Officer Commanding Western Region(FOC), Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, then urged the governor to take urgent steps to ensure that the more than 1000 inhabitants of the Island feel government’s presence in order to ward off Benin Republic. It is clear that if those steps are not taken, a scenario simlar to the Bakassi Peninsula and Cameroon crisis may break out.
In his remarks, Abiodun, assured that his administration would not allow the Tongeji Island, to be taken away by Benin. He said he would immediately set up a team to visit the Island on a fact finding mission and to find out what could be done to assure the people of the area that they have not being forgotten. He also promised to bring the National Borders Commission into the issue.
Speaking further, Governor Abiodun disclosed that his administration had 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 had 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.”
The governor said he would also engage the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission and involve Lagos and Oyo State governors that also share border towns with the Republic of Benin.
President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 had ordered the establishment of a naval base in the island but nothing has since been heard concerning that plan.
Abiodun while thanking the Flag Officer Commanding the Western Region, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji for ensuring that the water ways were free and devoid of anarchy, urged the FOC not to hesitate to bring to his notice issues that are germane to the security of the region.
The Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin and the Flag Officer Commanding Western Nigeria, had with them the Consular Officer, Mrs. Olubunmi Olanusi, Commandant, Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Abeokuta, Commandant Dauda and the Deputy Defence Attache, Commandant Tony Bassey.