In a released titled IBENO BEACH TRAGEDY – SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT authored by the brother of the deceased Charles Ekpe Asuquo reads…

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April 8 used to be like any other day; but with palpable chill, it reminds us of what has become the darkest day in our family. The day we lost 2 of our beloved brothers in one fell swoop to a tragedy that could have been avoided.

As is our custom, we traveled from different parts of the country and gathered in Uyo to proceed to Ibeno Beach for our annual family picnic. The bond of unity and love among siblings always excites elderly parents, so you can imagine the joy our parents felt as they watched their children and grandchildren drive off – one family unit after another – to merry and strengthen the family bond. Who could ever imagine the sorrow and tears lurking in Ibeno in wait for us.

Those that drove down from Port Harcourt arrived earlier. By some minutes past three in the afternoon, we all assembled at the beach, 38 of us. You can only imagine the fun we all had together. First, we sat on the sandy beach to share in the variety of dishes and drinks that had been prepared and brought. Then the kids, supervised by the ladies, went to play in the water while the guys divided themselves in 2 groups to show their skills in beach soccer. We played football for a few minutes and then at about 5pm we went to the river bank to wash off the sand on our bodies. And then it happened. Tragedy struck. Two of our dear brothers did not make it out to the shore. At least not alive.

Like wildfire, different versions of the incident made the rounds. Some were clearly calumnious while other were just ridiculous. Not knowing the facts or truth, people resorted to believing any version of their choosing or liking. Who would blame them? On hearing that someone drowned on a beach, the kneejerk conclusion is that they must have been careless, reckless or negligent. We have all drawn such hasty conclusions before, have we not? They were either drunk, went in too deep, or…we thought. But this time, none of that was the case. We could not have been more careful.

We were playing along the shoreline with the water level a little above our knees. The spot where our brothers Ubong and Francis drowned stood five of us. There we were chatting and splashing water at each other. And suddenly, the mass of sand beneath us collapsed, like a thin layered platform caving in under a massive weight. From standing on a firm consolidated sand seconds earlier, we were now fighting for our dear lives in a deep wave of flowing water. Three, out of five struggled to come out but only to behold the worst daytime nightmare as our brothers, Ubong and Francis struggled in futility.

On Saturday, February 14, 2015, Victor Daniels, a Batch A corps member serving in Akwa Ibom State went to Ibeno beach to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day with his friends but did not leave the beach alive. Victor, a lively young man, winner of Mr. Macho in his school days, was due for Pass Out Parade (POP) to end his youth service year on Thursday, February 19, 2015, just five days to the day his fun became tragic. The corps member returned to his parents as corpse.

Also, on Saturday, October 15, 2011, Anthony Tagon Adie, a 24-year-old student of History and International studies in the University of Uyo, went to Ibeno beach with his colleagues as part of their students’ week activity but did not return alive. “He went with them and never came back either with them or alone but rather carried back in an ambulance” Anthony’s mother, Mrs. Susanna Adie recounted the ordeal of her only son. Susanna who described her son as the ‘life wire’ of her home struggled to recount the story years after her son’s death saying, “To say I was devastated is an understatement. I stopped living, I was only existing. I stopped going to church. Every activity in me stopped. I was a walking corpse”. “I DIED WITH MY SON. Please Ibeno bench is a DANGER ZONE and it should be marked thus”. (https://medium.com/@ezimaemmanuel/a-mothers-word-4cace1ab79b4).

When I spoke with Augustus Emmanuel Eboh, a survivor during the Anthony Tagon’s incident, and he narrated an occurrence similar to that which we experienced, all I asked myself was, “Why didn’t I hear this earlier than now?”.

Professor Ekpo Antai of Institute of Oceanography, University of Calabar shared with me a story of an incident that almost claimed the life of his colleague, Professor Udoh while on one of their research works at Ibeno beach. Though they didn’t get into the water, the sand dropped beneath Professor Udoh’s feet and swallowed him up to his neck. Other colleagues had to form human chain (one person holding the other) to drag him out. “How come nobody talks about this?” I wondered.

Among the local community folks, drowning at Ibeno beach is now regarded as a normal, regular occurrence such that most have become desensitized to it. When I engaged the community head, he alleged that “…over five million people have lost their lives there from time immemorial”. He might have exaggerated the number for effect (and perhaps to make me feel better about my pain), but do all these not go to show that the situation at Ibeno beach is so grave that should be unacceptable in a civilized society?

I needed an explanation, so I searched for a professional and was fortunate to find one of the best in the field, Professor Effiom Antia, the first Professor of Oceanography in Nigeria, specializing in geological and physical oceanography, nominated in 2015 by the International Council for Science Union as a pioneer member of its Consortium on Hazard and Disaster in Africa, a fellow of the African Academy of Science and
also a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science. Professor Antia has done several research works on the Nigerian coastline since the 80s and recently headed the National Centre for Marine Geosciences (NCMG), a Centre of excellence of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA).

Professor Antia says an incident such as that which claimed the lives of our brothers through caving in of the beach could be as a result of an unstable subsurface. He believes the unstable subsurface at Ibeno Beach segment of the incident could mark position of a palaeochannel (an ancient fluvial or tidal channel) that later filled up by modern-day littoral sand transport processes. However, high beach water table, shoreward translation of the breaker zone with rising tide coupled with the actual breaking of the waves can accentuate liquefaction (non-compaction) of the beach sands thereby increasing their propensity to collapse and cave in. The Professor also believes there could be other spots too along the same beach with similar attributes (e.g. buried rip channels). Perhaps more hazardous to unsuspected tourists world-wide, he noted, is the presence of rip currents on beaches whose characteristics are akin to that of Ibeno Beach. Consequently, in as much as drowning of lives of beach tourists is undesirable it behoves on us to take precautionary steps to safeguard lives of beach visitors.

At the entrance of the beach are two signs that serve as a disclaimer; the first, a small board faintly written, “Caution: This beach is not safe for swimming” but does not state the nature of the risk. The second, a congested and inconspicuously displayed write-up by Mobil Producing Nigeria also discouraging swimming at the beach. First of all, people do not really consider themselves swimming or in any way vulnerable by just stepping inside the shallow water, yet, one is really not safe even at these spots. Secondly, how many people even notice these caution signs? Several people whom I have spoken with who have
visited the beach a number of times do not even know where these signs are. Are these signs adequate? Should more safety measures be put in place? While the debate continues, one fact remains undisputed: People are dying at Ibeno beach at an alarming rate. How long before the poisoned chalice takes another victim? Where is the community’s duty of care? Where is the government’s duty of care?

Professor Antia believes that the best way to tackle such problem is to X-ray the beach to have a firsthand information on the nature of its subsurface. This can be achieved by running seismic profiles parallel to the coastline. The project can cover the whole Akwa Ibom State coastline of about 69km (from Cross River to Imo River). Alternatively, it may for tourism purpose be limited to area of high human activity – from Qua Iboe River Estuary to the Mobil tank farm or down to Cross River Estuary which is about 33km.

The beach should generally be made safer. A beach should never be used for recreational purpose without the supervision of competent and licensed lifeguards. This is about the most important safety requirement. Also, safety flags and signs should be conspicuously and strategically placed to help identify permanent and occasional hazards. Furthermore, there should be restrictions during adverse weather. There should be a working Emergency Response Plan (ERP). There should be routine cleaning and Waste Management Plan (WMP). Toilet facilities should be provided. There should be an effective Access Control System. And very importantly, there should be an enforcement plan.

“Sandy beaches worldwide are excellent centers for commerce, recreation and tourism” was F. Emile Asuquo’s opening line in his journal on Marine Garbage Composition and Dynamics. This is a fact because most countries blessed with this natural beauty depend on it to improve her economy. As reported by Oliver Smith of UK Telegraph on 22nd March, 2018, tourism accounts for 28.1% of GDP in Aruba, 19% in Bahamas, 13.3% in US Virgin Island and 7.1% in Mexico. These are countries where beaches are known as one of their major tourist attractions. Other places like Cyprus, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Tunisia, etc. are also known to greatly benefit from their beaches. Ibeno Beach can do the same for Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria.

An expert who once came to Nigeria wanted to know the exquisite places to visit so he searched on Google and found Ibeno Beach listed as No. 1 on Travelstart’s webpage (www.travelstart.com.ng/blog/30-top-attractions-in-nigeria). Travelstart described Ibeno Beach as “A little haven for leisure seekers”. But we all know the truth. Ibeno beach is a deathtrap. The present state of the beach is nothing close to the Nigerian Tourism Development Act’s minimum requirement for use as Hospitality or Tourism Establishment. It is time to take a good advantage of what we have, change Ibeno Beach from a deathtrap to a National Treasure, get it ISO 13009 certified, and watch people come in from far and wide to have a lifetime experience. It will bring about the much-needed development, marketing and tourism in Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria at large.

Our family visited Ibeno beach a number of times, numerous times, unaware of the existing danger. Again, and again we got lucky. Until that fateful day, April 8, 2018. If we knew then what we know now we would not have made the trip that became a family nightmare. Learn from our misfortune, do not expose yourself or your family to the hazards of Ibeno until the beach is made safe for human recreation. Our fervent prayer is that, for the sake of Ubong Ekpe Asuquo and Francis Ekpe Asuquo, no other lives shall be lost at Ibeno beach.


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