Tarkwa Bay was home to some of the land owners in Lagos and the riverine communities mostly from Cross River and Rivers States of Nigeria then. The rich also had their vacation homes, which they visit most weekends, tucked away in the serene environ away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos. The domestic staff of the rich, mostly women whose husbands also worked as fishermen, lived on the island.
My dad, Mr Simeon Ademola Fagade was a teacher and the Assistant Head Master at the Ephiphany Anglican School on the Tarkwa Bay from 1964 to 1969. He also had a passion for sports and that earned him the position of the Sports Master. It was on his return visit after he stopped teaching at Tarkwa Bay that he took me along. We lived on the mainland so he showed me his daily route from Palm grove to CMS and we headed to where he used to take the Ports Authority’s boat every morning. After boarding, I held my dad’s hand all through the trip while I had my eyes glued to the boat’s window watching the waves as if dancing to a rhythm and taking in the dainty radiant beauty of the sea.
When we disembarked, the waves were gently dribbling onto the sand and felt elated as the waters caressed my feet while I stood at the sea shore. The waves were crawling gently to the shore. Ripples in widening circles. Flowed sluggishly. Indescribable. Capricious and dainty. Undulating. Beautiful balmy. Lofty. Peaceful and gentle.
The community at Tarkwa Bay were delighted to see my dad and I and they regaled him with stories of their children and happenings on the Island since he left. We walked on the shore and watched as the sea was gently winding through the sand and I felt elated as the waters caressed my feet while I stood at the sea shore picking the shells, which was and still is a favourite pastime. It was soothing. The day went by fast as we went round the island and the school, it was an experience I still remember. It was so surreal that I thought I was imagining it and had to ask my dad whether we actually went there together in the boat and had all the experience and he reaffirmed it years later.
Reminiscing on his time at the Tarkwa Bay school recently, dad, said he had an unforgettable experience working on the island. Known for his punctuality, he said, “By 7.00 am I had to be at the jetty to board the Port Authority’s boat to Tarkwa Bay, that means leaving my house on the mainland very early in the morning. The boat used to take the staff of the school and those of the Port to and from work daily.”
My dad said the headmaster of the school was Mr. Ojo while he was the assistant. He recalled that one of the people who built houses there was Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, Lagos state governor who used to come over for weekends. “He had a very prestigious building on the island but it no longer exists as the waters have had its toll on it.”
Talking about the inhabitants, he said some of the ‘omo onile’ were also living on the island apart from the riverine tribes from the South and they had little or nothing but they were always appreciative of the efforts of the teachers. “Some would volunteer to take me on the canoe after school if l missed the boat back to the Marina. Some of the teachers also lived there; they rented room and parlour but I didn’t want to because I had my wife and children and didn’t want to take them there. My wife was very supportive and cooperative while I was working there.”
“Tarkwa Bay is a very beautiful and peaceful island where the Europeans come to unwind over the weekend and the palm trees surrounding the island belong to the ‘omo oniles.'” He reminiscenced. Comparing it to now, he said it was crime free and they were no make shift houses but people lived there and eked a living from life on the sea and the island. It was always full during the weekends just as we have today but not as populated as it is now.
Asked what was the most memorable time he had at the Epiphany school, he said it was when he led the school to win the first State volley ball trophy in 1969. “The islanders loved my sport coaching ability because I took the pupils in different sports like football, athletics, table tennis, volley and basket ball among others. They were thrilled when we brought the trophy to the island after competing with other schools in Lagos. Apart from that I took the children in all the subjects and they excelled in their examinations. They also admired my volunteer works.”
My dad left teaching before I started elementary school, he is my first teacher at home. He taught me how to read and write, godliness, cleanliness, punctuality and discipline. He was always punctual and well dressed. I used to marvel at his mastery of the English language.
Many years after that trip with my dad to Tarkwa Bay, I decided to go back in the early 90’s, with a couple of friends while I was working as a journalist at Radio Lagos. We planned the trip for a Saturday and we got a lot of stuff for our picnic on the beach. We arrived the Marina mid afternoon and parked around the governor’s lodge where a relative of one my friends lived. We waited for a while before the canoe arrived, then we all boarded. This was a trip I had been looking forward to, but I felt a lot of trepidation when I took the canoe as the little boy paddled it along, I held on tight to its sides. I have never been in one in my life, so I feared for my life being in the hand of the little boy, who paddled gently down the sea with a mastery beyond his age. I loved seeing the waters but I couldn’t relax to enjoy it. I practically held my breath while on the canoe and recited Psalm 91 more than 10 times before we disembarked.
“I thought we were taking a proper boat,” I said. “A boat?” My friends asked in unison. “Where will you get that?” One of them asked trying to dismiss my fear. “Let’s go and settle down jo.”
We paid for a place where we dropped our stuff and went on the beach. The ocean air was balmy and the waves peaceful and gentle. The beach was filled with hordes of people, mostly young people who came to enjoy the weekend. “Oh mine! What a day to come to this place!” I thought. I love having my space, so I felt uncomfortable with the invasion. I tried to take in the beauty of the waves gently on the sea shore but I was restive throughout and could not help but to remind my friends of the time to leave at each interval. I was sure I was getting on their nerves. I feared it would be dark and we would be stranded on the island as the canoes would stop moving before dark. As the sun gathered to set, we packed our stuff and left Tarkwa Bay with the same canoe that brought us. I looked back at the island and waved it bye but can’t wait to pay a return visit. When we got to the jetty, I heave a sigh f relief, thanked the canoe boy but couldn’t wait to get back home to recount my Tarkwa Bay experience.
As beautiful as the island is, there is no government presence, no basic amenities; no electricity, no health care and some children have to take boat trips to access higher education. Meanwhile, the residents of Tarkwa Bay have been given eviction notice, some internally displaced and some have been forcefully ejected from the island. There is an interim injunction by a court to stop the eviction. The island is a place where party goers and surfers go to for weekends and those who want to just relax away from the noise of Lagos. The state government said the place has become a den of criminals and some residents were accused of pipeline vandalism. The state plans to develop a luxury tourist complex there.