After spending some time on the beaches of Ilashe, Ibeshe and Ikare, Demola Ojo discovers that the delights of these unspoilt locations would remain the exclusive preserve of a select few, until the Lagos State government delivers on its promise of enabling infrastructure
Sun, sand and sea, the beaches of Ilashe, Ibeshe and Ikare offer kilometres of virgin nature. Coconut palm trees add to the aesthetics of these tranquil locations that sit between the Badagry Creek and the Atlantic Ocean. Seclusion is the order of the day and most times, the only sound is that of the waves crashing at the shore.
Sometimes though, the roar of a quad bike hurtling along the beach in a cloud of dust cuts through the deafening silence. This could be somewhat reassuring of some form of evidence that there are other humans around.
In actual fact, there is always a sprinkling of locals on this strip, but they live within the cluster of towering palm trees, closer to the jetties by the creeks. The other side of the strip is the attraction for the well-heeled, those that come from the urban parts of Lagos in search of the solitude that these waterside villages offer. They come in different shapes and sizes of boats, with the daring among them making the 30 minute trip (from Victoria Island or Ikoyi) on jet-skis.
Their imprints have been left here: lines of beach houses - predominantly brown, a few white - as far as the eye can see, blending with the sand and the horizon. Vegetation is sparse, a few lined coconut trees dot the landscape for effect.
It is very hot on a typical tropical afternoon, despite the massive body of water but more than half the getaways here have swimming pools. And only a few people are keen on taking a dip in the ocean.
Azeez, a Lebanese businessman in his sixties is seated on the sand watching his sons and grandsons wading at shore next to a shipwreck. The wreck acts as a buffer against the surging waves, making the spot ideal for swimming. According to him, he would rather have sun, surf, and sand alone with his family, rather than a beach with a long list of daytime activities and a hopping nightlife.
Many people find no better escape than the exclusivity of the most luxurious and private beach resorts. One example is the Ibeshe beach club which has a grill and pool bar - a sunset terrace lounge where members take in the brilliant sunset while relaxing on lounge beds. It also boasts a private lounge and spa as well as sport facilities such as tennis and volleyball courts. Yearly dues of N250,000 for individuals and N500,000 for a family admits one into this exclusive club.
While many of the beach houses are made of wood, a few are built with concrete which is certainly extravagant, considering the terrain. Popping out of the landscape at Ilashe are three identical storey buildings painted white. The concrete structures evoke images of Miami, each with its own swimming pool and mind-blowing décor. There's a golf course for effect too in these private spreads available for short lease.
“Those living high pressure lives and have to interact with people all day just want to get away with someone special,” Hakeem, a middle aged Nigerian businessman says. He's on his quad bike with a bikini-wearing lady grasping him from behind. They've come to Ilashe with a group of twelve, equipped with their own barbeque stand and coolers of food and drinks. Rick Ross' distinct voice can be heard over the speakers by the pool, boasting about blowing money fast.
It's a surprise though that on a weekend, there is only a handful of people on these beaches. Segun is one of a few who has ventured on the strip solo. He was shocked that despite having enough money, there were no walk-in bars or a place to rent sports equipment at Ilashe. He believes it's a deliberate ploy by the high-powered in Lagos society to put up as many barriers as possible and discourage guests. The beach house owners are a small clique that knows each other. One internet guru conveniently confirmed this, stating, “I know everybody on the beach.”
The list of home owners is headed by the governor of the state himself along with many commissioners, including the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure. Names like Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu and many other business stalwarts re mentioned too. Corporate organisations are not left out either with MTN and Seven-Up among the many companies that own a piece of the pie. The American Embassy too, with their anchored boat leaving a tell-tale sign of an employee's presence.
Lack of Infrastructure
To have fun at Ilashe, Ibeshe or Ikare you either own a beach house or know someone that has one; or belong to one of the members-only clubs along the strip. The few resorts open to the public need to be booked ahead of time. This means that the scenic Indian-owned Kamp Ikare can be desolate on occasions, including a weekend like this. Considering the atmosphere, and the breathtaking view from the Kamp, it is practically a crime that it's going to waste. This just might explain why it's being put up for sale.
In fairness to the well-to-do who own property at these beaches and have been accused (maybe wrongfully) of intentionally trying to maintain the exclusiveness of the strip, a major barrier to commercial activities is the lack of electricity. Every beach house or club worth its salt has its own generating set while the others can be easily powered by a camping generator brought by boat.
Most parts of the strip have never had electricity, while the villages that had have been deprived of power for so long, many assume there was never light here. But according to the Onilashe of Ilashe, the overhead cables that transmit electricity were severed by a passing ship. He suggested that the ship owners had been bribing officials from fixing the lines. This lack of electricity affects communities as far away as Snake Island and Tarkwa Bay.
The absence of power has most likely put paid to the grandiose plans any investor might have had of setting up a proper holiday resort here. Sometime in 2008, there was a report of how a well-known hospitality group revealed its blueprint for a world class resort and golf course at Ilashe. The initiative was projected to attract tourists and also open up the economic opportunities in the host community.
Among the anticipated developments were a hotel complex, luxury chalets, recreational facilities, a golf course, workers housing, maintenance areas and infrastructure such as a resort jetty. With plans for it to be a four-star international resort, it was designed to have 39 standard double rooms, 39 superior double rooms and eight suites. In addition, 25 luxury chalets of one, two and three-bedrooms were to form part of the hotel complex.
The proposal included an air conditioned restaurant and lounge bar with a view of the ocean on the ground level of the hotel. At the upper level, a large, open air, shaded sundeck area with its view of the ocean, was to have its own food and beverage services from the upper level kitchen and a long bar.
There is more: it would have encompassed a golf pavilion containing a small bar and terrace, changing facilities, a pro shop and trolley store overlooking the practice green and the ninth hole of the course. The air-conditioned squash courts and tennis courts were to be administered from the pavilion. The hotel jetty was also meant to cater for water sports. Other high points of the project included two residential areas - the beach area - which accommodated 45 dwellings, and the lagoon area with 24 buildings. But three years after, there is no sign of the hotel and resort.
Nonetheless, Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, during his re-election campaigns in some of the beachside communities, promised that the state government had created a tourism plan that will bring tourists to the island and create a robust economy for the residents through the sale of all articles that may be needed by the tourists who visit.
The governor informed them that the present administration was committed to developing the tourism potential of the strip, while experts from Brazil have been contacted to help with the construction of the beach soccer facility demanded by the youth. He also revealed that the administration had already awarded contracts for the replacement of the pylon responsible for supplying electricity to the communities “despite this being a federal government responsibility.”
If the governor keeps his word, then the island bordered by creek and the Atlantic Ocean is on its way from being a glorified camping site for a real resort. In the meantime, the super-rich and the well-connected can bask in their seclusion, well assured that they're far away from prying eyes.