Tongeji; Oil rich island village in the Benin Republic border end of Ogun State, Nigeria. To gain access to the treasure Island, the easiest, though not the most time manageable route, is Whekan Topa, that is one has to get to Ipokia then Tube and endure a 45-minute motorcycle ride over rough and unmotorable terrain to Whekan kingdom. The road is hard and the motorcycle has to travail over muddy and murky terrain. At 20 minutes into the journey, the road disappears leaving a tiny footpath which cannot accommodate incoming and ongoing traffic at the same time. There are about five villages that make up the Whekan Kingdom but the most prominent of these are Jgun and Whekan Topa, which is the border with Tongeji. There is no commercial transportation to Tongeji at Whekan beach; one will have to hire a canoe. There are only two motorised boats, which belong to the Sea Police who have their post about 20 minutes from Whekan on the sea.
The Whekan had brown and oily water; there are mangrove swamps all around which narrowed the width of the river. Intermittently, a monkey would be seen from the woods. From the high sea, one could see Badagry to the east, Tongeji to the west and Cotonou to the north. The first impulse one gets on alighting at Tongeji beach is that of paradise. The narrow road with white sand that leads to the village ended where the rows of palm trees began. The breeze from the ocean is clean and refreshing; the whole island looked deserted and there is a quiet, eerie silence. At the end of the palm tree plantation stood the residence of the king, Oba bi Olorun Kosi which literal translation means “No King as God”; the Akoko of Tongeji. His house was a modest bungalow with clean lawns and a Nigerian flag stands in front of it.
Life & Population
The journey to Tongeji by the canoe is 50 minutes and it is spent in trepidation. Aside the constant bailing of water and the threat of drowning, there was the worrying issue of water hyacinth. The Nigerian government has its toll on the economy and social life of the Island. The closest community to the Island is Otho Topa, which is about five minutes away by canoe. The people patronise the Gbanynto market. For many, the point of entry into Nigeria is through Benin Republic. When journeying to state capital, Abeokuta, they cross to Otho Topa where they join a car and then to Igbolo then Ajase before going to ldi-Iroko, a clear two hours journey rounding the length of the entire journey to four hours. The closest Nigerian settlement to the people is Whekan Topa and it is a clear 50 minutes by canoe, so the people hardly get any interaction with Nigerians and sure enough many have adopted the culture and laid back attitude of their French neighbours.
Once having a population of about 10,000 inhabitants who are mostly farmers and fishermen, Tongeji during the rainy season has fishing suspended for farming and farm produce are sold to the French and at Idi-iroko. In modern times, a large fraction of the population migrated to the Benin communities or to Ijofin, Idi-Iroko. For Tongeji, the problem of access spilled over into infrastructure. There is a clinic that served the population, nurses were rotated on the island on weekly basis, but due to the dilapidating nature of the clinic, nurses rarely made any appearance. Children attend schools in Ipokia, Idi-Iroko and Ijofin, Many more are in French territories of Otho Topa. They form the large part of Tongeji immigrants. Teachers come from Ipokia daily to teach whoever remains on the island. Soldiers are on standby to protect the island against intruders from Benin Republic[i].
History & people
Tongeji has an interesting history which has helped fuelled the many claims about it. The ancestors came from Ilesha in Osun state and settled in Owode-Apa as hunters. Then they heard of the fabulous Island of Tongeji with plenty of games, as adventurers they came and settled there, selling their catch to the people of Badagry. Soon the forest became a hamlet, the hamlet a village and the village a small town. But the enduring question in Tongeji is that of identity and geography played no small part in it. For many years there were speculations about the ownership and citizenship of the people of the island. There were talks of a possible takeover by the government of Benin Republic which eyed the island because of a reported discovery of crude oil. Tongeji is part of Ogun State, even though it is nearer to the Benin Republic than Nigeria. The people speak Egun and Yoruba. Their fathers married from the French speakers, and the Nigerians but the people are generally considered Nigerians. Of the original population, only a few hundred people remained.
[i] NATION, December 12, 2014