One of the first persons I have a chat with on getting to the Tarkwa Bay Beach is a life guard who goes by the alias Colombia (real names Olawale Popoola). Living on the island since 1989, Colombia talked his friend TJ (Tajudeen Adedokun) into the initiative when he realised that every once in a while beach goers died while trying to swim.
“I told him that we are both good swimmers and we just couldn’t sit on the beach and watch people die just like that,” he says, standing by a pair of fishing boats near the shoreline and TJ by his side. “We are doing it voluntarily. No government is paying us for that. The only compensation I would say we get is the usual token of maybe N500 from the beach management committee.”
Both men wear dreadlocks and the jerseys of two different football clubs. Colombia has a black-and-yellow Chelsea FC jersey on, while TJ’s is a patterned with solid red-and-white stripes but no club name is printed on it. Bespectacled in non-identical frames, both men will pass easily for reggae artistes; but, facially, Colombia looks like the American rapper Snoop Dogg, smile, jaws and all.
It’s about 3 p.m. and the beach is getting busy with tourists from the Island. Shortly, expatriates stream in and take up seats in their preferred sections of the beach. A couple more others make for the waters with their surfboards, a good number of them known to Colombia. “There are many good surfers who come here all the time,” Colombia says, after hailing a certain Mr Rigo.
And there are young novices who throw all caution to the wind while in the calm waters of Tarkwa Bay beach. Colombia recalls a near fatal incident. Sometime in 2013, a group of three undergraduate students were on the beach; at some point they decide to take a swim and it all went wrong. From where he was, Colombia sensed that two of the lads were in distress, drowning and flailing their arms wildly. Instantly, he jumped to his feet and alerted TJ.
“I told him to go and bring the surfboard while I rushed in to rescue the boys,” he says. In the end, and to their relief, the selfless lifeguards saved both drowning boys. But it is a day Colombia will never forget, because it left him with a scar of sort, still visible to date. “The first boy I saved pull out a chunk of my locks from the root and they up till now they are yet to grow to their normal length,” he says pulling his skull-cap to reveal the affected patch.
Still, Colombia doesn’t think the occasional accidents take away from the matchless profile of Tarkwa Bay beach. “The other nearby beaches—Ibeshe, Elegushi, Eleko, Ilashe, Alpha—are not bad, but Tarkwa Bay beach remains the best in Nigeria,” he says. “You can bring your children or your family here to swim and they will have a great time.”
In the course of our conversation, I couldn’t help but notice that Colombia speaks English with a foreign accent. Because of his locks, I assume he’s spent a long time in Jamaica, or someplace else. His accent is definitely not Nigerian. “I’ve never been outside the country,” he says as we wrap up the chat and walk towards to tented area, under which is a long stretch of lounge seats rented out for N200 apiece. “I picked it up from guiding foreign tourists on this Island. And one of them was a Portuguese lady, whom I dated for a long while. I think her speech pattern must have rubbed off on me.”