©By Sunny Udeh

The Refome Lake is an ox-bow lake found in Ebom community of Abi Local Government Area in central Cross River State, South-South Nigeria. It is arguably the largest natural freshwater lake in Southern Nigeria measuring about 7000m2 and 10000m2 of open water, depending on the climatic season.

The Refome lake is located besides the Cross River at the Rehat Ekpoi area of Ebom overlooking Ndibe and Unwana (both in Ebonyi State) on the other side of the Cross River. The lake was discovered by an Ebom hunter in the early 19th Century when the various Bahumono group of villages (of which Ebom is one) migrated from their traditional homestead of Otumusa to their present respective locations. 

The Lake is surrounded by extensive mangrove swamp and a stretch of flood plains lying between it and the Cross River. At the peak of the rainy season, they are points where the water from the Refome and the Cross River meet and mix. Also, during this period, the Refome merges with another smaller lake (the Ujum Lake) located about 4km away, through the mangrove swamp.

The composition of the lake bed is richly organic and is made up of decaying plant and animal matter. This is a major determinant of the flora and fauna found within the lake’s environment. This is why Refome Lake supports such a rich diversity of plants and animal life. The flora here include algae, water lilies, lotus, ferns, rhizomes etc while the vast variety of fauna include swans, water ducks, pied stilt, etc for the avian population and amphibians like frogs, newts and toads are a common sight. Predominant reptiles here include tortoise and alligators. There is also a rich variety of fish species but the dominant ones are tilapia, catfish, bass etc.

The Refome Lake presently serves some purposes to the people of Ebom. Primarily, fishing is the major use of the Lake. Fishermen fish in Refome all year round, employing different fishing methods depending on the time of the year. But the peak fishing period is usually between January and April of every year. However, in order to allow for fish growth in numbers and sizes, sometimes restrictions on all fishing activities are placed by the Community during certain periods of the year, usually between May and November. When this happens, the Lake is considered to be under some kind of ‘lockdown’ and allowed to fallow. It is then ‘opened’ in January for a fishing festival of some sorts, that lasts till March to April. The fact that despite the massive, almost year round fishing that goes on in Lake, the catch is always significant attests to the high level of biological productivity of the Lake.

The secondary use of the Refome Lake is food and vegetable crop production. The flood plains that arise when the water level recedes, mostly after the rainy season, is highly fertile with alluvial deposits and have been utilized for the widespread cultivation of vegetables, cassava, and water yam.

From the above, one can deduce that all the fishing and cropping uses of the  Refome Lake by the people of Ebom have been essentially for subsistence purposes. There is a huge opportunity to commercialize the potential of this lake that seems ‘hidden’ from the world. Firstly it can be developed into a major ecotourism spot in Nigeria. The most apparent tourism use would be to modify/refine the fishing activities in the Lake and make it an international festival, akin to what happens in Argungu, in Kebbi State. The Refome is arguably larger than the Argungu Lake (River) and with its high level of productivity; it will make for a spectacular fishing festival. 

Additionally, a resort could be developed there for lovers of nature who wish to undertake holidays and picnics. The ambience of the Refome is serene, and scenic, and has the calming effect that only nature can offer. Activities like canoe rides, leisure fishing, biological excursions into the mangrove, researches, etc can be guaranteed in the Refome Lake. 

On another note, the Refome can be acquired for large scale fish and crop production in a natural habitat, in line with the growing global emphasis on commercial agriculture for food security. Herein lies a huge investment opportunity for business people.

Because of its rural location, there are some challenges that will be encountered in the development of Refome for whatever purpose. Firstly, there is the lack of motorized  road to the Lake shores, which is about 1.5km from the motorable but untarred Ebom-Ndibe Beach Road, itself in need of comprehensive renovation. 

I am certain that the Ebom community will welcome a partnership, whether with Government or the private sector that seeks to maximize the productive use of the Refome Lake.  A negotiated compensation plan, the promise of a good road access in and around the area and the possible employment opportunities that will be generated therefrom will meet the community’s expectations.

The development of the Refome Lake present ample prospects in all of the possible usage options listed above. There is no gainsaying the fact that potential returns for all concerned are humongous. This write up is therefore intended to draw the attention of all and sundry to the untapped opportunities in Refome Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in southern Nigeria.

© Sunny Udeh is a Concerned Indigene of Ebom Community. All comments and observations to sudeh13@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *