Adeniran: Surveying Can Rescue Nigeria from Underdevelopment


Surveyor General of the Federation, Mr. Taiwo Adeniran, who heads Nigeria’s apex office in surveying and mapping, in this interview argues that most of the problems in the country can be solved if adequate attention is paid to surveying and all the activities surrounding it. Emmanuel Addeh brings the excerpts

A major theme that runs through all your events is the use of the word ‘geospatial information’. What is it and what is its relevance to our everyday activities.

Geospatial data are information relating to hard surfaces, it’s about the features, either natural or man-made. ‘Geo’ means earth and the ‘spatial’ is how related the features or the hard surfaces are. To use a very simple illustration, when you see a survey plan, it is important for you to know the area of land at your disposal. A survey plan is for you to know the topography or relief or behaviour of the land, whether hilly, flat, rough or undulating or what we call topographical survey. You also want to know where it is relatively situated on the hard surface or where in the environment because you are not the only person who has land there otherwise there will be an overlap.

The area, topography, location, direction it is, all these are geospatial information about that property and these are unique to that piece of land or cadastral which is taken from the word cadastre which is information or a register about a property. From the cadastral survey, you get other attributes about the owner, the signs, the transactions on the land, from whom it was bought etc. All these information are what we call geospatial information or data.

If you want to do anything relating to physical development, you need to have this map. Geospatial information are the attributes or features of the hard surface that can be reproduced with scale. The SDGs we want to achieve by 2030, without geospatial information, we can’t achieve anything. It is a tool for planning.

What is the level of collaboration between your office and other government institutions and agencies?

I said earlier that survey and geo-informatics are useful in all sectors. When I assumed this seat, I realised we should stop talking to ourselves for a moment and start talking to the public and non-surveyors. The work we do is relevant in practically all sectors. The other day I went to visit the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and in the course of deliberation a lot of things were revealed. We were talking about terrorism, about issues in Katsina, Zamfara and all those places. To really be able to police that space properly, you need geospatial data to give you information about that forest area. That’s part of our job. The other time I was talking about thematic maps. The theme is determined by the work you put the land to. We have a questionnaire on that we have prepared because as we are saying that all sectors need geospatial information, we must know exactly which one they need. For agencies that we have been privileged to work with, we do that. They will tell us the mandate, responsibility, plans, deliverables in terms of output and outcome.

For example the HDMI project, we need to know the particular area we are intervening. But it is the responsibility of this office to provide them with geospatial information.

Aside the police are there specific areas of cooperation with other organisations?
As I speak with you, we have an MOU with the Nigeria Tourism Devenopment Corporation (NTDC) and you wonder what surveying and geo-informatics is doing in tourism.
If you go abroad, you just see a street guide which you take for free. Yes, the digital version is still there, but the street guide is a geospatial information because there is so much information there. We are doing a similar thing and we are partnering with the tourism sector.

Behind it, we will carry along those in hospitality business, tourism , and other incidental activities to tourism. The surveyor general provides the street guides and the NTDC will show where people can find comfortable places while in Nigeria.
There are places people can visit to have the correct perception about this great country. A lot of people don’t know we have so many beautiful things in Nigeria and we see it as our responsibility to do that. I can go on and on.

Going through your statutory duties, there seems to be an overlapping of functions between your office and the National Boundary Commission (NBC). Do you have clashes sometimes?

No, we don’t clash. The NBC was formed from the old federal surveys. This office before 2005, used to be known as federal surveys which was established in 1954. The surveys handled both the technical aspect of boundary demarcation and then the adjudication aspect. There are two aspects to boundary demarcation and delineation. The technical, where you go on ground and delineate physically and then the adjudication where you talk about treaties, agreements and descriptions. There are about six stages in boundary demarcation. The first stage is allocation, then delimitation, agreement drafting and treaty writing, before demarcation and the last is maintenance, that’s land clearing. Of the six stages, the first three has to do with adjudication. This office is the technical partners to the boundary commission. We don’t clash. Our responsibilities are clear. Of course, there are surveyors in NBC.

As a matter of fact, the Vice President is the Chairman of the NBC board and my supervising minister is also a member of that board. We work together in harmony. The NBC was taken from the federal surveys.

From your explanation, this office looks like such a big one and you are rooted in every organisation. It’s like everybody needs a surveyor. You have so much to do. How do you get funding?

To quickly answer that, we don’t have enough and it’s not only us. Nobody can have enough of anything. But at this juncture, I want to commend the federal government and my supervisory minister. He is a surveyor’s delight. He was the governor of Lagos state and he understands survey more than so many people. One of the problems is that a lot of people, even the elite, don’t know what we do and to a large extent we take responsibility for that and we want to keep talking to people. Government is trying because it’s not just survey that requires money. Education is there, health is there, agric etc. And again, you must be able to show government what you are doing with the money. We need to explain to them, even a lot of government institutions or government activities will not work without some of these things.

I have also repeatedly said that there are four criteria for good governance. One is planning, second is adequate geo-informatics in the correct quality, quantity and format, then finance and human capacity. There was a time, the United Nations actually recommended that two and a half per cent of the national budget should be used for survey and geo-informatics. They knew what they were talking about.

It is until you have done that, which you can actually begin to explore and enjoy the potential in an environment. I was telling my supervising minister that by the time he paid attention to geospatial information when he was in Lagos, the IGR jumped from N7 billion to N23 billion. He said it wasn’t only the geospatial information that aided that, but he admitted that it played a huge role. For instance, if you want to buy a piece of land and someone shows you a land document. How do you verify if it’s genuine? How do you know you are not talking to fraudsters? In some countries, I just need to give you my name or a photocopy of that document, then you go and get a scratch card and go online, check the property.

It will show you all transactions on that price of land, the name of the person who sold the land will be there. Then you are rest assured that it’s genuine. There’s nowhere you can do that here although we are working towards it.

Nigeria has a very chaotic urban and regional planning system. What can surveyors do in collaboration with town planners in that respect?

Let me make one clarification. It is not the responsibility of the surveyor to plan the country. It is true that we get or gather geospatial information and then we give advice how to utilise land appropriately. There some other sister professionals called town planners. And you will agree with me that land is vested in state governors. The responsibility of developing control is on the state government. That’s what we have been talking about. The responsibility to plan our environment properly lies in the town planners in the state.

Of course some of the property belong to the federal government, the town planners in the federal government are also doing their bits. But you know just like we are trying to bring what we do to the knowledge of the public and they can appreciate it, the same thing applies to the twin planner. A lot of people still build houses without approval. That’s why they normally go out to demolish. To a large extent, they are in the same boat with us. A lot of people don’t know. A lot of people build on flood plains which they should not. I have been listening to some jingles where the FCT authorities are telling people not to build houses without approval. But our people don’t adhere to these things. It borders on awareness and education. If people are educated they will know. Our responsibility is to provide the model of the environment, then it is the responsibility of other professionals to come in and do their bits.

Each state has its own office of the surveyor general. Does your office have any relationship with them?

States to a large extent are autonomous in some areas of governance. When it comes to survey, states can do surveys on their own. That’s why they are on the concurrent legislative list, even local governments. They have their own authority and powers. Now, the survey coordination conference , is not just for the surveyor general but lecturers in higher institutions. All of us will come together. It is at this conference we present reports and everybody will know what his other colleagues are doing. The purpose of the meeting is to harmonise surveying activities in the country. It is also to know what other survey outfits are doing and be able to advise institutions on the new curriculum to align with current developments, like the one we just held on SDGs and good governance.

Majority of Nigerians do not really think they need a surveyor. Why should the average Nigerian get the services of a surveyor?

You need a surveyor to know the amount of property at your disposal. Where your land is and to be able to produce a title for your property. And when I say title, they add value to your property and unlock the capital in the property. A lot of property are useless, a lot of people are suffering amid plenty. If your property is well surveyed and then you get C of O for it, it’s a good collateral for you to secure money to actually do some other things. Of the four factors of production, land and capital are intertwined. You can change your land to capital, especially good land. When I say good land, it means land without any encumbrances. It should be able to translate into something that can alleviate poverty for you. It was one of the reasons former president Umar Yar’adua made it one of his seven point agenda to do land reforms.

Although they are still working on it, had it been we were able to get through the land reforms through systematic land registration, it would have been easier and faster for everybody to secure their land and get good title without encumbrances. Another one is that when you are in an environment and you don’t do survey, you will not know where the drainages will pass. A lot of people live in estates where water gather in one corner. Without survey, you don’t even know the amount of land at your disposal. You can’t plan your land without survey. An unplanned land doesn’t have much value. Sometimes, you are not able to get vehicle to your house. There are environments where people park their cars on the road and then enter through a pathway to their houses. It’s because that environment wasn’t surveyed ab initio.

We have a slogan here that “if you cannot map it, you cannot manage it”. When you map your land properly, the land will be judiciously and effectively used and it will grow and improve in value.
Any property that is not well planned, won’t have value. The value of a piece of land in Maitama grows astronomically compared for example to an unplanned area.

Don’t you think that government also makes things difficult by making the process too cumbersome and expensive?

That has been established. And that’s why we brought land reforms when late president Yar’adua became president. If you look at the responsibility and terms of reference of the land reforms, you will see that about 80 per cent of it is about surveying and mapping.

It is true that processes to get C of O are tortuous. That’s why the land reforms was established to reduce the time of transaction to get C of O. The federal government is working on that. One of the tools we need for it is a base map for the whole country which will help us get there quickly. In some states, to a large extent, the processes have been reduced, but that’s why the land reforms are important.

Finally, you have been in office now for some 8-10 months, are there major achievements you want us to know about?

We are mapping the covid-19 pandemic on a daily basis. We will interface with the DG NCDC to give us the test centres and the health facilities around them to be able to map them so that peradventure we bring in the vaccines, we will hit the ground running. We have been able to do that. We are talking to lots of institutions. I just mentioned the forest mapping with the Nigeria police, it is on. There’s our collaboration between this office and the NTDC.

We are going into partnership, because we have a printing press that the capacity of it or its potential, this office alone cannot consume it. We are collaborating with people from outside to come and manage the printing press for us and we have reached an advanced stage.

We also have some equipment, boats, high accuracy GPS, drones and a commercial department where we formulate some of these business activities. The people to start using our boats for hydrographic activities around our coast have reached advanced stages of talks with us.

My supervising minister has been involving us fully in activities at the ministry. We have been doing the Right of Way (RoW) survey in the ministry. We are going to see the survey content in all the activities in the ministry, the basis on which we tell the government we need to come in.

Our three areas of focus are impact, relevance, people must know that this office is relevant to our developmental processes. It’s even one of the reasons we have not developed past the level we are right now.
The other day there was an explosive in Ejigbo. If we had been doing all these things all the while, peradventure there wouldn’t have been such a thing. We are also trying to have geospatial centres in the six geopolitical zones.