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Fighting quackery in cadastral surveying is complicated, says Charles

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Charlesye Charles


Mr. Charlesye Charles is the President, Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS). In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on issues of quackery in the surveying profession and use of technology in managing disputes arising from boundary demarcations.

Quackery has become a major issue in the building and construction industry. How is it playing out in the surveying practice? What steps have been taken by your institution to deal with it?
QUACKS or charlatans are persons who claim to have knowledge and skill in fields they do not possess technical knowledge of; accordingly, they carry out dishonest practices and create distress to society. The quackery practices in the building and construction industry has to do with our general attitude to every sphere of life in this country. Persons who are not qualified and certified to render particular services do so and the public hardly asks these individuals to show evidence of their professionalism in the trade they claim to profess.

There are quacks in every profession but perhaps it is worst in the building industry. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is a mason, electrician, plumber, carpenter and iron bender. I believe the National Building Code has the minimum qualification for all artisans who provide complimentary services to qualified builders. But like everything else both clients and contractors tend to cut corners to save costs. I believe our colleagues in the built environment would soon come out with measures to support the government in tackling this menace. Now, the cadastral survey aspect is the one that deals with survey for land titling and is the most common and popular aspect of the profession. The most rudimentary aspect of surveying practice is the observation and measuring of angles and distances with a total station or the like. Fortunately, we have various categories of registration under our regulatory body- Surveyors Registration Council (SURCON). These are the technicians and technologists. Ordinarily these later group work with the surveyors recognised by the Act to provide services in producing cadastral plans. But the Maths in this matter is usually not a straight line, as in addition to the technicians and technologists, there is yet another group not recognized by the law that operates in broad day light. Oftentimes, these are the ones known by the public as surveyors, and the surveyors recognised by the Act patronize worst still some of these so-called quacks.

There is another group of quacks in the construction industry. These men and women provide levels and set out details for construction without the supervision of a registered surveyor. Fighting quackery in the surveying profession, especially with regards to cadastral surveying is a complicated problem.

However, recently with the publication of the Federal Government Official Gazette No. 113 Vol. 107 dated 20th July 2020 and titled ‘Guidelines for the Conduct of Survey Practice in Nigeria 2020, and its enforcement thereon, we may begin to see some changes.

As an institution, we shall continue to educate the public on the danger of patronizing these quacks, and all our members across the federation have been instructed to set-up a task force to check the activities of surveying/geospatial firms in their respective states. We are also working with SURCON, Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation (OSGOF) and Federal Government to ensure we have at least two certified registered surveyors in the employment of every local government of the federation. I believe you are aware that the Obasanjo administration made OSGOF an extra- ministerial office where we ought to have survey departments in all MDA’s that deal on geo-spatial data acquisition. We encourage all state governments to follow suit. As this will help control and monitor the activities of quacks and the after effect in our society.

Hydrographic surveying seems to be an exclusive reserve for expatriates in Nigeria. How can the trend be reversed?
Hydrographic survey: is the science of measurement and description of features, which affect maritime navigation, marine construction, dredging, offshore oil exploration/offshore oil drilling and related activities. It is not completely proper to say that Hydrographic practice is exclusively reserved for expatriates in Nigeria. The issue is that the equipment for hydrographic survey are quite expensive to procure and coupled with the international licenses/certification/calibration required for both staff and equipment our indigenous companies face an uphill task in that domain. Usually, the award for contract for bathymetric survey comes with other aspects like geotechnical investigations and we encourage our surveyors to extend their scope and contact to collaborate with other professionals in the offshore environment.

The offshore environment is governed by technology and local players need to put their act together. Above all, it is better to start by collaborating with either stronger local players or seeking for JV partners, which is extremely difficult to find with most companies afraid to do business with Nigerians. The perspective from foreign partners regarding doing business with Nigerians is skeptical. How does one obtain DP Vessel to execute offshore projects? The information is tightly kept. There is need for synergy amongst all the players in the offshore environment. It is only under a peaceful atmosphere that the desired progress for the offshore industry can strive. The issues around command and control to me are purely constitutional and have to be addressed in the appropriate arena. Finally, I wish to encourage our surveyors to take hydrographic surveying important and to take time to upgrade their knowledge and skills to meaningfully engage in that aspect of the practice.

Many urban centres in Nigeria are without survey plans and maps. What is the implication for city planning efforts?
Again that assertion does not tell the true story as there is no urban centre that has no basic map covering the area. We could argue that the map is obsolete. Ordinarily, standard maps are reviewed after every five years. The office of the OSGOF is saddled with that responsibility of mapping and I believe that they have been doing that every year. I will encourage you to visit the office and you will be amazed with the information you will be served with.

Federal Government makes provisions for mapping in every year’s physical budgeting. We can only encourage the government to increase the yearly budget provision for the office so that they can do more and cover more states because the best mapped countries are also the best governed. We recommend that small-scale maps should be reviewed every five years while large-scale maps should be reviewed every two years especially the large urban areas. According to United Nations (UN) five per cent of our annual budget should be earmarked for mapping, which we are encouraging our governments to do. Recall that surveying is both on the Concurrent and Exclusive lists in the Nigerian Constitution. State and Local governments are encouraged to follow the Federal Government’s example.

The recent increase in survey fees in many states has received criticism, and property owners say, it has also contributed to exorbitant land costs. What is your take on this? How do you see this in the light of government efforts toward ease of doing business in the real estate sector?
Surveying is one of the under charging professions in this country yet members of the public are complaining. Professional fees vary from state to state and from district to district. For instance, the cost of survey in Port Harcourt cannot be the same with Kebbi, not only because of the availability of land but the value of land and the cost of living and geo-data infrastructure. Cost of survey in Kubwa, Abuja and Maitama can’t equally be the same because of availability of basic infrastructure, and value of land. Survey of parcels of land can either be cost by direct labour or by the value of land. We as an institution are doing everything to ensure our members upgrade their knowledge of technology to render seamless and fit for purpose service to the public. It is a constitutional requirement that all registrable instruments be endorsed by registered surveyor. And only a registrable instrument can confer title at this moment until the appropriate laws are amended.

In many states, the issue of boundary demarcation has resulted to loss of lives and properties. How have your members weathered this challenge? What should be done to resolve boundary disputes?
Ancestral land is something that we all value in Africa, so disputes on land are issues that require dialoguing between all parties or interest groups. The Federal Government in its wisdom setup National Boundary Commission and OSGOF to be the custodian of the boundaries of the various federating units including Federal Capital Territory. These boundaries are sometimes known existing rivers, estuaries, creeks, and other landmarks. Times past, communities may settle on one bank of the river and use the other bank for farming purposes.

But with present day boundary demarcation using such rivers as boundaries, communities often have disputes. The only professional who can demarcate boundaries is the surveyor in collaboration with other professionals like the lawyers, estate valuers and surveyors. We encourage aggrieved parties to go to court and get court permission/consent for the boundary survey. Each community should be allowed to carry out its survey indicating all the historical facts on the disputed plan.

With the surveys from the two parties and an area of dispute clearly identified the competent court would be in an unbiased position to give its ruling. From that ruling, it is possible to define a more visible boundary for all times. To avoid frequent disputes as a result of our members carrying out survey of parcels of land, it is recommended for them to do thorough background historical checks, consult the office of the Surveyor General of the State, where the land is situated before embarking on the survey. We encourage our clients to engage the services of registered surveyors to reduce the frequent occurrences of land disputes. In general, the National Orientation Agency equally has role to play in educating various parties to shield their swords and guns and allow due process in resolving land/boundary disputes.

During the Hebert Macaulay era, the surveying practice was a revered profession. What was responsible for this? Do you think surveyors are playing their expected roles in national development?
History has it that the Deputy Governors of most British Colonial Territories were surveyors because of their ability to navigate the territories. Many of them also had military background and were astute administrators. The surveyors of our forbearers were men of timber and caliber. They were not only men who were trusted with the land heritage of our country; they were also people who carried the trust of the colonial administrators. A good number of them were also involved in the struggle for self-rule. Our forebearers had respect and were regularly consulted in all developmental projects. Every project to be sited on land begins with the work of the surveyor and the allied professions.

Surveyors were regularly sent on training locally and abroad to enable them discharge their duties. I too benefitted from such training between 1975 and 1976. Massive investments were made in training and equipment because no project can successfully take off without the position where it is to be sited, how to get to the location and the attributes of that location. The expertise of the surveyor was sought for. Today, the story has changed from been part of decision makers to being a tool to policy makers/advisers.

Surveyors are still one of the important players in any meaningful national development, particularly in the following critical areas: Military (route surveillance mapping), environment impact assessments, Infrastructure (Works, Housing and Deformation Studies), water (dam monitoring, and flood control. Transport (railway route identification) profiling and curve setting, bathymetric survey, dredging and channel maintenance.

The use of Geographical Information System (GIS) is still low in the country, why is it so? Don’t you think the curriculum of tertiary institutions should be reviewed to incorporate modern trends in surveying?
Geographical Information System is a vast terrain with peculiar specialties to each profession. In other words, there are many players in this arena. But basically, they all deal withpoint position for instance, coordinates and height. Coordinates are the same as longitudes and latitudes and height is either orthometric or geoidal height. Before the advent of smart devices, surveyors have spent sleepless nights computing positions using star observation to locate positions. So we all now own point positioning but there is always a core profession even in the mist of all the technological advances.

Now, let me come to the issue of low GIS in the country. You are correct to assume so. However, all the professional groups in the built industry are making concerted efforts to key into the various applications in the market. The GIS packages do not come cheap and so only the fittest can survive, perhaps until we make local inroads to software development.

As an Institution, our recent peaceful resolution of all outstanding court cases with our regulatory body has given both parties opportunities to develop various templates of training for our Mandatory Continuous Development Programme. We hope that when the programme takes off more of our members shall benefit from it.

The OSGOF is by law the custodian of GIS infrastructure in the country and the office is providing the leadership role in this direction. The operations of that office are effectively computerized with so many GIS applications in daily use. We ask the Federal Government to support the office to continue to provide the leadership role in the implementation of GIS functionality across the spectrum in our business.

There is need to introduce the concepts of GIS in the curriculum of our schools create the awareness amongst our pupils at an early age. Curriculum of our tertiary institutions needs to be reviewed from time to time, as GIS education is dynamic in nature and as the trend in technology changes, so should the curriculum change to meet up with the reality. So, there is great need to revisit our teaching curriculum across board.

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Charlesye CharlesNIS
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