Governors should make position of surveyor-general extra-ministerial, says Oyegbola
Akinloye Oyegbola is a surveyor and immediate past president of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on issues affecting the surveying profession and the housing industry.
Surveying appears to have less government attention over time, why is it so and what has been the effect of that on the nation’s economy?
WHEREAS we are seeking more attention, it may not be very correct that the government is not giving the required attention to surveying because the profession helps the government at any point in time to manage land resources. We know what land resources are even in business and the economy. So, no government would push it aside, but that is not to say that we are not asking for more.
Maybe, what we can say of the profession is its peculiarity; every profession and its practice have its peculiarity and you cannot disassociate it from the awareness that comes with it. Surveying is that kind of profession that provides so much for other professions to be able to render their service, but it is not like architecture.
When you see a beautiful structure, the first thing that comes to mind is architecture and not the structural engineer that makes it stand. In its small way, surveying has been there even before Independence, then, the surveyor-general even deputises for the governor.
In surveying, we are talking about land, which is non-elastic and as a state or government, you have to be careful about how you manage it because you know how much money you make from it and so, cannot underrate whoever is involved or at the forefront. The government couldn’t but pay attention to the surveying profession.
We are canvassing that all state governors make the position of the surveyor-general extra-ministerial. It is not all of them have done that. When you make it extra-ministerial, it makes the surveyor-general of that state responsible directly to the governor and there is nobody in between. There are immense benefits that can be got from land and it can be enhanced if there is no in-between official in the process. Those states like Lagos that have done it, know what they are enjoying from it because you have direct information dissemination without distortion.
Currently, many young people are not interested in surveying as a course of study in tertiary institutions; how can we stimulate interest in surveying and the geospatial profession?
One of the things responsible for that is that the profession is not self-advertising. If you see a beautiful bridge, what comes to your mind is engineering, when you see a beautiful building, it is the architect, whereas it started with a survey but nobody is talking about the surveyor.
For you to study surveying, requires the majority of subjects that students run away from in schools. Surveying course requirements include mathematics, physics and further mathematics. If you are grounded in the subjects, then you can start thinking of surveying. Although, some universities permit those without further mathematics, but the difference is always clear in the classroom. Another thing is that surveying is very tasking intellectually and physically.
Most of the students who attend universities believe that as soon as they finish, the next thing is a white-collar job. Most times, surveyors’ work is on virgin land, thick bush and that is an area the man who believed he had studied in university needs re-schooling and be prepared for.
We are also trying to change the name from surveying to surveying and geo-informatics and make it a bit more attractive to students. Actually, the content makes geo-informatics more relevant because surveying is not just the acquisition of geospatial data but managing it for users and other areas, where geo-informatics information can be used.
That has been made apt with the incursion of technology into the profession. We have different arts of practice, for instance, the hydrography area; you can’t but call in the surveyor. Somebody has to survey the riverbed for you to sail. Now, we have artificial satellites all over the place. I am sure people don’t know that it is the surveyor that makes sure that the satellites are in position, monitors them and let people know what information it is giving out at a particular time.
We also have those areas that the computer has made easy to handle and makes it easy for us to take the campaign about surveying profession to secondary schools. In the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors, we have women in surveying, who go from time to time to interact with secondary school students, and take part in road shows to tell people about surveying and what surveyors do. We haven’t done enough of that and so we will continue the advocacy.
There are concerns over incessant building collapse, which has impeded economic development, leading to loss of lives and property. Why has it become difficult to halt structural failures and what new strategies can be deployed as a way out of the problem?
In the course of my tenure as the APBN president, we had the Ikoyi building collapse; we had a press conference on behalf of the professional bodies because there is a tendency to believe that it is a lack of expertise.
What we have is a reflection of the corruption in our society. To build a 25-storey building, for instance, is not rocket science and we have highly qualified Nigerians that can handle it. But, when you do not monitor or control, man has the tendency to cut corners. Any time you have three or four people together; the next thing is who will lead us because they expect the leaders to uphold the norms to guide their co-existence. When that leader refused to do what is expected, you don’t blame the individuals who choose to have a leader.
Basically, what is responsible for the building collapse is the laxity or the lack of control and monitoring from the government. I queried why it would take about three months to have a building approval in Lagos. What do you think will become of the bottleneck created? At the end of the day, when you have the approval, what it took you to have the approval is a reflection of what the monitoring will be. Somebody has to go out to see that when you have the approval, buildings are constructed according to specifications. It is a systemic failure.
If the government does not have enough hands, it should employ more. But, if you ask me, it is not about sufficient hands but a manifestation of corruption in the building sector, and lack of monitoring and control.
Prices of building materials and rentals are increasing on a daily basis, forcing many developers to review construction costs and timely delivery for projects, what is the way forward for prospective homeowners and investors?
The way forward is still that our leaders must learn to lead us right. For instance, on the exchange rate, if we are able to curtail our profligacy in buying imported things that we can manufacture, then, pressure will ease on the dollar.
When there is no pressure on the dollar, prices of goods and services won’t increase. A farmer who produces products from farm and wants to buy shoes, if he discovered that the price of the shoes has increased in the market, he too will increase the price of his produce to be able to buy the shoes.
The other aspect is that if we can cut down the cost of governance and the extent to which corruption has prevailed in society, then, we would be there. It is not so difficult to do, it is just to let the rule of law prevail and the judiciary has independence.
I listened to people saying, if we refine our crude oil locally, then we will be better off. But I said no because if we continue with the way we are living, the corrupt society that we have, it cannot happen. The cost of production is going to be very high. For instance, we are at the bottom rank in the ease of doing business worldwide and corruption is the problem. When there is a high level of corruption in society, nothing can move forward.
There has been controversy over the surveyor’s right to survey land with the recent judgment in Lagos, what is your view on this?
The issue is not the right to survey land. There is no other person that can have the right to survey land than the surveyor.
The judgment was about the fact that in the past, individuals or landowners after the Land Use Act that vested land in state governments encroach on parcels of government land earmarked for one thing or the other. And before they can do anything like that, they would have involved a surveyor.
It was seen as a way of mitigating that ill of the society when it was said that surveyors have to seek the consent of the government before they survey some areas and even when you survey, you must stamp it whether it is within government acquisition or not before you give it to the owners to know the status of the land.
Over the years, when such surveys are done, before you mobilise, you have to survey to know whether a particular land is within the government’s acquisition. We also survey for size, shape, location, nature of terrain and registration (cadastral purposes).
So, for location, you have to go and survey to be able to know where the land is, get the coordinate and chat it against baseline whether it is within a particular parcel earmarked for one thing or the other. That particular information comes after the survey and if you now say the surveyor should stamp after the survey job to determine if it is within acquisition as soon as you stamp it, the owner of the land is reluctant to pay because you have told him that the land is within government’s acquisition.
That is why we went to court to say that our own job is to provide geospatial information and not to manage it for the government. When we provide the geospatial information, let it be accurate and adequate and if the owner now takes the plan to the government, the officials can now tell him whether it is government land or not.
It is not for the surveyor to now face the person that has commissioned him. Because the moment you tell the owner that the land is within the government’s acquisition, he runs away and the surveyor should have completed his job before giving out the information.
Developments in technology have had a significant influence on the surveying and mapping industry, how has technology changed surveying practice and what should survey firms do?
It is all about automation and what automation does is enhance the quality of service rendered, it increases efficiency in what you are doing and doesn’t take it over. That is what has happened. For instance, sooner or later, robots will be performing surgeries but does it mean we won’t produce doctors again? No. So, we will continue to train doctors no matter the level of automation.
In surveying, it has enhanced the data acquisition process, data processing, information dissemination and presentation. We are trying to allow the public to enjoy as much as technology has offered us. Technology has opened up what people can do with it and how much they can get from it.
Insecurity and inter-state boundary clashes have caused huge havoc to lives and property across the country; can survey mapping solve the problem?
When there is a dispute over a parcel of land or boundary, a surveyor will be called upon to show the level of encroachment. No other profession can be called in but the surveyor, but it cannot stop the dispute. It is the court that will solve it and when necessary, the surveyor becomes the expert witness in court to let the judge know the situation on the site. A surveyor can establish whatever a person prescribes as his or her boundary.
The role of the surveyor in curbing insecurity has to do with the level of equipment on the ground at a particular time. The insecurity in recent times has awakened the government to the areas it needs to invest in and it will take a bit of time to attain the desired level. Whatever you want to do on land, you need a surveyor to guide you. Surveyors are always available to guide the government once they acquire the equipment needed.
To locate areas is not a big deal again, you can use drones, and go there physically to confirm what satellite imagery has given out. It is the ability to deploy it appropriately that we need to acquire. The surveying profession has been growing the economy through land surveying. It is one of the oldest professions.