The Surveyor General of the Federation, Samuel Adeniran Taiwo, in this interview with the Publisher, Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr. Samuel Ibiyemi, speaks on the scope and relevance of the office to all sectors of the economy. According to him, the relevance of the Surveyor General’s office transcend the walls of government jurisdiction to all sectors of the economy. Among other issues discussed, he spoke on the controversies over boundary matters and the creative measures the Office is employing to develop Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) strategies to run beyond the limiting scope of budgetary allocations. Excerpts:
As the Surveyor General, what can you say about the Act backing the activities of your office with regards to its relevance for modern day operation?
Actually, there is no Act per se, that is, backing the office but what is backing the office is the Federal Executive Council decision of 2005 that established the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation and transformed it into a single department to an extra ministerial entity. As regards that decision, it was realised that geospatial information, surveying and mapping, are relevant and important in all sectors of development and it wasn’t a mistake. It was a decision taken in right direction. Nothing is strange under the sun. We are not the first Country to actually make our surveying and mapping sector an extra administerial. It is the practice all over the world. For instance in America, surveying and mapping is under Department of Defense (DOD). Just to let you know that surveying is very important, in the United Kingdom, our colonial master, they have Ordinance Survey. Ordinance Survey in the United Kingdom (UK) is not just an extra ministerial. It is an autonomous government enterprise that actually generates a lot of revenue for the United Kingdom and by so doing they provide geospatial information for every sector because it is important and they run themselves. How do they do it? They collate or probably they do inventory of all geospatial information of government institutions and then they bill them and they pay. Then they provide the geospatial information as at the time they wanted it.
In Nigeria, we are still under the government. The government is still funding our activities 100 percent. However, despite that, it is very clear that with the dwindling economy with scarce resources, it is clear that the Federal Government cannot fund all the activities of the office. We have been looking at IGR (Internally Generated Revenue). We have been talking about PPP (Public Private Partnership) and we have been looking at about one or two models that we also can adopt. So, coming back to the question of making the office of the Surveyor General of the Federation, by that Federal Executive Council decision, I think it was a step in the right decision.
In the area of generating funds internally, what are you doing and how far have you gone?
Like I said, time and things change; what actually was obtainable about 15, 20 or 30 years ago may no longer be obtainable. With development and then the activities in the economic sector, we start talking about thinking outside the box. As I am speaking, people, don’t even think around the box again, people think without the box. My people will say: “when what we eat finishes, all those things we don’t eat should take over.” Now, coming to IGR, what we have been able to do is trying to identify some of the activities we can do on Public Private Partnership (PPP), whereby government will possibly bring money and the partner will also bring some money, but what is important is return on investment on the ground of how lucrative is the system of this particular venture? Does it have the capacity to start, to run and bring back some finances for a sustainable management of that particular sector. We have been able to see that. We have a commercial business department in my office presently. Their activity is just to look at the sector where surveying, mapping and geospatial data are required for a fee. We do a lot of visitation and demonstration and we have created a limited liability company in the office so that we will be able to interface and compete with other surveying and mapping industries outside and then we can earn some money to run this system in the office and possibly make some remittances into the TSA (Treasury Single Account) whereby the government can have some IGR from the office. That is part of the efforts we have been putting in place. And of course, we have been doing some collaboration. There is one that we entered into with the NTDC (Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation). We have signed MOU (Memorandum of understanding) but there are lot of activities and we are still yet to conclude it. We are into partnership with them. What is partnership all about? If you go overseas, you will get the description map of where you are going; a street guide for free. I’m not sure there is any where you can get such in Nigeria and it is not rocket science. What they do is that they partner. If you look at the back of those guides, you will see some hospitality industries, hotels and the likes, placing adverts there and then at the other side you will see the street guide that can lead you to where you are going easily. To form such a production, it comes from the charges gotten from the outfits placing the adverts. So, that is what we intend to do to run that particular production and so on. We also provide services. For instance, If you are a farmer, you don’t just go and farm, you need some surveying and geospatial information to tell you the type of crop the land you have is good for. It is not some thing serious; for any particular crop, there are certain conditionality like the soil type; the quantity of rain, the humidity that will be in the environment and then we know the quality of all these parameters that can actually yield bountiful harvest for a particular crop. So, in geospatial information management, these are the things we have to overlay the particular location suitable for a particular crop based on the condition to make it thrive. When it comes to security, you want to probably check banditry in an environment and of course you are a security officer, you don’t go into an area without having a fore knowledge or gather intelligence information before you get there. Map is a basic tool for such. So, we are collaborating with the Nigeria Police. As I am speaking, we are mapping the forest between Katsna and Zamfara and Kaduna State and Zamfara up to Birni Gwari forest. Of course, we don’t have much money but the little money we have, we have been trying to make sure that we are embarking on projects that are presently ongoing now, against just sitting idle. We look at our environment and the problems and then do things that will solve that problem. When I came on board, I had three things to focus on. The first one is relevance. The second is impact and thirdly advocacy. People don’t understand that anything you cannot map you can’t manage it. As I speak, we map NCDC (Nigeria Centre For Disease Control) data on daily basis on COVID-19. The question is not whether the data is correct or not. My own problem is the behavior of the pandemic across the country. By the time you map something, it will give you the behavior of whatever thing you are mapping. It could be a phenomenon or the COVID-19 pandemic. It is going to tell you how it is moving. Which area should we focus more intervention? Which area are we winning? Which area is it spreading to? All these information will assist us in being able to deploy the appropriate intervention moves to take. We are doing that on daily basis. We provide the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 that information twice a week and they have commended us for it. There is this thing we call Continuous Operating Reference Station. We have been working on this mapping since March last year. So, these are some of the things and collaboration that we have been having with other Government agencies. It is the responsibility of this office to do “right of way” for every government project like provision of infrastructure such as roads, high tension, pipeline among others. It is the Surveyor who determines the right way. The right of way is the jurisdiction for an infrastructure within which no other infrastructure is to be erected except that particularly infrastructure for which it is mapped for. For Instance, for the road, the distance from the central line of the road to the either edge of the road is 45.7qm. All other lines will get their various widths and that is what we see at times when they ask some people not to build within a particular distance of some physical infrastructure. It is not that government doesn’t like them, but it is to take them away from danger. In the Ejigbo Issue, the tank that caught fire, it would not have been what was witnessed, if people actually followed instructions. To a large extent, we also advocate that it is not enough to just give laws, but you also need to enforce it. So, our slogan as I have said earlier is that “If you cannot map, you cannot get it.”
The issue of boundary in Nigeria has become an albatross. On the issue of inter-state boundary dispute, what is your office doing on this subject?
The major government institution which is responsible for boundary making in Nigeria is the National Boundary Commission. Of course, we are technical partners of the National Boundary Commission. Before 1988 when the National Boundary Commission was established, both the antecedence, the adjudication and then the history of particular boundary and the demarcation of that boundary as concerned, were the responsibility of the then Federal Service. The Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation used to be the Federal Service and our Head Office was in Tafawa Balewa Square. Now when it comes to boundary demarcation, it is the responsibility of Federal Boundary Commission. So, I may not be able to speak quite much, but I will also speak on the boundary making processes and some of the problems we are having as regards boundary and some other characteristics.
Essentially, the internal boundary within the States in particular, are meant for administration. It is just to be able to administer our environment properly, which ordinarily when people are well acquainted with, there should not be any problem. But we know the way we look at things, particularly in the third world Countries in an environment where understanding is not as much as it is supposed to be. There are stages or processes of boundary making and I will speak on where the National Boundary Commission will play a lot of roles and where our own role starts. On allocation, before you can start talking about allocation, you need to allocate that boundary to determine where belongs to A and B. Secondly is treaty/agreement drafting; dealing with issues of antecedence and addressing why this land belong to this party and not the other. Thirdly, is delimitation on paper in form of a sketch. After picking on delimitation and agreeing on some points, then demarcation comes in.
Demarcation is the physical drafting of that particular entity between the two entities on ground and that is the work of a surveyor. A surveyor will now put details on ground on what has been allocated based on what has been agreed upon and what has been delimited; then demacating them with pillars and they agree well with it. Following this, you will now do the delineation which is the drafting. The surveyor does on paper with coordinates and other information. Then, you will annotate it with the names for specifications, which is the foot laying. Then finally, you do “boundary maintenance” jointly either between states or between international Countries. If you look at it, in the first three of course, the Surveyor General and the National Boundary Commission have roles to play. The meeting between Nigeria and Cameroon is on now, we had 13 disagreement areas before. Of course they were more than that when we were implementing the ICJ verdict of October 10, 2001, we had over 100 disagreement areas which has been further reduced to 13 and subsequently when we had a meeting in Yaounde on September 17, 2020. These are our responsibilities. It appears as if the boundaries are not just coming.
It appears as if it is taking eternity. The problem is we all have to help government. A lot of people deliberately don’t cooperate and of course you may not blame them. When you talk of factors of production in entrepreneurship, you talk of capital, land and labour. Land is so important that it can even take the place of capital. You can change land to capital and capital to land. There is hardly anything anybody is doing either economically or whatever, that you would not need a space to do it. So, it’s so fundamental a factor in our means of production.
So, people are emotionally attached to land and it is very interesting. When it comes to boundary demarcation and delineation, you can agree today that this is our boundary but I can renege because it is better to talk and resolve matters than to start killing ourselves. This is because even if we agree this is our boundary, and you went home to gather more facts, such party might come again to raise an objection and the other party should not say no, because when he blatantly say no, it is going to result into war. So, it is always better to talk than to fight. And I don’t know if you would remember that the boundary of African nations actually were been created in 1884-1885 without Africans present there and by 1963 when we were creating OAU (Organization of African Unity), it was agreed that all independent African nations should take the boundary the way it is or otherwise we will be fighting ourselves every day. These are the boundaries between the Francophones, the Anglophones, the Portuguese, the Germans and all those people who share Africa without our consent. For instance, on Iwoye, a Yoruba town along Nigeria and Benin Republic, it happened the international boundary between Nigeria and Benin Republic divided the boundary town into two which is not peculiar to that particular place. There are so many other countries across the globe that this would happen. So, we agreed between ourselves that we will maintain the colonial boundary so we will not be fighting ourselves. This is not because they are correct, but because we want peace and peace is better. It is under a peaceful environment that we can make progress.
How long will the mapping of the forests earlier mentioned last?
The focus of the office is to provide geospatial information that are useful and by so doing we collaborate with the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Army. We do meetings with them. We also did a questionnaire to know the geospatial requirements of these institutions. The map is the model of an environment. Geospatial information are not ends in themselves but they are processes to an end, without which no meaningful thing can be achieved. The forests run from Niger republic passing between Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and then coming into BirniGwari forest. These have been identified by the Nigeria Police as part of the routes of bandit and terrorists. Part of the intelligent gathering is to map that corridor so that you can know the features and how to locate the place even from your office. The map is supposed to be finalised by the end of February and we are going to hand it over to the Police to assist them in doing their job. And when it comes to the environment, improvement is not static. We still upgrade it from time to time. Our major problem actually, is paucity of fund and of course we have been talking to the Government and they have been listening. I’m also aware that surveying and mapping or acquisition of geospatial information is not the only government’s problem. Government has a lot of other problems in education, health, security and so on. Our activities remain one of the major ways to checkmate insecurity in an environment because it is going to present to you the activities that are going in our environment and it is going to guide you to take informed decisions.
In terms of IGR, since funding is a challenge, what prospects are you considering in the oil and gas sector in terms of PPP?
Inter alia, I said we have commercial business department and we run it as a limited liability company. We write all these oil and gas companies to participate in survey jobs to get earth revenue. We write the multinationals and the local companies in order to participate in what they are doing because we have the capacity and the know-how to do all these jobs. So, we are doing that. We have a law that was established in 1962 which we called Survey Coordination Act. It was the first legislation on Surveying and Mapping and it gives the responsibility to manage and monitor survey and mapping activities in the Country. We realise that we have a law but enforcing that law just like every other law, is an issue. My plan is to institute a kind of liaison offices in the multinational offices, collaborating with the security agencies so that we will be on ground there. On this note, whatever they are doing, they will tell us directly there as against coming down to tell us.This is because the exigencies of these things they are doing might not give them the time to come down to tell us.
As regards IGR, we are collaborating. We are intimating people on what I think we should do. As I have said inter alia, this office, is being funded 100 per cent by the Government, but in due course, our plan is to have a model for the office to be self sustained. There is something I am working on presently. There is something we call Continuous Operating Reference Stations (CORS). These are active pillars that behave like satellites and they are mapping infrastructure. We don’t have much now, we have about 24 presently that the Federal Government established. There are some states, companies and schools that have established some but by and large, I don’t think we have up to 50 in the Country which is very few and far in between. We are going to establish about 165 to 200 call stations across Nigeria and we know that waiting for budget may not be fast enough to achieve what we want to achieve. So, what we are doing is looking for partners, because the system has the capacity to run itself just like our telephone where there are masts. On this, we have control stations all over the Country, so that people who are mapping who are not in government but are private contractors/consultants will have a prescribed receiver which is being designed to work with the system we are talking about and I have been talking to one or two manufacturers.
Some of them are ready to give us all those things, and then we will work out how to share the profit. Some have models in which we will give them seed money and we will participate and then still share the profit but whichever way, it is possible to have that system without necessarily having to wait for government to give us budget to run it. There are some people who have brought a proposal. Talks on the proposal have been on since 2011 and they called me recently on it. I have looked at it, and we are talking to them. They want to do a sort of a land bank. Of course the land is vested on the Governor of every state but the Federal Government has some lands too. However, what we are trying to do is to have a kind of depository where land information are covered across the country, where it will be possible for you to do a search; where it is going to put an end to anybody selling land that doesn’t belong to them. And when you want to search, you pay a token and from this we will run the system. So, these are the ways we want to boost IGR and then move the office forward to be more effective and do more work.
The Infotech sector has been making waves recently, what kind of partnership do you have with operators in this sector?
When you say infotech and information, there are all kinds of information.Also there are so many things you get on the Infotech. Geospatial information are information about earth and its environment. There is another information about the climate. This revolve around the NIgerian Meteorological Agency which has to do with information on the climate and humidity. There are a whole lot of information being managed by various sectors. The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) manages information on this GSM subjects. We have actually planned to be with the NCC. We have something to do with them which we have not finalised. They kept having mast erected all over the places, but the management and maintenance of those mast as regards their positioning and effectiveness is our responsibility and we have been talking to them. We have consultants that we partner with in the printing press. There are some printing presses where we have our machines which we have not been able to maximise their capacities internally. We have quite a number of them. Even in Lagos, our own printing press is there. Of course some of them are quite absolute, but some of them are still useful. So, when it comes to infotech and all those things these are what we do with them.