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History of Surveying in Africa and Nigeria

Surveying profession is one of the oldest professions in Africa. In most African countries, it was initially a profession that was connected with the military. This has to do with the colonial history. For instance, countries that have colonial links with Britain had their first set of surveyors trained in British Military Survey Schools. In the past, surveyors were people who came from other fields such as mathematics, physics, civil engineering and geography albeit these days people go to school to learn the profession

Surveying in most of the developing countries in Africa started with the advent of Europeans in these countries. The practice of the profession simply followed what was obtainable in those countries of Europe. The survey practices were geared towards economic exploration and exploitations.

Historical references of the existence of boundary pillars in ancient Egypt and Babylon around 1400 BC are available as evidence of the development ofthe profession in Africa. There must have been some surveying in the design and construction of the great pyramid of Khufu BC in Giza around year 2700 BC. This pyramid is so accurately squared and perfectly oriented to the cardinal points of compass to suggest some form of surveying during its construction. One could imagine the role of the surveyor some 1000 years ago.

In Nigeria, survey practices in the areas of cadastral surveys were essentially for the acquisition of land for the Crown and for developments of estates, mineral resources, road and rail designs, and survey control establishments. The discovery of coal in Enugu area of eastern Nigeria, tin and columbite in Plateau, Northern Nigeria, in addition to the need to move agriculture products such as groundnuts and cocoa from the hinterland of the north to the ports of the south provided the impetus for the developments of rail lines in the north-south directions. These essentially created the need for the establishment of survey controls along the rail lines. This was later followed by the establishment of frame-work controls using triangulation, traversing, tri-lateration, and geodetic leveling and trigonometric leveling methods.

READ ALSO: Expert Opinion: The Relevance of a Survey Plan In Nigeria 

Triangulation methods were used in the open and hilly parts of the north and limited areas of the South-Eastern parts of Nigeria, while traversing methods which generally followed existing roads/routes were used predominantly in the forested Southern part and flat regions of the Chad basin.

The Nigeria horizontal geodetic network has its origin at a station near Minna, designated L40. Its geodetic coordinates were arrived at after taking the mean of astronomical values projected through four arms of the Nigerian triangulation network and the astronomically derived coordinates of L40.

The surveying profession was such an important profession in the colonial era to the extent that in most commonwealth countries of Africa, the surveyor-general was the highest ranking public officer after the governor-general. In Nigeria, there use to be a ministry called Federal Ministry of Works and Surveys, this ministry had since transformed to Federal Ministry of Works and Housing which later became Federal Ministry of works.

Invariably, it was the survey profession and other professions such as civil engineering, urban and regional planning, lands, mechanical engineering, architecture and quantity surveying that embodied the Federal Ministry of Works and Surveys that was instituted in the early days of our existence. The importance of surveying had so noticeably dropped that it is only the federal ministry of works that has provision for full developed career prospects for the surveyor. Most of the other professionals have got well defined career prospects in other ministries such as transport, housing, mines and power.

Not many universities in Africa offer Surveying and Geo-informatics at degree level. Even in Nigeria a couple of universities offer Surveying and Geo-informatics at degree level, it is not as popular as other professional courses such as electrical/electronics engineering, computer science/computer engineering and chemical engineering. A number of reasons can be attributed to this lack of interest. These include:
• The historical development of the profession;
• Conservatism amongst surveyors;
• Lack of well-trained academicians within the profession;
• The fact that the profession is associated with several hours of field-work under the intense African heat; and
• Poor funding of surveying and mapping in Africa.

Technological developments in the field of computer science, information technology and satellite technology have created new hopes for surveying and geo-informatics. However, for the full potentials of these developments to be realised, there is a need for manpower development, training, funding of Surveying/Geo-informatics and mapping activities in Africa and expansion of professional boundaries to bring in information technology, communication and environments as major issues to be addressed within the profession. Holding on to very strict professional boundaries may not be of benefit to the profession. The profession should be willing to accept some peripheral courses such as remote sensing and environmental management as being part and parcel of the profession. Regular curriculum changes to take cognizance of new developments to attract young people seeking admission into the profession.

Finally, engaging lecturers with backgrounds in areas such as cartography, computer science and environmental science will assist the profession in expanding and increasing young people’s interest.

The  Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) – a leading professional body in the Nigerian real estate industry coordinates the affairs and dealings of Surveyors in Nigeria. The institution which was created in 1969 is a non-profit, voluntary, professional body established by a couple of surveyors who had their professional training in the UK and obtained the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors certification.



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