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Mapping beyond boundaries

Sep 2017 | No Comment
Challenges and prospects of professional surveying practice in Nigeria

Dinebari Akpee

Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering dept, University of New Brunswick, Canada

Gaage Friday Aabe

Surveying and Geo-informatics Dept, Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Ogoni, Nigeria

Aogo Olutosin Jacob

Surveying and Geo-informatics Dept, Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Ogoni, Nigeria

Needam Yiinu

Surveying and Geo-informatics Dept, Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Ogoni, Nigeria

Advances in digital technology and globalisation have imposed a multi-disciplinary approach on survey and mapping. The advent of globalisation has also brought about the collapse of professional boundaries. It is no longer possible to easily define clear-cut professional boundaries. In other words, it is not easy to say where surveying for example ends and civil engineering starts. It can safely be said that professional boundaries, that is boundary lines demarcating one profession from another, are collapsing.

The traditional parcel boundary demarcation which had been the preserve of surveyors is being turned into a major pre-occupation. Technology has changed the instrumentation for surveyors much to the exclusion of those practicing in traditional ways. There is now less emphasis on data quality, while data processing and management is gaining more ground. The surveying profession in Nigeria therefore has lots of challenges to grapple with in order to ensure its future and survival. Challenges such as a poor professional image, collapse of professional boundaries, training and lack of interest in surveying by prospecting students must be overcome by concerted effort aimed at self-promotion and clear vision.

Another cause for great concern is the rate at which newly-registered surveyors open up their own firms and break away without consideration of the fact that professional survey practice requires large measures of team work, while equipment outlay is highly capital intensive. The above scenario sets the stage for unhealthy competition and rivalry, leaving most practicing surveyors with the last option of cutting corners or indulging in unethical practices in order to survive.

Furthermore, it is now painfully obvious Nigeriahow big the divide is between surveying experts on the one hand politics and society on the other. Politics is needed to consolidate or to expand new fields of professional activities, and to provide a firm legal basis for new surveying products (e.g. GIS reference data).

The various geospatial techniques (geodesy, cadastral, photogrammetry, remote sensing, hydrography, GIS etc.) used by surveyors in acquiring information has a common ground with other professionals within the built environment. The world over, Geomatics (surveying) curricula keep changing to reflect the current technology and recent developments within the field and allied professions. There is a need to expand from time to time, and modify the course contents to reflect technological and societal changes. The educational margin should be expanded to strengthen the core.

Moreover, our education should increasingly focus on the global market place rather than on the national scene, so that our products will be on the move. New courses should reflect both technical and managerial skills. This will be in line with the post-industrial society’s view of itself as a society which will be information and knowledge based, in which brain work and information handling will dominate every facet of life, and most workers will become managers.

Modern definition of surveyor (Geomatician)

At its meeting in Morocco in November 2003, the FIG Council (International Federation of Surveyors) approved a proposal for an update on vision or the definition of a “surveyor” originally, adopted by the general assembly in 1990. The reason for updating the definition is the rapid change in technology and environment of the surveying professions. The new definition better covers all aspects (techniques) in geospatial data acquisition, such as modern instrumentation and technology and their use (e.g acquisition and use of spatial information from close, aerial and satellite imagery and the automation of this process). It also better covers cartography and the use of GIS. This proposal was adopted by the FIG general assembly in Athens in May, 2004.

According to the new definition, a surveyor or geomatician is a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to conduct one or more of the following activities:

• To determine, measure, evaluate and represent land, three dimensional objects, point fields and trajectories.

• To assemble and interpret land, geographically and economically related information.

• To use the information for the planning and efficient administration and management of the land, the sea and any structures thereon.

• To carryout urban and rural development as well as land management.

• To conduct research into and develop such practices.

In the listing of detailed functions, a surveyor’s professional tasks are further described as possibly involving one or more of the following activities, which may occur either on, above or below the surface of the land or sea and may be carried out in association with other professionals:

• The determination of the size and shape of the Earth, the measurement of all data needed to define the size, position, shape and contour of any part of the Earth, and monitoring any change therein.

• The positioning of objects in space and time, as well as positioning and monitoring of physical features, structure and engineering works on, above or below the surface of the Earth.

• The development, testing and calibration of sensory instruments and systems for the above mentioned and other surveying purposes.

• The acquisitions and use of spatial information from close range, aerial and satellite imagery and the automation of these processes.

• The determination of the positions of the boundaries of public and private land, including national and international boundaries, and registration of those lands with the appropriate authorities.

• The design, establishment and administration of geographic information systems (GIS) and the collection, storage, analysis, management, display and disseminations of data.

• The analysis, interpretation and integration of spatial objects and phenomena in GIS, including the visualisation and communication of such data in maps, models and mobile digital devices.

• The study of the natural and social environment, the measurement of land and marine resources, and the use of such data in the planning of development in urban, rural and regional areas.

• The planning, development and redevelopment of property, whether urban, rural, land or building.

• The assessment of value and the management of property, whether urban or rural, whether land, buildings or landed interests.

• The planning, measurement and management of construction works, including the estimation of costs.

In the application of the foregoing activities, surveyors take into account the relevant legal, economic, environmental and social aspects affecting each project. From the above definitions, one would see the high expectations and the multi-disciplinary nature of surveying/geomatics.

Drivers for development in geomatics

Societal developments

Throughout history, we have witnessed an expansion of a number of societal phenomena, not only world population, but also mobility, local conflicts, size and number of cities, food production, exploration of natural resources and the seas areas, and trade and communication. These developments did not take place at the same rate through space and time. Sometimes a society or nation deteriorates due to bad governance and powerful groups prioritising their own interests, which inevitable results in another society taking the lead. Well-known examples are Portugal corroding the hegemony of India and China in the 15th century, while Spain took over world leadership in the 16th century. Holland subsequently replaced Spain, Great Britain succeeded Holland and the USA superseded Great Britain. Who will be next?

Technological development All advancements in the geomatics discipline rely heavily on a few general developments in technology, including:

• Increased computer power and storage capacity Broadband and wireless communication

• Exploration of the electromagnetic spectrum, both for sensory and point positioning.

• High-speed platforms including cars, aircrafts and satellite processing speed and memory capacity of computers, the number and size of pixels in digital cameras and pulse rates of lidar systems.

They all are expanding at exponential rates. Their development roughly obeys Moore’s Law. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noticed that the number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention in 1958 and predicted in 1970 that there would be a doubling every two years. So far, that growth has proven to be valid for all digital electronics. It is a too modest a forecast when considering communication systems bandwidth which, as Gilder observed at the end of the 1980s, triples every year.


The surveyor’s main task is acquiring, processing and disseminating geodata, particularly its geometric component today. However, the public hold in their hands smartphones that are equipped with GNSS positioning, GIS/mapping functionality and a wireless connection, meaning any layman can collect and retrieve geodata. These communication technologies products are widely available nowadays, not only in megalopolis, but also along coastlands.

Even in tropical rainforests, Web 2.0 downloadable maps, aerial and satellite imagery, GNSS and GIS, on smartphones enable educated users to wirelessly transfer geodata to dedicated services such as WikiMapia and OpenStreetMap without any intervention from professional surveyors. The buzzword “crowdsourcing” or “volunteered geographic information” has been coined for data generation methods in which the general public use informal social networks to collect and share data that is stored centrally using the internet and online tools. New ideas for how mapping and land administration agencies may benefit from crowdsourced data are emerging all the time. Using today’s technology, a community without education in map making can collaborate to uncover past and present land rights and uses, voluntarily and without requesting financial compensation. Crowdsourcing can thus help to improve adjudication and dispute resolution processes at low costs.

Challenges facing professional surveying practice

Collapse of professional boundary

As a result of globalisation and information and communication developments, the wall demarcating one profession from another are fast collapsing. Surveying is worst hit because, as earlier stated, what drives surveying is partly advances in technology and societal changes. Technology has made crowdsourcing very simple and easy. Surveying operations can now be carried out by those who are not educated in the field. To stay afloat, surveying must continue to move with the needs of society and technological advancement. Educational institutions must structure their curricula to give students a balance of vocational demands of work within the discipline, and need to give students sufficiently broad educational knowledge that enable them to develop and adapt over time with the rapid changes in our modern world.

Professional image

Surveying as a profession is having an identity crisis. It is not an overstatement to say that the public image of the surveyor has dropped sharply. This does not mean that the importance of surveying to the nation has decreased in stature. In fact, it can be said that the task that the surveyor performs has grown tremendously in quality and technicality. This is why many writers have described this as an “identity crisis”. It is worth noting that the status and the respect which the public gives to any profession depends upon the value and scope of work performed and the recognition given to it. As a matter of fact, what the public sees of surveying in Nigeria is a fellow pulling chains, tapes, or carrying a camera-like instrument (theodolite or level) with little or nothing left behind at the end of the day to show for their activities.

There is the urgent need for Surveyors Council of Nigeria (SURCON), the body regulating the practice of surveying, and the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS), the professional institution that promotes and develops professional practice and techniques in Nigeria, to come up with a public enlightenment programme on radio, television, newspapers and other media platforms to boost the image of the profession – knowing full well that surveyors provide services that are fundamental to sustainable development and nation building. The image problem in the survey family must be faced squarely, drastically, and decisively. When its professional image goes through a spiral fall, the public begins to reckon less and less with the real professional, takes him for granted, and shows reluctance in paying him his fees.


Training in our universities and polytechnics at present emphasises the core traditional surveying courses. There is the need for curricula updates to take into account recent technologies and development within the field of Geomatics. There is the need to expand the margin to strengthen the core. Moreover, our education should increasingly focus on the global market place rather than on the national scene, so that practicing surveyors will be on the move. Courses such land information and management, oceanography, hydrology, geophysics, programming, web mapping, data mining, and big data analytics should be reflected in the new curriculum for training of surveyors. Other courses such as entrepreneurship and professional practice should touch on such areas as principles of corporate/partnership practice, reports and proposal writing, marketing and public relations. These courses will ensure that graduates of surveying are not only technically proficient but also corporate managers. This will go in line with the post-industrial society’s view of itself as a society that is information and knowledge-based; brain work and information handling will dominate every facet of life and most practicing surveyors will become managers.

Professional development

Surveyors are supposed to be experts in spatial and time dependent systems, but many lack the interest to venture into these emerging areas. Many of them are generally conservative and do not respond fast to changing situations. As surveying products are becoming more and more sophisticated, the role of the surveyor needs redefining. There is a need for a new approach to training surveyors if they must meet the need of present dispensation. This has also led to the need to retrain the already-trained manpower. It is in the light of the above that educational institutions have to modify their curricula to reflect current developments and take care of recent advances in data acquisition and data analysis. The two bodies responsible for regulating surveying practice in Nigeria need to develop and expand the routine, mandatory professional programme to reflect current development in the profession.

Surveying and politics

In Nigeria, there is a big divide between surveying and politics. It is difficult to find any Nigerian surveyor who is a member of parliament. Making contact with politicians are regarded as somewhat disreputable and is not favoured by Nigerian surveyors. How can we then succeed in carrying out the necessary lobbying, now indispensable in democratic societies, for sensible funding of our universities and training institution, or for the abolition of professional or market structures which are obsolete or biased? It is no surprise that the Nigerian National Mapping law has not sailed through after 17 years since it was proposed. Politics is needed to consolidate and expand new fields of professional activities, to provide a legal framework for new surveying products (e.g. GIS reference data), or to regulate a sensible relationship between the public and private surveying profession. Holger Magel (2002) posited that surveying services are not neutral or free of value judgement. Surveying organisations must seek to have contact with political life – politicians as representative of society – to convince them of the indispensable services offered to the society by surveyors. That means that surveyors must begin to invite politician to their meetings, conferences and give them the opportunity to speak and take part in discussions. There is an urgent need for critical dialogue between politics and surveying where a relationship of mutual benefits will emerge.

Future and prospect for surveying

Nigerian surveyors must not stop at collecting data. What brings money the world over is the value added services. Surveyors need to have broad sets of skills to enable them go beyond data collection and management of data – they should be able to create several secondary uses and meanings out of a particular set of data. Buckner (1981), writing on the future of surveying in the United States of America, enumerated the content of the special body of knowledge which the future surveyors in that country needed to acquire in order to ensure their relevance to society. Buckner’s view is: “The modern version of a land surveyor should know how to measure expertly for any purpose. He would understand error propagation; know how to control this error to the extent feasible for each job; and estimate his probable error for statements on plans of survey. To do this he needs not to be a highly educated statistician. He would understand photogrammetry enough to make maps or coordinate the efforts of other specialist; but he needs not be a research scientist in photogrammetry, nor would he want to be. He would be a geodesist to the extent necessary for performing control surveys within limited areas, but he needs to be involved in research concerning the Earth’s size and shape or gravity. He would be a planner and designer to the extent necessary to lay out safe, efficient, and appealing new communities, but would not be a landscape architect or urban planner and would work with such professional for extensive urban planning problems. He would know how to determine accurate directions but would not be an expert astronomer. He would take pride in preparing maps and plans to make them portray the intended message in an appealing manner; but he needs not be a higher educated cartographer. He would know how to programme computers for surveying and land subdivision problems, but he needs not to be a mathematics or computer science specialist”.

The surveying profession in Nigeria has a future, but to ensure its future survival, the surveying profession needs to keep under review the social and economic environment in which it operates and to take account of perceived external changes which may impact on it. Again, the surveyors in Nigeria must recognise that its old skills are now almost redundant and obsolete, and accept the challenges of taking on new roles.

Professional surveyors in Nigeria must re-educate themselves in the direction of the new technology. The surveying profession must as a matter of urgency work on its image and status. This is because the status and respect which the public gives to any profession depends on the value and scopes of work performed and the recognition given to it. The profession’s future will be assured if in the judgement of the public, the surveyor exhibit expertise and competence and performs a service that no one else can provide better and faster economically.


Within the past 30 years, there has been a shift from electro/optical/mechanical tools to software solutions, enabled by reduction in prices of computer chips, digital storage media and the intensive exploration of electromagnetic signals both for positioning and imaging, further accelerated by orbiting platforms and wireless communication.

The main benefit resulting from these developments is the high degree of automation in acquiring and processing geodata. By exploring the capabilities of Web 2.0 technology, the general public is becoming increasingly aware, resulting in participatory acquisition and dissemination of geodata, a process which is denoted by the buzzwords “crowdsourcing or VGI” (Volunteer Geographical Information).

These developments place huge responsibilities and expectations on survey students and professionals in terms of catching up with these developments and again adding value to geodata collected in order to meet the needs of our today society.

The secret to the future is not to think only in terms of standard solutions, but to develop solutions adapted to the needs of the customers and keep an eye open for new customers and demand. The surveying profession in Nigeria has a future, but to ensure its future survival it needs to keep under review the social and economic environment in which it operates and to take account of the perceived external changes which may impact on it. Again Nigerian surveyors must recognise that its old skills are now almost obsolete and accept the challenges of taking on new roles. The professional surveyor in Nigeria must re-educate themself in the direction of new technology. The surveying profession has exciting prospect. This must be the reason why many non-traditional surveying companies are buying into survey-based companies. Examples of this are Hexagon taking over Leica, Microsoft taking over Vexcel Imaging (now it is Vexcel Imaging again) and Shah Capital taking over Thales Navigation. Totally new players are coming into the industry like Google Earth and Oracle, bringing new opportunities and prospect. The need for geospatial information is tremendous and growing; spatial data has to be up to date, more 3D, and more accessible over the internet etc. Climatic and economic changes still point to the need for spatial data. As the sea level rises, cities become mega cities and energy consumption increase drastically across the world, therein lies the need for more spatial data and services of surveyors. Other dramatic and sudden phenomena like hurricane, tsunamis and earthquakes demands direct action on the part of Surveying and GIS professionals and companies.


[1] International Federation of Surveyors (FIG). “The FIG statement on cadaster”, publication No.11.

[2] MB Ebong: “Developing a geoinformation technology oriented curriculum; proceedings: surveying and spatial information technology, pp35-42.

[3] M Holger: “Surveying and politics”-Relationship of mutual benefit. In there is more than geometry (2002).

[4] RB Buckner: “Does surveying profession have future goals and direction? Surveying and mapping vol.411, No.4, pp391-398.

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