‘Our national mapping policy is out-dated’
In few days time, BERN OMO-AKHIGBE will bow out as the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS) President. In this interview with The Guardian’s TUNDE ALAO, he called for the reconstitution of the Surveyors Council of Nigeria and review of the national mapping policy.
Nigeria Institution of Surveyors (NIS) is the second oldest professional body in the country, established in 1934, with a Pan nationalist, Sir Herbert Macaulay as its foundation member, but it appears that your body has been neglected as far as national development is concerned. How do you think surveyors should be engaged?
Well, government hardly takes our views into consideration; our relationship is like master-servant relationship and not as partners. It has been like that since the day of colonialism because when the colonial masters came, they brought surveyors and only invited Nigerians to do works like construction of railway lines, roads and other related activities and this dovetailed to the time we had our own body.
But the irony of it was that the founding fathers were not allowed to have a virile body, thus, allowing government to do whatever they want without seeking opinion of the association. But as professionals, we must have inputs into government’s activities for the sake of national development.
Surveyors in government behave as if they have solution to every problem. But look at the lawyers, it’s the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that dictates what to be done, ditto with National Medical Association, they have people in government, but its their leadership that direct their courses and when it comes to policy drive, government listens to them. But we cannot say the same with surveyors.
There has been a little misunderstanding within the Institute concerning some aspects of the law setting up its legal arm, the SURCON. What are the issues that even made government not to appoint a president for this regulatory body?
Surveyors Council of Nigeria (SURCON) is not a different body from NIS, but just the regulatory arm of the institution. Up to 1989, there was no regulatory body. What we had was licensing board, granting licence to practitioners to practice, but domiciled in the office of Surveyor-General, which is also a government agency. What is happening is that people in government are stifling the growth of NIS.
Four major parties make up the council that include surveyors in the military, office of surveyor-general, private surveyors and surveyors in the academics, both the university and polytechnics, while government appoints the president.
However, in 2014, when the term of the council expired, we wrote to the former president, Goodluck Jonathan to constitute a new council, but he never did. We also wrote to the SURCON Registrar to fashion a way we can run the council. He said it doesn’t require the NIS, but the law didn’t say so, we then went to court to interpret the law.
However, some said we should not go to court, but this is constitutional matter. How do we settle a legal issue without going to court to seek proper interpretation of what the law says? We have written to President Muhammadu Buhari to wade into the matter by constituting the new council, because without a regulatory body, who will check the activities of the professionals?
Besides, we set up a technical committee to look at how membership of SURCON would be expanded. Before, NIS had only 12 members, army had four, academics had four and surveyor-general of the former 19 states. But what we are saying now is that there are 36 states and we need to include surveyor-general of the remaining states as member of SURCON that is how we can have good representation. Again, we want past presidents of NIS to head the body, just like lawyers heading NBA, doctors heading NMA.
There has been this ongoing move to amend the constitution of Surveyors Council of Nigeria. What aspect of your regulatory act has penciled down for review and when will this process end?
Just like we have many professions in the medical line such as pharmacists, laboratory technologists and so on, so we have in our profession. We want their interests to be protected and to provide training that would allow them to be up to date in their performances.
For example, those with Higher National Diploma, who are technician, want their interest to be properly protected, but because of activities of the surveyor council is limited to surveyors, we are advocating for a surveying council that would take interest of those that are excluded.
You are completing two terms as NIS President, how has your tenure impacted on the profession and what is your relationship with branches and Board of Fellows?
It has been a wonderful experience, but the people outside are in best position to assess me. We are members of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) that was initially headed by late Surveyor, Adekunle Kukoyi, who saw the need for all of us to come together to grow the country.
For me, what I had in mind is that the voice of surveyors in Nigeria should be the NIS. Before my assumption of office, we depended on surveyor-general to talk for us, but when I came in, I said the president of the association is more qualified to represent and speak for us, because he is the president of all the surveyors.
Besides, I said we need to draw government’s attention to what we are doing, but this SURCON issue has distracted us. Also, I said information dissemination should not be restricted to Abuja, but to the whole country and it has been wonderful. Again, before now, our state chairmen are not part of the NIS council, but now the leaders of various branches are represented in the council.
We have also succeeded in bringing to the knowledge that government’s policies must be driven by us, and the body must continue to influence government to make use of professionals, because without professionals, Nigeria will continue to have project failures.
Every profession has its ethics and sanction offenders. How many members that NIS or SURCON disciplined and that some of your members were suspended, what is the nature of their offence and what is their fate currently?
NIS does discipline offenders, but I cannot give names, but if the offence requires far-reaching decision, for example, withdrawal of licence, the regulatory body will do that. But the truth is that SURCON cannot go round and know what is happening all over the country, that is why the ethic committee was formed.
Why has government neglected the national mapping policy, which would engender sustainable development?
Well, there must be a mapping policy, or else, development will remains haphazard. We must carry out periodical mapping, because without mapping, to execute a project or locate a suitable site would be difficult.
The mapping policy we are using now is outdated and most of the results coming out from google are mere approximation. We must do regular mapping just as we do census.
In the National Population Commission, we need surveyors there, because without mapping, you can do proper enumeration or else, the result would be a guess one. As we are dealing with space and city, there must be involvement of surveyors to embark on periodical mapping.
Other issues on ground are the proposal for creating grazing zones across the country. This is where surveyors should come in. Indeed, its surveyors that should handle it right from the start. Mapping is very important if government wants to create grazing zones.
What are your legacies you want to leave behind as you are leaving office this week?
We are conferring Lifetime Achievement Award to four distinguished surveyors because of roles they played in the practice of surveying, either as presidents or otherwise. These are Messrs Sunday Ojeikere; Francis Fajemirokun; Bosun Ayinde and Akhigbe Klen Irenen. Besides, we have produced a life bust of Late Adekunle Kukoyi to be erected at the Surveyors’ Building, Victoria Island. This is my humble contribution to honour the late great surveyor.