Highway to Development

Highway to Development

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Geospatial technology can help Nigeria unlock its tremendous wealth and potential, and advance the developmental objectives. But what is lacking is a well-defined geospatial policy.

By Vaibhav Arora

Back in the year 2000, when The Economist published a story on Africa titled The Hopeless Continent, very few people would have predicted that just a decade later the same publication will come out with another article and term Africa as A Hopeful Continent. No other country in Africa echoes this sentiment as Nigeria. Referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria recently pipped South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy after the government announced a long-overdue rebasing of the country’s gross domestic product.

The data indicated that the economy grew to $453 billion in 2012, instead of $264 billion as measured by the World Bank for the year. South Africa’s economy was at $384 billion in 2012. Estimates for 2013 indicated further expansion to $510 billion, Nigeria’s chief statistician, Yemi Kale, told a news conference in the capital, Abuja, recently. The new calculations take into account changes in production and consumption since the last time the exercise was carried out in 1990.

Nigeria, a land of 170 million people and measuring about three times the size of South Africa, had enjoyed high rates of growth in the recent years, notwithstanding widespread corruption, poor governance, rampant oil theft and raging insurgency in the north. During 2005-2013, the average growth was 6.8%, according to the International Monetary Fund, which is projected to grow this year at a rate of 7.4%.Global investors have been eyeing Nigeria as a potential boom market, along the lines of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) 10 years ago.

The Government of Nigeria has been following a policy of greater economic reforms, which seeks to transfer state ownership of institutions to the private sector in order to improve productivity and thus boost the overall economy. However, experts believe that things could have been much better with firm government policies that promote the use of modern technologies. The realisation is setting in now and most sectors in the country have begun to deploy new-age technologies to streamline their functioning. The concept of ‘smart governance’ is on the rise and organisations are looking at greater efficiency, community leadership, mobile working, improved citizen services and continuous improvement through innovation. All this offers the geospatial community in the region a reason to cheer and a perfect launching ground from where it can take off to the next level.

“Geospatial technology can help to promote economic and social development in Nigeria. This is because geospatial technology has advanced from a “nice-to-have” to a necessity in the management of resources, to promote good governance,” says Anthony Adeoye, Managing Director, AAC Consulting, a local geospatial company.

Geospatial technology in Nigeria
The history of geospatial technology in Nigeria, particularly its use in land management, dates back several decades. However, it was during the ’80s that its popularity increased substantially. This is when the authorities realised that for meaningful developments to happen in the country, geospatial information structures have to be created.

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) was established in 1999 with a mandate to coordinate all space science and technology related activities in order to accelerate developmental activities in Nigeria. The agency has also been selected as the coordinating body for developing Nigeria’s National Geospatial Data Infrastructure. Close on the heels, the National Space Policy and Programme was approved in 2001, which created an enabling environment for the achievement of the country’s space agenda.

Nigeria has been extremely active with its space programme and has successfully launched five satellites into orbit since the launch of NigeriaSat-1 back in 2003. Continuing with its extremely successful satellite programme, Nigeria plans to design, build and launch a satellite of its own by 2020.

Geospatial technologies and the industry has contributed immensely to the economy in Nigeria by empowering various sectors in making better decisions based on location, business and intelligent geographic information, points out Adeoye. But the industry as a whole feels it is still at its nascent stages.

“We still do not have enough data and geospatial structures in the country,” says Abiodun Awofeko, CEO, Quest Consolidated, a leading geospatial company in Nigeria. However, he is quick to add that with changes in policies and availability of the required manpower, the situation is changing rapidly and more and more departments have started to implement the technology in their functioning.

It is commendable that the country already ranks one of the most prominent users of spatial technologies across various departments in Africa. A recent study conducted by the University of Cape Town on the status of SDI implementation in Africa gave Nigeria the highest score for its initiatives. “Although the size and composition of the Nigerian geospatial industry are unclear, but considering the increasing number of stakeholders and potential users planning to embark on geospatial project, the industry has a high projection rate,” adds Adeoye.

Being one of the biggest countries in Africa, Nigeria is considered to be an important market by the bigger industry players. Many giants from the geospatial industry have appointed their distributors and resellers in Nigeria and are executing a number of major projects. Highlighting their activities in the country, Louis Darko, General Manager, SAMBUS Geospatial, which distributes Esri products in Nigeria, says “Nigeria is one of the biggest markets for us. We have several major projects going on here including a project with the Lagos State government where we are trying to inculcate GIS into the functioning of various institutions, companies and ministries. The National Communication Commission of Nigeria is also executing a major project using our software.”

Some experts, however, believe that things could have been much better with firm government policies that promote the use of modern technologies. “Although we do have policies in place, there are very little or no efforts on their enforcement,” says Awofeko.

Sectors that hold promise
Use of geospatial technology in Nigeria is vast and spans across various verticals. For example, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is legally mandated to use geospatial technology extensively as part of its functioning. The ministry has different data management departments which collate all the records from different surveys as well as all information about title land and title plan of federal government properties, so that the data can be shared by all departments across various states in the country. Besides, other departments such as the environment, utilities, defence etc. also make use of this technology. “Now, with the spatial data infrastructure in place, all departments in the country have begun to use spatial data and benefit from it without having to incur the cost of producing their own data,” says Awofeko.

Geospatial applications is known to play a significant role in providing solutions to problems associated with disaster management, environmental control, disease control and management, demographic conflict resolution and providing education for all, explains Emmanuel Okogbue, Associate Professor at the Federal University of Technology. Some of the other potential verticals include mapping, mining and flood assessment.


A recent study conducted by the University of Cape Town on the status of SDI implementation in Africa gave Nigeria the highest score. Source: Study by Prestige Makanga and Dr. Julian Smit, University of Cape Town

  • Land management: Land is a subject that has always intrigued the people of Nigeria. Properly defined property rights administered in a transparent land administration system with the right policy framework is the first step towards the socio-economic development of a country. For a country like Nigeria, where more than half of the population is dependent on agriculture to earn its livelihood, it becomes even more crucial to ensure proper land management systems. Nigeria already has its Federal Land Information System in place and all the states have their own Land Information Systems, which contribute to the country’s spatial data infrastructure. Some of the major agencies across various states of Nigeria include the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS), Lagos State Geographic Information System, Bayelsa State GIS and Land Information System (BGIS), Bauchi State GIS and Land Information System (BAGIS), Kwara Land and Property Management System (KWAGIS), Kaduna Land and Property System (KADLAPS) and Benue Land Information Management System (BenLIMS). The land-use law that Nigeria has been using is based on the old system. But Awofeko says the federal government set up a Presidential Technical Committee for Land Reform in 2009 to review the provisions of the land use law and make it more flexible.
  • Town planning: The process of managing modern cities is becoming increasingly complex and requires the application of robust science and technology. The integration of modern technologies would help planners to spatially enable the models for implementation, which would inculcate a more scientific and systematic approach. With an ever-growing population and increasing pace of urbanisation, experts believe accurate data can help Nigeria to better manage its cities as well as rural area.“Geospatial information has become indispensable for urban planning because the management and planning of urban space requires accurate and specifically timed information on land use change pattern,” believes Steve Onu, President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. He was recently said that the continuous change in settlement patterns had made urban and regional planning a lot more complex and required timely checks on the different methods involved in the practice.

    “Local government, utilities and environment and energy are amongst the most potential verticals for the use of geospatial technology in the region and that is where most of the market comes from. Besides, defence is another area to look out for in the future,” says Darko.

  • Disaster management: The government is using geospatial technologies in this area to great effect. According to estimates, around 20% of the country’s population is at risk of flooding and around 100 people are killed every year as a result of heavy rainstorm and flooding. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was established in 1999 to mitigate disasters and handle post-disaster ramification. NEMA is also responsible for formulating policy on all activities related to disaster management and to collate data from relevant agencies to enhance planning, forecasting and field operation of disaster management. The agency boasts of a well equipped GIS lab which collects spatial data, analyses the same and prepares useful information that helps to aid disaster response.
  • Agriculture: A few years ago, land-use and land cover analysis was carried out in south east Nigeria using NigeriaSat imagery, which revealed massive changes during the past couple of decades. The NSRDA has also used remote sensing to develop an early warning system to estimate soil erosion. Experts say precision farming holds potential in the country, especially in the production of wheat, rice, cotton, onion, sugar beet and potato among field crops and grape, coffee, tea and apple among horticultural crops.
  • Oil & Gas: Nigeria joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958 after discoveries in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. Today, petroleum production and export play a dominant role in its economy and account for nearly 90% of the country’s gross earnings. The sector uses a lot of geospatial technology. Some of the major activities in which investment opportunities abound include surveying, civil works, seismic data acquisition and interpretation, geological activities, drilling operations, exploration and production etc.

    The other major sectors which are failing to use these technologies but have immense potential are infrastructure, energy, water resources, which suffer from poor planning, implementation as well as operation. The satellites could be used to address mapping of vast uncultivated farmlands, thus promoting sustainable agriculture; security surveillance of the regularly vandalised gas pipelines and power lines; mapping of other municipal water, electricity and telecoms infrastructure etc.

    “Geospatial community in Nigeria holds the key to unlock the wealth of this country through its application in agriculture, mining of our numerous neglected non-oil mineral resources, adequate housing and landed property tax collection, proper planning of our cities, solving the numerous security problems confronting us as a nation including the problem of gas pipeline and power vandalisation etc,” says Okogbue. This cannot be achieved unless there is proper synergy — a constant sharing of data, cross fertilisation of ideas through regular conferences and workshops and collaborations with relevant industries, ministries and agencies of government.

    Challenges and the way forward
    Some of the major reasons for the extremely slow progress of most African countries, including Nigeria, are awareness about modern technologies, poor quality of data collection, lack of organisation and management practices, lack of adequate infrastructure and the unavailability of skilled workforce.

    The challenges faced by Nigeria, when it comes to the poor application of geospatial technologies across various verticals, are majorly the same as encountered by most other countries in the developing world. Lack of awareness on part of the decision makers, which has resulted in the lack of firm policies, is perhaps the biggest issue which needs to be resolved urgently. “We have the policies to enable easy sharing of data and information but no way to enforce the provisions of these policies,” says Awofeko.

    According to Darko, “Lack of manpower and misconception about the supposedly high cost of geospatial software are the biggest challenges that our region is facing at the moment. Another major constraint is the unavailability of suitable GIS data.” He feels Ghana is a bit ahead of Nigeria and other neighbouring countries in terms of availability of databases.

    Nigeria has acute shortage of skilled spatial scientists and surveyors. As of 2011, the country, which has a population of over 150 million, had just 2088 registered surveyors. Thus, there is a need to establish more institutes that can impart specialised training in the field of geospatial science. Besides, geospatial education has to be introduced at school and college level. The efforts of the Nigerian government, the surveyors’ council of Nigeria, NASRDA and other agencies must be concentrated towards the building up of a geo-enabled workforce and spatially enabled society. “When it comes to capacity training, we have the manpower, but what is lacking is the training or specialisation that can create the next level of experts in the geospatial industry,” explains Awofeko. Also, since the technology is changing rapidly, what was okay two years ago might be different today.

    Despite the numerous challenges and constraints that face the further promotion and propagation of these technologies, Nigeria sure promises to be the hub of all activity during the coming decade and geospatial technology will be a major driver of this growth. As Adeoye says, “Geospatial technology is set to be the skill of the 21st century in Nigeria.”

  Vaibhav Arora,
  Regional Product Manager, Middle East &
  Africa, Geospatial Media & Communications,