‘We need concrete policies to promote the use of geospatial technology’

‘We need concrete policies to promote the use of geospatial technology’

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Abiodun Awofeko, Quest Consolidated, Nigeria
Abiodun Awofeko
CEO, Quest Consolidated Ltd.

Geospatial technology is being used widely across different verticals in Nigeria. However, the lack of concrete policies is an issue that hinders the further promotion and expansion of this technology. Abiodun Awofeko talks about the role of technology and the way forward for the geospatial community in Nigeria

Please tell us about Quest Consolidated and its offerings.

Quest Consolidated is a survey, engineering and mapping company based in Nigeria. We mainly work in West Africa, including countries like Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Apart from our offerings from the engineering, surveying and mapping areas, we also have an instrumentation division wherein we sell survey equipment. We are the distributors for South Surveying and Mapping Instruments in Nigeria and Ghana. Quest Consolidated has been in existence since 1996 when it started in a small way and grew gradually to become one of the leading surveying, engineering and mapping companies in the region. The company’s mission is to identify the spatial problems and needs of the society and chalk out ways and means to tackle those problems and challenges.

Please tell us about the usage of geospatial technology in Nigeria.

The use of this technology, or its use for land management, in particular, has been there in Nigeria since a long time. However it really spread its wings in the late 80s and early 90s when people realised that for meaningful developments to happen in the country, you need to have the structure of geospatial information. These days, even the schools and colleges in Nigeria have started to impart geospatial education to the students so that the students coming out of the university, Polytechnic and Monotechnic are inclined to GIS.

What is the role of geospatial technology in Nigeria’s growth and development?

Geospatial technology has been used in Nigeria since a long time. A number of organisations in the country have been working to promote the usage of the technology in their functioning. There is a presidential reform committee on geospatial technology, which tries to connect land administration systems with geospatial information systems. However, a major hurdle in the way of the further promotion of this technology is that we do not have enough data and the required structures to manage systems. Moreover, the land use law that we had been using in Nigeria really put us back because it was based on the “old system of land Administration”. So, in 2009, the federal government set up a Presidential Technical Committee for Land Reform to review the provisions of the land use law and make it more flexible. As a result of that initiative, a lot of reform has already taken place in the country. While experts with the required technical know-how in Nigeria were adopting the technology since a long time, but they were held back because of the limitations in the Funding Projects. When we talk of the use of geospatial technology, each department is working on its own. What we need is to look at ways in which we can synergise the efforts of various departments that have been working on spatial data and make sure that there is no duplication of data so that we can save precious money and resources. So, while most states in the country have a land information systems department besides, we also have a national spatial data infrastructure where we collate all the data and disseminate the same to the users.

Geospatial technology has been used across various verticals to ensure enhanced services. What, according to you, are the most potential verticals for the use of this technology in the country?

The usage of geospatial technology in Nigeria is vast and spans across various verticals. For example, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development use geospatial technology extensively in their functioning, as a law. The Ministry has different data management departments where they 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.

What are the major challenges that hinder the further growth and usage of this technology?

A major challenge when it comes to the use of spatial technology is the lack of a firm government policy. Although we do have policies in place, there are very little or no efforts to enforce those policies. For example, there is no capacity training, which results in the policy getting derailed without making any significant impact. To put it in simple terms, while the structure is there, but the enforcement is lacking. We have the policies to enable easy sharing of data and information but no way to enforce the provisions of these policies. Besides, there is lack of enough manpower to meet up to the next level of technology. The awareness amongst the decision makers is a major challenge, but the situation is changing now.

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. Since the technology is changing rapidly, what you learnt two years ago might be different from what is happening now. Keeping pace with the technological advancements is extremely vital to ensure rapid progress.

What would be your message for the geospatial community in Nigeria?

It is a well established fact that we cannot move forward without embracing geospatial technology. We as professionals have to work together in order to create awareness among the people, and show the real worth of this technology to people so that we can all move forward together. Another thing that has to be given top priority is the policy enforcement in Nigeria. Since this is a relatively new technology, it now needs to be backed by law. We cannot just say that the country needs to embrace this technology, but there has to be a policy change and there has to be a law that will back anybody operating on this technology and also keep a check on the operators. It should be able to monitor the activities taking place in this area and also make sure that there are ways to enforce the policies.