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There can be no sustainable development without survey plans – Dr Atilola

Dr. Olushola Atilola is the immediate past National President of the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS). In this interview with Kingsley Adegboye before he handed over to a new helmsman. He bares his mind on his tenure, the GIS system, land reforms among other topical issues. Excerpts:

WOULD you say you achieved set goals by the end of your tenure?

We were able to achieve quite a lot during my tenure. Nobody achieves everything but the set goals. There are some that we have achieved in concrete terms and there are some that are on-going. Most of the programmes are in such a way that they are on-gong; you cannot say that you have done something and that is the end of it because others are coming to add to what we have done.

Dr. Olushola Atilola

So, it is an on-going thing, a continuum because we are not like political parties where somebody says I am coming to do my own programme. What we are executing is the programme of our institution. As long as the initial reason why this programme was initiated still exists, the programme continues.

How can layman identify a surveyor?

You cannot write on the forehead that so, so and so is a surveyor. But a surveyor is a person with academic and practical technical qualification. One who has gone through prescribed courses and studies, either in the university or polytechnic and after that is registered by the Surveyors’ Council of Nigeria.(SURCON).  So, it is the registration that makes you a surveyor.

SURCON is the regulatory arm of our profession and it seeks to discipline, and also ensuring that minimum academic qualification is attained.  A layman that wants to do a  surveyor’s job  must first  be registered because it is the registration that makes him or her a surveyor.

The layman thinks that the surveyor is somebody that carries poles around and goes into the bush and so on. Surveyors do more than that. The type of surveying people see on the wall is just property survey for corner plots. We survey from the ground, also, we survey from the air to take aerial photographs and we also use satellite images. Equally, we determine the profile of the sea and we also do on-shore and off-shore survey.

In fact, in the areas of pile exploration, surveyors are the first to be called in and in exploration itself, surveyors are equally important. We also determine heavenly bodies using our knowledge of Geology. The little that the public sees is the one that actually dents the image of the surveyor. What advocacy is to law, so is cadastral survey to surveying profession, because without cadastral survey, you can’t get in contact with the people.

What is the role of the Land surveyor in national growth?
The primary role of the surveyor is to carry out surveying and mapping of the geographical space of any nation. Now, when you carry out that, then all planning, execution of projects, maintenance and so on, depend on the survey that have been carried out.

The purpose of any survey is to determine the characteristics of the land, its nature, the height, diversion and so on. So, you must know the characteristics of any Land before you can plan on it. For any sustainable development, you need survey input. That is the major duty of a surveyor in national growth. Any nation that does not use survey or mapping or survey products in its planning plans to fail, because you cannot plan without maps. You cannot plan without survey data.

There can never be sustainable development without survey plan. There could be growth but growth is not the same thing as development. And when there is development, it must be meaningful. For instance, somebody may grow without having sense.  So, what we are talking about is sustainable development. Development is all about meeting today’s and future needs, in such a way that when you enjoy certain amenities today, the interests of the future generation should also be taken into consideration. In a nutshell, surveying is synonymous with development.

The most developed nations in the world are the best mapped. And the least developed part of the world are the least mapped. So, you can see that there is a strong correlation between surveying and mapping. And in advanced countries, surveying is part of their culture. They cannot move an inch without having the data. And in fact, it is even more urgent now, that there is advancement in technology. Everything we do presently  is locational so, location is very important and we must ensure that these locations are properly determined.

What is GIS and its significance to the economy?
GIS means Geographical Information system. It is a computerised survey data that can be queried but has its various attributes. When you combine digital information about land, the attributes of the law itself and you can query it. Then, it becomes a GIS. The importance of a GIS is that it is used for advocacy; it is something that you can see, can use it visually to plan in such a way that you know the linkages between different aspects of the geographical space.

Dr. Olushola Atilola

For example, in a GIS system, you can find out if you put a factory somewhere, how will it affect the other side or if you put a road in a particular area, how will it affect the flow of traffic? So, you are able to determine where to put what in such a way that you have special planning without one affecting the other  adversely.  This what GIS is.

What is the difference between GIS and mapping?
When you map, your maps can come in either hard copy or soft copy. The soft copy is a digitized or electronic copy. That electronic copy is a soft copy of the map but it is not a GIS yet until you add a soft ware to it that can manipulate the date and when the date is manipulated then, that soft ware can query the map to give you certain things to bring out, maybe only the houses.

You can query the map to bring if possible only the rivers and so on. When these things are stored in certain layers and you can query it and even link these with other map substitutes like aerial photographs, or tho photographs or you can link it with Satellite Imagery and so on, then, you have what is called a GIS. So, there is a difference between a GIS system and a digital map. Some people make the mistake of saying that once you digitized a map, it becomes a GIS, No, because it cannot operate itself.

From all you have said so far, it seems Land surveying is a more technical profession than other professions in the built environment?
Yes, it is very technical because of the nature of the profession. But the technical aspect of it is becoming now less liberalised in the sense that technology has made it much easier for us to achieve the technical aspect of it because in the past, the engineering aspect of surveying is  where people concentrated the more. That is, you need a lot of skill in those days to be able to measure to achieve some measurement.

Also, in those days, when there was advanced technology, it takes months to do certain jobs but with the advent of computer in the 1950s, and also with the advent of GPS and Satellite imagery, you find that it is a lot more easier for people to measure. In fact, measurement is now becoming a black box because somebody who has some sense can be trained to press buttons on some of our equipment and take measurement.

But what is now more important is what do you do with this measurement?  How do you use the measurement? How do you apply the measurement? And that is where some people take GPS and they use it to go and measure here and there and even confuse the ones that are accurate with the ones that are inaccurate. At the end of the day, they do not know what to do. So, it is what you want to do with the data now that is getting more important than the actual measurement.

It does not mean that measurement is no longer important but with modern equipment, advanced technology, you spend less time now doing measurement than more time doing the analysis and then the application.

Would you say that you are fulfilled having served as president of NIS?
Yes, to God be the Glory. I am very very fulfilled. I think that my presidency would not have come at a better time than now. I got cooperation from all and sundry and we have been able to push surveying to the consciousness, of the nation in our little way. What is important is that you do your own part; you step aside in order to allow other people to go on without any rancour.


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