Books History The Geographic Labourers Of Arewa: Remembering The Northern Nigerian Survey

The Geographic Labourers Of Arewa: Remembering The Northern Nigerian Survey.pdf

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Pages: 490

Language: English

Publisher: Cranfield University Press (Feb. 2004)

By: Malcolm F. Anderson (Editor)

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This recently published history of surveying and the life of surveyors in the former Northern Region of Nigeria describes in detail, from first hand experience, hitherto unrecorded aspects of the pioneering work which took place in a fascinating and turbulent part of Africa

The northern part of Nigeria is a great pot of ethnic diversity, flavoured strongly by Islam, and stirred just over a hundred years ago by the arrival of alien British-led administration. The people and the way of life in the dry lands on the fringes of the Sahara interacted with the contrasting cultures and religions of the humid southern parts of Nigeria and with those of the foreigners arriving by sea.

The British established the political boundaries of the former Northern Nigeria at the beginning of the 20th century. When they left 60 years later there was a movement in favour of the territory becoming an independent state named Arewa (meaning 'north' in the Hausa language), a short-lived dream which, in the face of Nigerian national unity, was as stillborn as the ill-fated Biafra. But, as a geographical concept, 'Arewa' still remains.

This book is a first hand attempt to bring together some of the memories of a representative cross section of officers and their wives, working in a specialised field, pursuing their own personal career ambitions, who served in the Northern Region during the progressive decade and a half which spanned Nigeria’:s achievement of independence. It is based on diaries, research, details of surveying operations and contributions describing everyday life, some in light-hearted anecdotal form, from individuals with a common professional background who served from the 1940s to the 1970s, a period of transition from colonial status to independence, civil uprising and military rule. Conditions, and attendant risks, have changed so much over the past few decades that it is extremely unlikely that a traveller today could experience, or begin to understand, the conditions under which those officers worked, and what motivated them, and would be unable to rekindle the incredible accord and close relationships with the indigenous peoples which were enjoyed by those who lived there and spoke the local languages.

The book tries to record their contribution toward the establishment of an accurate and efficient system of land record, planning, apportionment and administration, similar to systems being inaugurated in so many other developing parts of the world. As a result of these efforts, Northern Nigeria was provided with the opportunity to build upon a working model by modifying it to its own changing needs, or allow it to decay through apathy and misuse.

The huge impact of technological advances on the world of surveying and mapping was only beginning to be felt when the Northern Nigerian Survey became a victim of the administrative changes which swept Nigeria in the late 1960s. Electronics began to make an impact on an age-old profession and revolutionary new calculators and distance-measuring instruments appeared. Until then the only way to chart the country had been to get out on the ground and measure it using long-established methods of triangulation: field astronomy: distance measurement using steel bands: height determination using levels and aneroid barometers: and direct plotting using plane tables. The only aids to the formidable volume of mathematical work had been well-thumbed books of logarithms and trigonometrical functions. Today's electronic surveying devices, GPS satellites, computers and airborne instruments have rendered obsolete and uneconomical many of the methods described in this book. Although 'state of the art' at the time these 'traditional' methods must now be regarded as increasingly old fashioned but at the time they were applied assiduously to pioneer the first true mapping of the country, to assist the emergence and development of the economy of a newly independent state and to set an example for land recording and administration for the future.

Following the long period of World War II and post-war austerity, suitably qualified senior staff, modern equipment and improved surveying methods became more readily available. The dedication, optimism and foresight of a few experienced surveyors who had been in service before the war led to the build-up of a progressive and committed organisation to serve the needs of a vast underdeveloped region with its great, largely agricultural, potential. A policy of staff regionalisation set up a department to serve the specific needs of a huge area of Nigeria which had always suffered, and was indeed in the future destined to continue suffering, a great paucity of local indigenous recruits to the profession of land surveying. Expatriates recruited to the service were generally well educated, technically skilled and practical people, with a good grounding of mathematics and specifically trained in photogrammetry and cartography. A military-like discipline was a hallmark of surveying practice and went hand in hand with the planning and conduct of control and mapping projects. For their efforts these people were not exceptionally well paid, living conditions could be basic and career prospects rather limited, but rewards came with the responsibilities of the work and the opportunity to practise their skills in a challenging environment, believing they were making an important contribution to the development of the country in which they had chosen to work.

The story of the Northern Nigerian Survey cannot be told without reference to the events which preceded its formation, which influenced its operation, and which led to its demise. It must surely be the dream of any nation, particularly a newly independent one, to stumble upon almost unlimited reserves of oil and gas. The present situation in Nigeria demonstrates that this good fortune can confer mixed blessings. Before Independence, a system of surveying, mapping and planning was established to serve a country with a steadily growing agricultural, but increasingly industrialised, economy, but not one based on oil revenues. As time went by, the services, infrastructure and administrative systems of the past became increasingly unable to cope with the radical changes in the attitudes, morals and ambitions of its peoples.


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