Maps for Nigerian Land Use Reform and Environmental Health

image from BBC

Since it’s independence in 1960 Nigeria has attempted to develop a land use policy that would allow equal access.  The political turmoil of the following decades has limited those efforts, but a lack of adequate maps for the country is a more fundamental problem.  In 1978 the government reformed land use, but due to unsophisticated or nonexistent maps many of the reforms failed.  The clear designation of urban and rural areas, and the registration of land owners is essential.  The  Land Use Act of 1978 allocated ownership of all land to each state’s governor who held the land in trust for the public.  Inordinate power was effectively granted to local authorities and business interests (especially in the oil-rich South).  A national GIS project is at the center of Nigeria’s development plans.  Several states, including Lagos, have already begun map projects.

In addition to democratizing land use, a national mapping system could improve the daily lives of Nigerians.  In the January 4 issue of The Nation an article by Sasha Chavkin, Shell Games in Nigeria, detailed the exploitation and environmental degradation caused by the Royal Dutch Shell operation in the Nigerian Delta region.  Ironically, Shell researched GIS for the environmental management of its operation in the Nigerian Delta.  Chavkin’s article reveals the utter disregard for Nigeria’s environment and people perpetrated by Shell.  Possibly due to its long history of abuse and conflict in Nigeria, Shell announced last month that it wanted to sell a large part of its operation, potentially to a Chinese firm.  If environmental stewardship is going to be the responsibility of private interests, a comprehensive GIS maintained by the government for the public interest is necessary.  Improved social justice, a cleaner environment, and better health for Nigerians are just a few of the benefits a national mapping project could provide.

A review of the complex land use policy of Nigeria.

An interview with the head of the Nigerian Institute of Surveyors on the impact and complications of land use reform and mapping.

Carl Kunda, VERTICES intern

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