The British Empire Library

A Surveyor And His Friends: A West African Odyssey

by W B Till

Courtesy of OSPA

Richard Barlow-Poole (Northern Nigeria 1947-68)
This book can be considered as a personal postscript to Malcolm Anderson's fabulous book The Geographic Labourers of Arewa. But whereas Malcolm's book is concerned only with the Northern Nigeria Survey during the 1950s and 1960s, Brian Till's book covers not only those periods but also the 1970s and the 1980s. Moreover it covers survey in the Western Region, 1953- 65, where he was Head of the School of Surveyors at Oyo and ended his career as Assistant Surveyor-General; time with Hunting Surveys, 1966-71, including time in Sierra Leone and Eastern Nigeria; time with the Kaduna Polytechnic 1971-82 and with the School of Technology, Kano, 1983-86, and finally with the Kaduna Polytechnic again, 1986-90. And indeed in his acknowledgements, Brian Till pays tribute to Malcolm Anderson for editing and assembling the material, undertaking the design and typesetting, and giving generous encouragement. To this reviewer, as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Land and Survey in the Northern Region from 1962-66, it is a fascinating story.

What interested me most was what happened to the Survey Department in April 1968 when the Northern Region was broken up into six Northern States, as it adds to the information in Anderson's book. Many of the Northern Nigeria Survey personnel were distributed among the States but a considerable 'rump' remained within the former N.N.S. complex in Kaduna South. Their long-term future was a bone of contention. There were two schools of thought: (i) that it should become an outpost of Federal Surveys, or (ii) that it should join the Kaduna Polytechnic, jointly owned by the six new Northern States. The State Governors, advised of the useful role the Survey Unit would play, decided in favour of option (ii), and Brian Till was appointed Senior Surveyor of the Survey Unit (later he was to be re-designated 'Principal Lecturer' and the Unit was renamed The College of Environmental Studies, as a fully-fledged College of the Polytechnic). In 1982 he retired. But he still harboured a yearning for Africa and when he was offered the post of Principal of the School of Technology at the Kano Institute of Higher Education, he accepted. At the end of his contract he accepted the post of Senior Principal Lecturer based at Kaduna Polytechnic again, where he had a further four years.

Reflecting on this 'odyssey' I come to the following conclusions: (i) the very close working and friendly relationships that existed between the Survey expatriates and their staff; (ii) the professionalism of the new Northern Surveyors in training on their courses after 1966, despite the rottenness of the country at the top; and (iii) the esprit de corps of the Survey expatriate officers. Reunions have been held each year since 1988; at the one held in Oxford in 2006, 35 attended. The Northern Nigeria Dinner Club, which now includes anyone in Government Service in N Nigeria, had 53 persons attending in 2006, having reached a high of 90 in 2003 after the publication of the book Was it only Yesterday? (edited by Trevor Clark). So the recent figure of 35 for the Survey Department is indeed remarkable.

British Empire Book
W B Till
The Author
1 871315 95 6


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