By Amos Aar
GOVERNOR Nyesom Wike of River State on Monday praised his counterpart Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State stating that it not easy to execute a project as huge as the Benue Geographic Information Service (BENGIS) if the governor is not a friend of the federal government.
Wike stated this while commissioning BENGIS, a pet project of the state government under the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals, Makurdi.
Performing the ceremony, Governor Wike said he has been to Benue State to commission projects not less than four times but the BENGIS project is huge and very important.
“You have been using the few resources you have to develop Benue State and it has not been easy. I know that as your friend. You have not been a friend of the federal government, so it has not been easy for you to access funds,” Wike told Ortom.
He says the BENGIS project executed by Ortom showed his love and interest for the development of Benue State. He asserted that all over the country and in the world, land administration has been a crucial issue but with BENGIS, Ortom would reduce the burden or problem of land administration and boost internally generated revenue of the state.
“I assure you, that the revenue you will make from this will enable the state to enhance the internally generated revenue.
“I’m very much happy with you and that’s why I thank God Almighty that our ways crossed each other and we will continue to learn from each other. That’s the essence of peer group,” Wike said.
He urged staff of the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals to take the property as their own and guard it jealously.
Ortom issues ultimatum to property owners
In a keynote address, Governor Ortom issued six months ultimatum to both residential and commercial property owners in Benue State to properly certify it to avoid sanctions.
“I hereby declare that, all properties both residential and commercial in Makurdi, Gboko and Otukpo should be certificated within six months or face certain penalties.”
Governor Ortom said the Land Use Act Cap L5, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2007 vests all land in the territory of a state on the governor of the state to be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
The powers, according to him, include the control and management of all land in the urban areas, designation of urban areas, granting of statutory rights of occupancy, granting of easements, demanding and revision of rents, power to enter and inspect, power to give consent for mortgage and other transactions, power to revoke rights of occupancy, and power to delegate.
Ortom however noted that he could not exercise those powers or perform the aforementioned functions without the availability of geospatial information, stating that that is the reason his administration in February 2020 awarded the contract to GIS Transport Ltd for the creation of BENGIS based on the company’s track record of excellent performance both in Nigeria and other countries of the world.
Ortom remarked that already, BENGIS was making positive impact in land administration. He highlighted some of the aspects already achieved in the contract to include; aerial survey and mapping of the entire state with high resolution orthophotos, and deployment of the latest GIS facilities for the comprehensive land digitisation initiative.
“With the regular reports I am receiving since the introduction of Geographic Information System in land management, the numerous challenges that were before now associated with land administration in the state have been reduced to the barest minimum.
“In fact, since the commencement of the BENGIS legacy project of my administration, the land digitisation initiative has greatly improved urban planning, infrastructure development, environmental management and encourage private investment.
“Today, I am impressed that the decision of my administration to invest in this project is already yielding positive results with renewed interest of our people in land matters as well as accelerated processing of Certificates of Occupancy (C of O), a process that can now be accomplished within few weeks”.
Ortom also said the Makurdi service centre of BENGIS, inaugurated on 12th December, 2022, has been built and equipped to specification in line with international and professional standards and would be on a 24 hour power supply, including an ICT platform integrated through a network system with high speed internet access.
He urged the Ministry of Lands Survey and Solid Minerals where the BENGIS project is domiciled, to maintain the facilities and also ensure that the building itself and the installed equipment are given “round the clock protection”.
Ortom charged staff of the ministry to upgrade their skills with the available facilities, stressing that government would not hesitate to sanction any staff found to be sabotaging any of the equipment because the government has invested huge resources in the project.
“I want to charge relevant government staff that would be involved in this venture through training, operation of facilities and maintenance to be diligent, focused and take full advantage of the BENGIS facilities to further upgrade their skills which would impact on the quality of their service delivery to the public whose interest we are expected to serve as well as promote more efficiency on the part of the government,” Ortom tasked the staff.
Benue now qualified to access USD2.5m World Bank grant
Governor Ortom said with BENGIS in place, Benue State is now qualified to access the World Bank’s grant of USD$2.5 million through the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability Programme (SFTAS) for developmental projects in the state.
National Record recalls that the Commissioner of Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals, Hon. Bernard Unenge, had stated during the unveiling of SFTAS in Otukpo on 13th May, 2022, that the Benue State Government was entitled to World Bank grant of $2.5 million just like every other state of the federation for social amenities. But there was a precondition that 84,000 to 120,000 urban buildings must be captured in the state before the grant could be accessed.
Earlier in a welcome address, state’s Commissioner of Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals, Hon. Bernard Unenge, explained that “BENGIS is a system of land administration in which ICT is deployed through digital platforms and software for smooth management of land administration such as processing of C-of-Os, systematic and efficient land recertification, regularisation and registration of titles, warehousing of land documents in soft copies and hardcopies, automated and transparent system of revenue generation which eliminates leakages, amongst other functions.”
According to Unenge, the process of transfer of land ownership has also been streamlined for greater efficiency that has drastically reduced incidences of land disputes. He said the BENGIS project does not only stop at building the edifice, it also includes construction of similar but smaller structures in the ministry’s zonal offices in Gboko, Otukpo and Adikpo.
Other components of the project also completed according to Hon. Unenge include Aerial survey and mapping of the entire state with high resolution orthophotos, conversion of analogue map plans and files to the digital system, staff training, and procurement of survey and other technical equipment as well as field vehicles for the ministry.
Unenge revealed that with BENGIS, the processing of Certificate of Occupancy has been reformed such that it takes just a month or two to get a C-of-O at the Ministry. He pointed out that in the course of executing the BENGIS project which took about two years, several challenges were encountered such as inflation, the cost of some of the ICT equipment as well as incidence of Covid-19 contributed to “the project not being completed on schedule due to the disruptions caused in the global supply chain as a result of restrictions in the transport industry which delayed importation of some components needed in the project. We had to slightly adjust forward the completion time of this project”.
He however stated that while the construction was ongoing, a temporary office was setup to house the modern Geographic Information System facilities and training of staff to manage the facilities, which was also funded from the contract sum.
In his remarks, the project consultant and General Manager of GIS Transport Ltd, Roland Klaus, said a one-stop shop has been established through BENGIS for all land matters with fast, reliable, transparent services for citizens, professionals, organisations and government.
Klaus described the BENGIS Service Centre as the symbol for a modern, efficient and transparent service culture in Benue State.