Nigeria’s Land Survey Plans for Novice Land Buyer
You are on this page either because you are curious and want to know more about land survey plans or you are already an expert with very good knowledge of the numerous information that are carefully displayed on a survey plan and you want to reconfirm the level of your knowledge. The information on this page is meant for the former readers, the novice who does not have a clue what a land survey plan represent aside from the fact that it is required to buy or sell a land, to determine land boundaries and to regularize land ownership with local land bureaus. Aside from these, a land survey plan is required to obtain a mortgage or to use the land as collateral for a bank loan.
What is a Land Survey Plan?
A land survey plan is a specially prepared document that is generated through a field survey or measurements that is carried out by a licensed surveyor at the precise location of the land. It displays the exact location and size of the land, its boundaries, and a description of the land including information on physical features or landmarks of importance, if any.
Typically in Nigeria, the top section of the land survey plan display the name of previous/current land-owner and the location of the land. Depending on the history of the land, the name of the original land-owning family or community from whom the original transfer/purchase is made is also shown.
Image source: internet (image does not show entire upper and lower section of survey plan)
Important Information on a Land Survey Plan and their Meaning
Starting Point (SP): this is the point on the land from which the surveyor began measurement of the land. This term is sometimes called the Beginning Point or Initial Point. The SP is made up of two numbers formally referred to as Easting (East) and Northing (North) which precisely indicates the geographic coordinates of the location of the SP. These two numbers are displayed differently at two sides of the survey plan, each adjacent to a straight line that extend from the left or right edge of the plan, and from the top or bottom section of the plan. The number for Easting end with a unit denoted as mE (i.e. meters East) and it’s adjacent to the line that extend from the top or bottom section of the plan, while the number for Northing end with mN (meters North) and lie adjacent to the line that extend from the left or right side of the plan. Both numbers are placed in line to the beacon or point from which the survey measurement is conducted.
It is possible to find land survey plans where the location of the SP values does not match what is described above. Sometimes the SP values are placed in a corner on the survey plan. Simply look for two numbers that end with “mE” and “mN” to recognize what both number represents.
The SP is a very important piece of information because it virtually determines the presumed location of the land on paper and physical location in the real world. It is very common in Nigeria to come across survey plans with inaccurate SP which results in lots of red-flags when the survey plans are submitted to local land agencies for verification. Even when the measurements of the land boundaries are accurate, an error in SP would render the survey plan useless. It could cause a land that is genuinely located within an excision parcel that is free from government ownership to be accidentally placed within a land parcel that genuinely belongs to government during verification process.
UTM Zone: UTM stands for Universal Transverse Mercator, and it’s a terminology you should not worry about aside from making sure that the right UTM Zone number is shown for the region where the land is located. The UTM is simply a coordinate system developed in order to have universal survey reference points valid across the globe unlike previous national or local reference points (e.g. Nigerian Transverse Mercator, Nigeria Colony Coordinate System, etc.). Therefore modern or recently obtained survey plans should include the right UTM Zone. Nigeria falls within 3 of the 60 global UTM Zones. These are UTM Zones 31N, 32N, and 33N. The UTM Zone for a land survey conducted in Nigeria must be one of these three numbers. The image below shows the UTM Zones for different parts of Nigeria. Simply ensure that the right UTM Zone is shown on the survey plan for the region the land is located in. The UTM Zone is usually inscribed close to the top of the survey plan.
Image source: https://i.stack.imgur.com
Land Area: the survey plan must show the area or size of the land surveyed. It is shown close to the top of the survey plan with units of measurement expressed in square meters (Sq. mts.). This is a number that require high accuracy and attention from land buyers because it is common in Nigeria that the size shown on survey plans does not match the actual size of the land on site, which is sometime lower than the expected size. However, it is possible to use the dimensions provided on the survey plan to estimate the area of the land on your own. The size of the land would determine its sale price and what can be built on it.
The survey plan should include the scale used for the survey measurement in the field. This ratio and a graded scale are usually shown in the upper section of the plan below the names and location.
Beacon Location and Identification Number: beacons are very important for land surveys. They are regarded as permanent survey marks and are usually made with concrete or stone. They are placed at specific points along land boundaries, usually at corners or sharp edges of the boundaries. Without beacons on a piece of land, there is no evidence the land has been surveyed. Every beacon on the land must have an identification (ID) number inscribed on it, and each of these ID numbers must be shown at the corners of the land depicted in the survey plan to match their location on the piece of land. It’s typical for the Starting Point to be at the beacon with lowest ID number which is sometimes marked with a cross symbol on the survey plan by the surveyor.
A beacon ID number is unique to the beacon it appears on, and to the land it is placed in. Beacon stones and ID number can only be purchased by a registered surveyor from the National Institute of Surveyors, the body that regulates the practice and activities of surveyors in Nigeria.
Physical damage of beacons is common in cities like Lagos where land disputes are widespread. Beacons are often the first subject of attack of land-grabbers and hoodlums that are used during land-ownership tussles. A missing or damaged beacon should be a red flag and this should incite a land-buyer curiosity to ask questions on why it is missing or damaged. Do not expect to be told the truth. You are better off doing your own independent investigation.
Land Boundaries Distance and Coordinates: while it is common for many piece of land to have four sides or boundaries, and square to rectangular shapes, the number of boundaries of a piece of land is determined by the shape of the land, which ultimately determines the number of beacons on the land. The distance of each of boundary is measured and shown in meters and the values are inserted on the inner or outer side toward the center of the boundary on the survey plan with the unit “m”. The coordinates for the boundaries are expressed in three units that capture the precise location (i.e. latitude and longitude) of the boundaries. These are Degrees, Minutes, and Seconds. You need to be familiar with the fact that there are 360 degrees in a full circle, 60 minutes in a degree, and 60 seconds in a minute. Measuring a land survey boundary distance and location is akin to measuring its distance and angles of its plane within a full circle. The angles would determine the values for Degree, Minutes, and Seconds. Therefore, in a survey plan the values given for Degree, Minutes, and Seconds, must never be higher than 360, 60, and 60, respectively. You should carefully watch out for errors in these numbers. However, you must be aware of the fact that almost all the survey plans we have seen for lands belonging to individuals or communities and other private entities in Nigeria does not include values for Seconds. Likewise, very few surveys conducted by government land bureaus across the country contain data for Seconds. So, apart from the values recorded for land boundaries distances which are placed to the inner sides of the land depicted on the survey plan, you should only look out for two separate sets of numbers placed on the outer sides and close to the far ends of each boundaries, ending with the degree symbol “o" (superscript “o”) and minute prime symbol (‘). As example, Degree and Seconds are shown here as 360o and 60’. As stated above, do not bother to look for numbers for Seconds since it is rarely included in survey plans obtained in Nigeria. We are yet find credible reasons why numbers for seconds are excluded on survey plans.
Landmarks: this include roads and other physical features that exist when the survey measurements is done. Note that landmarks are not necessarily permanent features and might change or be missing years down the road, meaning that if a landmark is included on a survey plan it does not mean it would be found or be present much later. For example, a public park shown on a survey plan may be converted to residential plots or a road could be expanded prior to your interest in the land.
Surveyor’s Name and Signature: every land survey must be done by a licensed surveyor that is registered with the local or national surveyor’s body. There are numerous stories of surveys done by quack surveyors which results in heavy financial losses for prospective land-owners. The numerous incidents of people’s lands falling unexpectedly within large government parcels may due to the fact that the surveys were done by quacks or are the results of activities of unscrupulous individuals pretending to be genuine surveyors. Among the most reported stories of fake survey plans in recent time is the case of two individuals in Lagos that paraded themselves as surveyors by impersonating and forging the signature of a deceased genuine surveyor, which they used in defrauding unsuspecting members of the public whom they issued fake survey plans with forged signature and name.
The name, address, and signature of the surveyor that carried out the survey should be shown on the survey plan including the date the document is signed.
Is the Land Free from Government Acquisition or Not? It is quite common to see survey plans stamped with an inscription that says “This Parcel of Land is Free from Known Government Acquisition”. This could rightly suggest that the land does not fall within a large parcel of land that belong to the government and that it has been confirmed by the local land agency. However, there are numerous stories of lands with survey plans having such inscription, which the land-owner proceeds to build on, to be re-confirmed as falling within government land in the future resulting in the demolition of the properties by government. These type of incidents are too numerous, and are believed to be perpetrated by dubious government employees that connive with fraudulent surveyors and land-grabbers. A good way to start prior to checking the validity of land survey plans at government land agencies is to use the Draw Survey Boundary tool on this website. The tool is a patented application developed to allow prospective property owners and land buyers to conduct land investigations on their own prior to heading to government land agencies. This would allow them have a separate opinion that is devoid of fraudulent or nefarious interest. The Draw Survey tool is part of web applications developed by Streetyze Technologies Ltd that is covered by a patent granted by Nigeria’s Trademarks, Patents and Design Registry in early 2019.
Survey plans that come with the inscription that says “Land is within Government Acquisition” is clear evidence that the lands are supposed to be off-limit to private ownership.
Survey Plan No. and Registration of Survey Plan with Government: every survey plan must have a survey plan number which is a number that is used to identify the survey plan. The survey plan number is what is used to deposit, register, and trace the survey plan at the local land agency.
The job of a surveyor that carried out survey measurements on a piece of land is not complete until the survey plan is registered in the state cadaster (i.e. state lands records).You must note that until a copy of a survey plan is submitted and registered at the office of the state land records, you cannot obtain a title for the land.
The original copy of survey plan that is submitted to the land cadaster is referred to as the Record Copy or Red Copy. There are time limits for registration of the Red Copy with states cadaster, and this may vary by state. For example, registration of the Red Copy in Lagos State may not exceed 2 months from time survey plan is obtained.
Possible Land Survey Plan Pitfall and Red Flags
- Date on survey plan should nearly match date of receipt issued by surveyor to the land owner. At least the year should match even if there was a delay in issuance of receipt by the surveyor to the land-owner.
- For a land that already has a building on it, you should request to see the building plan and compare the date on the building plan with the date on the survey plan. It is not normal for a building plan to be done before a survey plan is obtain. Therefore, the date on the survey plan should be earlier than the date on the building plan. And be careful of survey plans with backdated dates. This problem has been reported before by the chairman of Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Institute of Surveyor (NIS). A backdated date is enough proof to suspect that the survey plan and other information of ownership are suspects.
- Ask question about the beacon to confirm from the surveyor how he or she came about the beacons and beacon numbers
- Note that beacons are not ordinary concrete or stone and that they show the boundaries of your land and demarcate where it starts and end relative to adjacent lands and public landmarks. The reason why land-grabbers and “Omonile” usually remove a beacon during land dispute is because they recognize its importance and that each beacon is unique to you and your land.
- Look out for the stamp on the survey plan with the inscription “Free from Government Acquisition”. However, note that the presence of this stamp does not mean the stamp is genuine. When you see a stamp that shows “Land Falls within Government Acquisition” then it means the land is part of a government-owned parcel.
- Look out for possible spelling error in names on the survey plan. Such error should be noted and reported to the surveyor in order to ensure that only a survey plan with correct names is registered with the state cadaster.
Now you are familiar enough to recognize what each type of information on a survey plan represent both on paper and in the real world. A good way to test your knowledge is to create a template of the survey plan you are interested in on Google Map by using the Draw Survey Boundary tool on this website. Simply enter the same sets of information described above in the provided cells. To start, go to our website homepage and click on the green button labelled “Draw and Compare Survey Plan”. But seeing the demo video before you attempt to create a template would not be a bad idea.