More than 100 young Nigerians are teaming up with Google to add restaurants, markets, hospitals and other prominent locations in the Nigerian capital to Google Maps. Youth leaders say by mapping their city, they could boost the local economy by attracting tourists and investors. They also see maps as a tool to improve security and reduce poverty.
In a training room in Abuja, there are almost as many laptops and smart phones as there are 20-something “citizen cartographers.” At the front of the room, young men who volunteer for Internet search engine Google wear green and blue tee shirts that say, “map your world,” while the Google Abuja Map-up project director, Oludotun Babayemi, explains how to do it.
In the coming week, this crowd plans to fan out across the Nigerian capital armed with tech devices and ready to upload. Babayemi says the new maps will encourage more people to visit.
“The person I’m talking to can quickly know, ‘This is the number of recreation centers and wildlife you have in your country.’ So it opens your country to the whole world easily.”
He says mapping Abuja and eventually all of Nigeria will also draw foreign investors who may otherwise be unaware of changes in the country.
For Babayemi, mapping Nigeria may also be a matter of life and death. He says emergency services are slowed by incomplete maps and that when sectarian violence breaks out, it may be better contained if security forces can watch trends online.
The most accurate maps, he adds, come from local people who are experts in their own neighborhoods.
“Once there is the location of where someone is during an emergency you can quickly go in and rescue that person. And how do you do that? It means you’ve gotten that information from a particular person on the ground," he says.
Adepoju Abiodun, one of the Google volunteers leading the charge, says mapping Africa could also help governments and aid organizations make better use of the resources they already have.
But, he says, they have already started mapping on a small scale and not everyone is quick to agree. Residents sometimes fear mappers are taking notes and photographs of their area because they plan to demolish neighborhoods and build a shopping mall, which is a reasonable thing to think in Abuja. Local police also are wary as they look out for men plotting attacks, often on the police themselves.
“Sometimes we have issues with the government," Abiodun says. "Sometimes you try to map and they go, ‘Why are you trying to take pictures. What are you guys doing touring around here taking notes? Are you going to bomb us?' We get used to it and when I speak to them alone and explain, they understand.”
Abiodun says the goal is to map not just Nigeria, but all of Africa in the next four to five years.