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Controversy trails implementation of noise pollution law in Lagos

By Tunde Alao, Emmanuel Badejo and Lillian Chukwu   |   22 January 2015   |   11:00 pm  

LAGOS-CHURCH

WHEN the Lagos State Government came up with a law to curtail noise pollution in the state, some citizens were skeptical and therefore rose to challenge the state on the allegation of biases, particularly between the Christian and the Muslim faith. Some of the allegations, it was noted arose following the citizens’ suspicion of government’s intention to address the issue, which in some cases had engendered and still engendering disharmony within the Lagos communities.

  In defence of the law, the state government had said it became imperative enact and ensure the operation of such laws, to curtail excesses of some, who under the guise of whatever, be religious or social gatherings, had repeatedly, disturbed the peace of the residents, a development said to be averse to a cosmopolitan city of Lagos.  Besides, it was also argued that noise pollution was dangerous to human health and as such it must be tamed.

  Soon after the enactment of the law, the state through its Ministry of The Environment and another agency, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), swung into action clamping down on some of the centres said to be perpetrating noise and thereby broke the law.  

  Years down the line, allegations and counter-allegations of bias from each divide continue to rent the air and the state has consistently denied any discrimination tendencies in the way it implements the zero tolerance to noise pollution in the state.

 Noise, it is said, is any sound that is unpleasant to the ear.  Medically, when it persists, it can damage the ear.  Considering the ear organ, it has been said that human ears were designed to process naturally-occurring sounds, and they are beautifully adapted to handle that task. They are able to detect sounds of intensities that vary across many orders of magnitude, and to meaningfully transmit those signals to our brains. But they are not well equipped to deal with the high noise levels that are common today, because such loud sounds occur only rarely in nature.

  The ear is a complex structure, processing sound through several stages in the outer, middle, and inner ear. Although the eardrum may sometimes be ruptured by severe noise (acoustic trauma) or pressure changes, the part that is most vulnerable to damage by noise lies more deeply, in the inner ear, where the final processing takes place before the sound is converted into nerve impulses that are transmitted to the brain.

  The prominent structure in the inner ear is the spiral-shaped chochlea, which is a fluid-filled tube lined with delicate, microscopic hair cells that pick up the vibrations caused by sound waves. When they are overworked by too much exposure to loud sounds, the hair cells become metabolically exhausted and can temporarily lose their function. Fortunately, they are able to recover from the auditory fatigue caused by too much noise, but if overexposure is too long or too frequent, they can’t cope, and they die. There is no pain or bleeding when this occurs.

  There are about 15,000 of these hair cells in the chochlea, and when one dies, it is irreplaceable, and that part of your hearing sensitivity is gone forever.

You can think of the hair cells like individual blades of grass in a section of lawn. You can walk across the lawn, stepping on the blades of grass, and they will recover, but if many people continually walk across the same area, the grass will become sparse and may eventually disappear as a path is worn. That is analogous to what happens to hair cells when the “traffic” from noise is too heavy or too frequent.

  Hair cells don’t “toughen up” with exposure to high noise levels and become less vulnerable to damage. The inner ear is not a muscle, which strengthens with use, but a delicate instrument, relying on the proper functioning of its individual parts in order to work. If you want to keep your hearing in the best condition, be kind to your ears, and protect them from hearing damage caused by noise abuse.

The degree of hearing loss a person has can be characterized by how loud a sound has to be in order for the person to be able to hear it. For a person with normal, healthy hearing, the faintest sound that can be heard is 0 decibels, but for someone with a hearing loss, a sound must be louder than 0 dB before it can be heard. A hearing test can measure the softest sound that the person can detect. The higher a person’s hearing threshold, the higher the degree of hearing loss that person has.

When measuring a person’s hearing level, a range of frequencies (pitches) are used, and the hearing threshold at each frequency will be determined for each ear. The resulting audiogram gives a detailed view of the nature of the hearing loss, which is essential in order to know what treatments may help. To arrive at a single number that is used as the overall threshold hearing level, only the better ear is used, and the threshold levels for that ear are averaged across the frequencies tested.

Knowing the person’s overall threshold hearing level from the hearing test results, we can classify the degree of hearing loss, from slight to profound. There is no standard classification system that is universally used, but one system commonly used is the one recognized by the Hearing Loss Association of America.

 The extent of damage noise pollution could cause may not be unconnected with the state’s move to streamline and regulate the situation, which was already becoming invoke among the two dominant religions – Christianity and Islam. Besides the duo, social clubs were also fond of releasing so much noise through their loud speakers mounted in strategic locations within the communities to woo more customers.

  Arguably, some have said the move is an Islamic agenda to silence the Christian faithful and favour the Muslims. Those who share this view had once sighted a communiqué issued after the Islam in Africa Conference held in Abuja between 24 and 28 November 1989.  The conference, which is otherwise known as The Abuja Declaration, organised by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (at tat time called the Organisation of Islamic Conference, was among other things called all Muslims to unite throughout Africa, support economic relations with Islamic areas worldwide.  The conference also noted that Muslims in Africa had been deprived of rights to be governed under sharia law and they should strengthen their struggle to reinstate it.

  In 1990 another declaration was promulgated purporting to be from the 1989 conference and which Frans Wijsen (professor of World Christianity and Interreligious Relations at Radboud University Nijmegen) regards as a forgery because it does not correspond with declarations made at the conference. Regarding Africa, it said, amongst other things, that only Muslims should be appointed to strategic posts, non-Muslim religions should be eradicated, Nigeria should become a Federal Islamic Sultanate, and western law should be replaced with sharia. Wijsen regards this as indicating a more militant aspect of Islam in Africa and comments that some aspects directly conflict with official Islamic teaching.

  Holding on to this, some Christian faithful have continuously tackled the Lagos State Government, describing the noise pollution law in the state to be anti-Christianity.

  But the state has consistently denied that allegation, saying the administration of present government did not enact the law to favour one religion against another but to maintain law and order within the mega city settlements, where things are expected to be done without favoritism.   

  In many low-density areas like Ikorodu, Epe, Lekki, Mushin, Bariga, Shomolu, Suru-Lere, Ajegunle, amongst others, hotel and beer parlour operators usually engage the services of the disc jockeys that, in many cases, play till dawn. 

  Some, who spoke to The Guardian on the condition of anonymous, believe that neither the Ministry nor LASEPA bears its torch light on these sets of people.

But if the anger against inactivity on hotels and beer parlous receive little or no condemnation, the same cannot be said about religious organizations. “For instance, since 2009 when the provision against noise pollution was made available, our investigation shows that the number of churches that were closed down outnumbered that of mosques”, observed a member of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos Branch, who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity. 

 For example, in 2009, the Lagos State Government has shut down a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and two parishes of Mountain of Fire Miracles Church, MFM.

  In February 2012, LASEPA shut down seven churches for violating the law on environmental pollution. The churches, which fell by LASEPA’s axe, include the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Ministry; Bible Church, FESTAC; the Branch of Christ Church, Oregun; Assemblies of God Church, Ikeja; Golden Gate Church, Ifako-Ijaiye and Seek and Save Ministry, Abule Egba. 

In May 2012, churches affected included the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Mission Church, Anthony Village; Christ Chosen Church, Onipanu and Evangelical Apostolic Church, while two mosques, Darusalam Mosque at Sabo, Yaba and Ayegbesin Mosque at Mafoluku, Oshodi were included.

 In January 2014 The Transfiguration and Solution Bible Church, which was accused of noise pollution, sealed off few days after some residents on Sebanjo Street, in the Mushin area of Lagos, complained of sleepless nights due to the church’s frequent night prayers.  

Only about three weeks ago, another church, Sunrise Cathedral church located at 25, Oluwaseyi Street in Ikotun, also was shut down on the allegation that the church frequently conducts its services in “a noisy manner”.

  But prior to the closure, the Church had complained of the threats coming from a neighboring mosque.  In its petition to the General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency, weeks before the closure, Sunrise Evangelical Mission [SUNEM] INC. complained of how the mosque was perpetrating noise and thereby infringing on its right.

 According to the petition signed by the General Overseer of the Church, Pastor Adebayo Olatunji, the church says that “A building that is yet to be occupied is erected in the plot of land beside the sunrise cathedral and about two months ago, a mosque operated by some group of ruffians surfaced by the wall with horn speaker shouting ‘alawakuba’ into the church auditorium at any time of the day, from 5am to about 9pm sometimes it is the voices of nursery school pupils from the mushroom Islamic school the children of their sponsor are running in their house about three  buildings away one hears shouting  ‘ alawakuba’ with reckless abandonment, obviously practicing what they have learnt in their Arabic school. 

  Olatunji added “After the Sunrise Cathedral, on another plot of land, is my own residence where I have my study. You can understand the torture the miscreants give me spiritually and intellectually, in the name of practicing religion. Muslim fanatics have said recently that they don’t want Christians in Adamawa state you and I know the gruesome macabre f Islamic fanatics in Borno state is writhing today. We could all recollect the harrowing experiences of Mugadishu, Bujumbura, Cairo etc. these people in question are not our match in any material thinking; but the way they are becoming daring more and more every day shows. According to the pastor Adebayo We know very well that they are known for violence; but I can assured you that the sunrise Evangelical Mission will give them double reprisal for every offensive they may launch. Our religion preaches peace that is why we are forbearing now. We shall not forbear for too long in this minacious matter. But you can salvage the situation now by coming to abate the nuisance. A stitch in time saves nine”, the General Overseer of the Church added.

  But the State’s Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello, has countered the allegation. He had said: “Upon the receipt of complaints on noise pollution from the church, our officers had gone to carry out monitoring exercise in the premises with a view to encouraging abatement of the nuisance. However, the Pastor of the Church and his wife not only prevented them from doing this, but manhandled and also succeeded in locking them up for up to three hours.

“ For the wisdom of the driver who called and informed the office these officers would have remained in the church custody. It took the intervention of the Task Force on Environmental Offences to secure their release.”

 Bello who emphasized that the state government would not tolerate environmental abuses, urged all to carry out their businesses and activities with respect for the rights of others.

“For the erring Sunrise Cathedral”, he said, “the church would be made to respect the laws as no individual or organization had the right to take the laws into their own hands”, said Bello, saying that everybody has the duty to protect the environment. 

  It would be recalled that Lagos government had in June 2009 come out with a law banning religious organisations from using external loudspeakers during worship. Music shops were also told to reduce the noise of music from their shops. 

 At that time, LASEPA General Manager, Mr. Adebola Shabi had met with religious bodies and music shops operating in the state and impressed it on them to obey the new order, which he said was creating nuisance to other residents of the state. 

 Apparently, when it was noticed that the order was not obeyed, forcing the state government to sign a memorandum of understanding, MoU with the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Lagos State branch in July 2010. 

  The agreement allows religious organisations to control the noise emanating from their worship centres to what was regarded as “nationally acceptable limit of 55 decibels, db” during the day and 45 db at night. Following this, churches and mosques in the state were directed to immediately remove all external speakers from their worship centres. 

The churches shutdown, were the ones allegedly refused to obey the order.

 However, Lagos resident are divided on the imperatives of government action. A resident in Ikorodu, David Adigun accused government of bias. His words: “Did the Lagos State government shut churches down because of noise or because those in the authorities are Muslims? There are many mosques that produce more noise than churches, especially in the early hours of the day, but much more during Ramadan when mosques usually play Quran citations. 

 Another resident, Tukunbo Adetutu said the Muslims’ call to prayer is early in the morning and gives enough disturbances. “Streets (and) roads are covered with mats during their jumat services even right inside Oshodi Market; so why must government’s hammer descend on only churches?” She queried. 

Besides, there are record stores that play music, blaring noise day and night, without the attention of government officials.

However, some Christians supported noise control. Pastor Abraham Alao, a member of Deeper Life Bible Church, while supported government’s action on noise pollution, said hardly one could witness any of the branches where loud speaker is mounted outside the church. “Even, during our night vigils, we don’t use loud speaker”, said Alao

 Another Christian leader, Rev. Moses Adekunle stated that there is no need to imply sentiment to the order. “I am a minister of God, but to say the truth, more Christians are culprits. It is as if we are competing to make noise.” 

At the peak of the controversy over the law, President of an Islamic group, Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, Dr Ishaq Akintola, also condemned the use of external loud speakers during religious worship. 

Akinola noted that the use of public address system had been grossly abused in churches and mosques particularly in the past 10 years. According to him, Lagos used to be a sane society where people slept peacefully and researched without let or hindrance but regretted that religious overzealousness has gripped Lagosians. 

 While noting that no civilized country in the world allows such confusion in its society, Dr Akinlolu said the MURIC was in total support of the Lagos State action on the ban of the use of loud speakers and musical instruments during religious service 

The laws proposed for amendment include the Lagos State Physical Development Regulation 2005, the Land Use Pattern and the Noise Pollution Control Policy.    

The Noise Pollution Control Policy wants those concerned, especially churches and mosques, to desist from the use of externally placed speakers as well as refrain from the use of horn speakers within their premises.

  It also prescribes that they observe night vigils once a month without musical instruments so as not to disturb other churches/ mosques within the same area. It says that the noise level should not exceed 55db during the day and 45 db at night, just as early morning service should not commence before 7.am and midweek services should not exceed 9pm and should be conducted without musical instruments.

  To address the perceived anomalies in the law a group of Christian leaders meet with the Lagos State House of Assembly, seeking that the laws should be amended. The land Use Pattern, the Lagos State Physical Development Regulation 2005 and the Noise Pollution Control Policy violate the constitutional rights of Nigerians who are resident in Lagos State as against Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 constitution, among others.

 A four-page amendment proposal counter-signed by Rev. J. Olusoji (Chairman), Prophet Lawrence Olawoyin (Gen. Sec) and Pastor Otoibhi explained: “These laws must be amended because they violate the constitutional rights of many Nigerians who are residents in Lagos State. The noise pollution control policy, in its present form, is breeding disharmony in the polity; these laws are inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999”.



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