‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,’ so commands the Bible. That is apparently why, in virtually every street in Lagos, there are churches and mosques, competing to activate this line of the holy book. They hang their loud speakers outside their churches or mosques during prayers and sermon and sometimes, they play heart-stopping, up-tempo music.
In addition, they organise vigils and outreaches in densely populated neighbourhoods without caring about the residents’ right to good rest or sleep. Even record sellers and local musical outfits are not left out. The later duo often leaves their loud speakers, blaring for long at very high decibel and listens to no entreaties to stop.
But in Lagos State at the moment, noise making is an open invitation to trouble – and this is no joke. The Lagos State Government, through its agency - Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), has risen against the menace. It maintains that the phenomenon kills people gradually without showing them the knife.
The General Manager, LASEPA Mr. Rasheed Shabi, maintains that noise pollution in the state will no longer be tolerated. The problem he notes, poses great danger to the environment. He, however, says his organisation isn’t going frontal yet against offenders, at least for now. Rather, it is working to sensitise Lagos residents on the tolerable noise level order.
But the Lagos District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church, Rev. J.N.G. Okafor, isn’t amused by the new development. He recently told a national daily that he wasn’t too impressed with the Lagos State Government’s decision to come hard on churches in the state.
His words: “Is it only the church that is responsible for the noise pollution in the state? Let the truth be told, we are yet to hear about any of the mosques being indicted or shut down for environmental noise pollution. It is as if our political leaders these days are antagonistic to the existence of the church and this is very, very, painful.”
Speaking on the phenomenon, Dr Emmanuel Ege, who teaches in the Department of Geography, University of Lagos says LASEPA’s sensitisation programme is paramount in addressing the problem. “People need education on noise control. They have to be sensitised to know that noise has great effect on health.”
Giving insights into the nature of noise, he says: “The environment is polluted when there are different types and levels of noise within it. Such noise can come from vehicles, aircrafts, power generating sets, loud speakers of churches, mosques, as well as music from record sellers. Noise from these sources has different degrees of impact on the environment.
“Such impact can be evaluated based on the degree of disturbance it causes the eardrums of individuals within the environment. If the noise is too loud for the ear to bear, it can be potentially dangerous. This can affect the amount and quality of sleep and rest which people can get. The health implication of this problem may depend on each individual’s medical records.
“Noise is measurable in decibels. In more advanced countries, 45 decibel is the highest level acceptable. Anything beyond 45 decibel is loud and therefore unacceptable. Unfortunately, in this country, noise level reaches as high as 90 decibel and beyond even in residential quarters. This value is not only unbearable, it kills.
“In places like airports and railway stations, it is difficult to control noise. That is why some buildings in those places are constructed with acoustic materials to shield noise and ensure its control. But here in the country, unfortunately, everything goes. We have very little or no control of noise. Whatever noise anyone can inject into the environment is gladly welcomed and absorbed. Churches and mosques are seen and heard all over the place polluting the environment with noise coming from their loud speakers.”
Meanwhile the LASEPA boss has admitted that his organisation is losing sleep over the attitude of some religious and business houses in the state which are in the habit of polluting the environment with their noise.
“In this state, you often see churches putting out their loud speakers outside the building even when they are preaching to people right inside the church building. Why do they do that? Even the mosques are also guilty of that. Now what we are telling Islamic clerics is ‘look you have three minutes to call for prayers in the morning. We will no longer allow you to use your loud speakers to preach at about 5.30 in the morning; when you do so, you will be disturbing the community. If there is an elderly person living closer to a mosque for instance, you will simply be killing him gradually.’”
But considering the grave dangers noise pollution poses to the environment, and how recalcitrant some offenders are sometimes, Dr Ege has suggested that LASEPA needs to wield the big stick at least to demonstrate it seriousness and preparedness to tackle the age long challenge.
“Yes sometimes if you don’t use someone as a scapegoat, people will think nobody is serious about the problem. Therefore, LASEPA should start with the record sellers and make them realise that some of their activities constitute noise. They should be made to understand that they disturb the public when they blare their music at street corners. There is another category of people to deal with - the okada riders and some motorists who appear difficult to control. These categories of people are everywhere in the city, including the residential areas. Sometimes while you are in bed resting, you hear them hooting carelessly. But if LASEPA begins to arrest and prosecute people, I believe that the message in the campaign against noise pollution will sink.”
Mr. Shabi explains that his agency has not started sealing noisy premises. “Rather, we are doing a lot of advocacy. We are carrying out awareness programmes aimed at educating religious houses and record sellers in the state on the need to avoid disturbing the public. We want to sensitise them on the dangers in noise pollution. We have standards for noise that can be allowed within areas and at specific times.
“We have standards during the day and night. Of course, before you can have standards, you must have a law to take care of non-compliance. The law says, during the day, the highest acceptable noise level is 65 decibel; in the evening, it is 45 decibel in residential areas. In industrial areas, it is between 80 and 90 decibel. The moment anyone exceeds those limits they are polluting the environment. We have a noise meter which measures the level of noise in the environment. The moment anyone exceeds any of those set limits, they are already polluting the environment.”
He notes that noise “can impair one’s hearing process. It can aggravate the blood pressure; it makes one to be restless. That is why we are trying to let churches, mosques and other sources of noise realise the harm they are doing to all of us.
“That is why the moment we receive complaints about someone disturbing the environment, we promptly investigate. We are trying to let record sellers and musicians too know that they will no longer be playing publicly without a permit since their music most times constitutes noise. If we receive complaints of public disturbance we promptly invite the alleged offenders – churches and mosques and caution them.
We are not sealing their premises yet. But if they refuse to heed our warning, we will make them incur the wrath of the law because we can’t let them carry on as usual. Governance is largely about security and safety of the people. The moment any offender refuses to comply with the directives of LASEPA, we take it that they are killing Lagosians. We won’t let that happen anymore.”