VICTOR AYENI writes about the plight of citizens who have found themselves at the mercy of debilitating noise pollution generated by religious centres, nightclubs and hotels, and how weak enforcement has enabled the menace despite touted clampdowns
It was a hot Tuesday evening. Olufemi Adeyinka, an office assistant living close to a Pentecostal church in the Ogba area of Lagos, clenched his teeth in frustration as he slammed his laptop shut in anger.
For a couple of hours, he had endured a deafening cacophony of noise blaring from the church speakers, which were stationed close to his room.
The continuous bass thudding from the speakers, loud prayers and combative-like songs coming from the congregation triggered a headache, which seemed to pound right inside the brain of the 28-year-old.
When the Badagry indigene rented a mini-flat at Mojisola Street, he believed that it would be a restful space comfort zone where he could retire after the everyday hustle and bustle typical with the city.
But after moving into the house in August, a different reality began to unfurl, one that grates on his physical and mental health.
On Tuesdays and Sundays, the high-pitched noise that emanates from the church’s mega speaker robs Adeyinka of sleep and productivity.
As a relatively new resident, he reasoned that other members of the community had resigned to their fate of being subjected to noise pollution, perhaps due to the fear of being labelled spiritual adversaries by the church.
“Two days in a week, this church runs its service for several hours. Don’t even get me started on their vigil programmes. The most annoying part of it is that their speaker is very loud and is positioned towards my apartment and they are always praying, shouting, and conducting deliverance services, which are accompanied by shrieking, screaming and wailings. These are beamed loudly on their microphone and speakers.
“This past Sunday was horrible. The pastor led the congregation to pray that any individual, government or council looking for the church’s downfall should die gradually. I think they too are aware of how they are running afoul of the Lagos State law. Their screams make it quite difficult for me to sleep, read, think, or even watch a movie on my laptop. I am not happy with this.
“Since I moved here, I feel more restless and my heart beats faster whenever this church starts their services. Initially, I thought I was the only one badly affected until my neighbour too complained about it, asking me how I am coping,” Adeyinka told Sunday PUNCH.
The office assistant also revealed that the noise, which also comes from the church generator, contributes to the pattern of what he described as a gross disregard for the well-being of others.
“I’m not castigating them because I am a Christian also, but I believe religious places should be considerate of the well-being of people staying around them. It is part of respect for God and our environment.
“Just imagine, people will come back from work stressed out and they are being subjected to another round of stress from noise generated by a church. I don’t think people should remain silent over this. Something has to be done,” Adeyinka blurted angrily.
About 75 miles away from Lagos, in Ibadan, Oyo State, a medical student, Francis Njoku, experiences a similar ordeal.
But unlike Adeyinka, he is exposed to a range of unwarranted noise in his environment.
During a phone interview with our correspondent, Njoku, who moved to the Idi-Ape area last year lamented that noise pollution has taken a toll on his physical and mental health.
“I would describe this area in two words: complete nuisance. It was after I moved here that I found out that there are about three or four mosques around my flat and each morning, my ears are bombarded with loud chants and songs.
“Starting from 4:30 am, I am forced awake because one particular mosque has its speaker situated very close to where my bed is. We are being subjected to loud noise every four to six hours and it is hard for me to enjoy a good sleep. Since I started living here, my blood pressure has increased,” he lamented.
Another source of irritation that Njoku copes with comes directly from his landlord, a man in his late 40s, who works as a commercial driver.
“My landlord returns home late around 11:30 pm to 12 am, blasting indigenous music on his car radio that appears to have burst. He would also be singing loudly, disturbing people’s sleep. His car is parked directly in front of my window and other tenants are probably afraid of confronting him.
“When I approached him and appealed to him to lower the volume of his music, he laughed it off, uttering incoherent words. He recently commemorated the anniversary of his mother’s burial and purchased a very big cow, which he tied about five metres from my window.
“I would be sleeping after the day’s work and the cow would suddenly moo in my direction. Sometimes, this cow would bellow in the night giving me nightmares. It’s frustrating,” he added.
Drawbacks of urbanisation
In major cities and towns across Nigeria, noise is regarded as a part of the day-to-day economic and social activities.
In Africa’s most populous country, it is a price many pay for expanding urbanisation.
From electricity-generating plants, vehicular traffic noise engines and pressure horns, construction/industrial noise, to excessive noises from religious places, market public address systems and clubs, this type of pollution is often given lesser attention compared to those of air and water.
A 2017 publication by Banaadornwi Yorkor, which evaluated noise levels in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, showed that residents were exposed to between 90 to 115 decibels of noise with a variation of duration.
A Lagos-based project manager, Abraham Akpan, in a chat with our correspondent, pointed out that many Nigerians tend to have adapted to traffic noise pollution.
“For instance, commuting in a city like Lagos can be exhausting due to rampant noise pollution. The way both commercial and private drivers have abused car honking is bad, even when your honking is signalling danger, people will see it as normal. Another thing to note is the proximity of houses and frequent generator use due to erratic electricity,” he noted.
For Jide Adeleke, a civil servant based in Ibadan, the central role that religion plays makes adherents unable to openly criticise its abuse of the environment, especially through noise.
He added, “I once lived in a place where I was subjected to noise pollution emanating from a microphone used in the mosque. My room directly faced the speaker and they had programmes in that mosque every day. I was not okay till I got a new place.
“If I had complained openly, I would have been labelled an enemy. If it were a church too, you could also be labelled a witch if you complained about the noise of their prayers. As long as people exalt religion above reason and fairness, such anomalies will continue.”
Exposure to noise causes hypertension
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that traffic noise is associated with an increased risk of hypertension.
The research, which was published in April, demonstrated strong evidence of the relationship between elevations in blood pressure and roaring engines, honking horns, and wailing sirens.
The lead author of the study and Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at Peking University, Beijing, China, Jing Huang, wrote, “We were a little surprised that the association between road traffic noise and hypertension was robust even after adjustment for air pollution.”
In another research conducted by Idoko et al., and published in September 2022, high environmental noise exposure was associated with headache, tinnitus, impairment of efficiencies, sleep disturbance, annoyance, irritation, damage to auditory mechanisms, and ischemic heart disorders.
‘Loud sound damaged my ear’
An event expert, Kemi Remi-Dairo, in a YouTube video posted by QEDNG, narrated how she was a victim of noise pollution in 2013 at an event.
She said, “On this fateful day, a guest was sitting in front of a sound speaker and I guess the sound wasn’t palatable for him. He beckoned on one of the ushers saying, ‘You have to tell the DJ to reduce this noise.’
“The DJ didn’t reply to him and he requested to speak with the event planner so I was called. I came to him and asked the DJ what went wrong.
“I was standing in front of the speaker and suddenly, I just heard a very loud sound that was not pleasing to the ear, and I said to the DJ, ‘Was this the sound this man was complaining about? If you don’t put off this speaker, we won’t allow you to play here, and he put it off.
“All through the event, I was still hearing the sound and days after the event, I was still hearing the music of the event until like five days after when it faded off. I never knew it was an emergency. I didn’t know at that particular minute that I was supposed to visit my Ear, Nose and Throat doctor the following day.
“When the sound faded off, I had lost my hearing from my right ear, so I was only hearing with my left ear. I was in denial about it thinking my ear was just blocked so I used cotton buds. It was like this for months till it got to a year.”
According to the World Health Organisation, noise above 65 decibels constitutes noise pollution “and becomes harmful when it exceeds 75 decibels. When the level reaches 120db, it becomes “painful” to the ear.
The WHO described noise pollution as one of the most dangerous environmental threats to health.
The global health body in 2011, released the report of a study titled, ‘Burden of disease from environmental noise’.
In the study, data were collated from various large-scale epidemiological studies of environmental noise in Western Europe and were collected over 10 years.
It analysed environmental noise from planes, trains and vehicles, as well as other city sources, and then looked at their links to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, cognitive impairment in children, and annoyance.
The WHO team used the information to calculate disability and adjusted life-years, which are basically the healthy years of life lost to ‘unwanted’ human-induced dissonance.
According to the researchers, they discovered that at least one million healthy years of life are lost each year in Europe alone to noise pollution.
‘There is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population’ and ranked traffic noise second among environmental threats to public health, with the first being air pollution,” they concluded.
The researcher emphasised the fact that while other forms of pollution are reducing, noise pollution continues to be on the rise.
Noise pollution may trigger abortion in pregnant women
An America-based National Institutes of Health in an archive of biomedical and life sciences journal publication titled, Reproductive Outcomes Associated with Noise Exposure — A Systematic Review of the Literature noted that high noise exposure during critical periods in gestation is a potential stressor that may result in increased risk of implantation failure (miscarriage), dysregulation of placentation or decrease of uterine blood flow.
Also, the Centres for Disease Control warn that noise levels can damage the foetus’ hearing and also cause changes in a pregnant woman’s body that can affect the foetus’s development.
According to the CDC, sound can travel through a woman’s body and reach the baby, adding that although this sound will be muffled in the womb, very loud noises may still be able to damage a baby’s hearing.
“When the noise level is very high, like a jackhammer or at a rock concert, it may increase your chances of having a baby with hearing problems,” the CDC warned.
Prolonged exposure damages the ear – ENT Specialist
An ENT specialist, Dr Bunmilola Oyeleye-Bello, in a phone interview with Sunday PUNCH, explained that exposure of the ears to excessive noise over a long period destroys tissues leading to hearing impairment.
“The ear is made up of the outer, middle and inner ear and the structures that are usually damaged by excessive noise are the ones in the inner ear. This part of the ear connects to the nerve that transmits sounds to the brain.
“Majorly, excessive noise damages the structures of the inner ear and subsequently damages hearing. What happens is that, over time, it makes the person unable to hear as well as they ought to and gives them hearing impairment.
“There is a need for the government to legislate changes in places where excessive noises are found. For example, factories where they have loud service equipment and machinery, and even recreational centres.
“We have found out that over time, exposure to noise in recreational areas, occupational and military areas firing guns. That’s where the government has to step in. There are charts showing the acceptable levels of noise and when they exceed these levels, there should be protective measures put in place and limit the exposure of the individuals involved in the place of work,” she noted.
Oyeleye-Bello also explained that there is a temporary threshold shift during which the inner ear structures become tired but not damaged due to noise and this should be monitored by noise experts.
“Generally, when noise reaches between 85 to 95 decibels, then it should be for a specific time and there should be hearing protection. The decibels are ways we measure the loudness or intensity of sounds, so when it’s getting to 85 or 90 decibels, the inner ears could be affected.
“There should be a noise specialist or hearing expert that should measure noises in the aforementioned areas and set limits on it and the duration of exposure,” she added.
On his part, a mental health expert at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Calabar, Dr Victor Essien, in a chat with our correspondent, said noise pollution can result in a wide range of mental health effects.
“It can increase stress levels, trigger anxiety or stress and make people who are living with regular exposure to noise pollution angry, and frustrated due to sleep disturbance or waking too early,” he added.
Lack of enforcements
According to the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, any person who violates the law against noise pollution, “Shall be liable to pay a fine of N5,000 for every day the offence subsists and, on conviction, face a penalty not exceeding N50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both.”
If the offence is committed by a corporate body, it states that “It shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding N500,000 and an additional fine of N10,000 for every day the offence subsists.”
However, findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that these laws are rarely enforced in several states, and many citizens who are being victimised by noise pollution seldom report the violations to the authorities.
On the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency’s website, certain guidelines on noise pollution were listed to help residents gauge the level of acceptable noise in their environments.
“The standard approved noise level in residential areas shall not exceed 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night. The standard approved noise level in industrial areas shall not exceed 90 decibels during the day.
“The standard approved noise level for commercial areas shall not exceed 70 decibels during the day. All religious houses, clubhouses, and other entertainment outlets are to operate within enclosed and soundproof environments with regulated use of speakers, giving due consideration to neighbouring residents,” LASEPA stated.
Miffed by the menace of noise pollution, the Oyo State government in February 2020, through the Ministry of the Environment, ordered all block industry owners, night clubs, patent medicine sellers, churches, mosques, musical vendors, and street dancers to, “Henceforth reduce their noise to a permissible level that complies with the existing law of the state.”
Toothless enforcement by LASEPA – Residents
In a bid to curtail noise pollution and ensure a noiseless environment, on February 9, 2022, the Lagos State government placed a ban on the use of sound amplifiers, microphones and other forms of sound systems at motor parks across the state.
During an enforcement operation on Saturday, October 7, LASEPA officials sealed up Silk Club located at 190, Awolowo Road.
This culminated in a series of crackdowns on recreational and religious centres that were alleged to be agents of noise pollution.
Based on research conducted by our correspondent, between October 7 and November 22, the state government sealed up no fewer than 57 churches, mosques, event centres and clubs over alleged noise pollution.
These enforcement exercises were carried out in the Ojodu, Ogba, Magodo, Ikosi, Gbagada, Amuwo-Odofin, Lekki, Victoria Island, and Ajah areas of the state.
However, residents have described such enforcements as toothless and have accused the agency of using the clampdown as a revenue drive.
Citizens resort to social media
To ensure sanity in their respective communities, young citizens have taken the bull by the horns by seeking out social media influencers and bloggers to amplify their complaints about noise pollution.
An X (formerly Twitter) user named Ibadan Baker, on Saturday, November 18, made a post accompanied by a video saying, “Guys, please help me retweet this aggressively, my tiredness is tired at this point and I’m not even joking. This was me at 1:32 am this night, no one is saying the church shouldn’t hold their service, making this much noise knowing. Please Oyo State government, help me.”
In the video, the lady who looked dishevelled could be heard complaining as the singing and drum beats from the church rang loudly in the background.
“This is 1:32 am,” she complained in the video. “And as you can hear, they are still making that noise. I don’t know what to do. This is 1:32 am and see how they are shouting. I had to go outside intentionally to make this video. I don’t see how a church is so close to someone’s house.”
In October, an X user, Prince Etinosa, complained about a church programme taking place on Oloruntoyin Street in Bariga, Shomolu area of Lagos.
He tweeted, “The street has been on lockdown every evening for two weeks now. Once the church programme starts, no vehicle uses that part of the road and the people live with the noise until it ends.”
Another X user, Afinju101, called out a bar in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos over noise pollution, noting that the objectionable disturbance has been going on for years and every attempt to speak to the church has been futile.
Sharing a video on October 23 he wrote, “This is 11:31 pm. We can’t even sleep due to noise pollution from the high and mighty bar/garden beside my house. This has been going on for years. Why do we have some individuals proving to be above the law, they don’t even care about others?”
Lawyer urges victims to sue
Commenting on state laws that seek to protect the environment against noise pollution, a lawyer, Mr Adekunle Manuwa, told Sunday PUNCH that there are legal frameworks in each state to deal with the malaise of noise pollution.
He said, “Most states, if not all, have laws that seek to protect the environment against all forms of pollution and degradation affecting the geographical territory of the states.
“For instance in Lagos and Ogun states, the LASEPA and the Ogun State Environmental Protection Agency respectively, in 2022, set out some guidelines on noise pollution. They include a standard approved noise level in residential areas, which shouldn’t exceed 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night.
“In cases where noise pollution has been committed, the person or community adversely affected has the right to write to the regulating agency OGEPA for necessary actions. Section 46 of the law makes provision for the right of a person affected by noise pollution to sue for injunctive relief 30 days after the plaintiff has been denied relief by the agency.
“There are also powers of search, seizure and arrest, including powers to inspect as well. Unfortunately, many victims of this pollution are unaware of their rights and privileges codified in these laws and that is why they continue to live at the mercy of agents of noise pollution.”
‘Markets need more sensitisation’
The General Manager of LASEPA, Dr Babatunde Ajayi, during an interview on Television Continental, explained that the agency has begun an advocacy geared towards enlightening those at motor parks and markets in the state on the dangers of noise pollution.
He stated, “We are engaging market leaders and motor parks leaders. These are specific communities and there are interest groups that cover a large number of people. We are making them understand that if everybody is using a public address system, it’s going to be a madhouse. Even the market would not be marketing anymore.
“So, we need to also engage them on the law and the law says the use of public address systems in public places is not allowed. Again, there is a lot of advocacy, sensitisation and explanation to do. We want the message to get to the markets and we make sure that they try to comply.”
LASEPA GM mute
Meanwhile, all efforts made by Sunday PUNCH to get the LASEPA to comment on why Lagos residents are still plagued by noise pollution despite widely publicised enforcement failed as the Head of Public Affairs of the agency failed to respond to inquiries, and a request to interview the GM.