By Job Osazuwa
Everywhere one turns in Lagos and other major cities across Nigeria, one is greeted with noises in their highest decibel. They emanate from religious centres, club houses, bars, vehicular movements, generators, mobile preachers and other unsolicited sources.
The noise is most times simply irritating, deafening and represents everything that contradicts the expected lifestyle in every urban centre. No doubt, unwanted and objectionable sound or excessive noise is capable of harming the balance of human life.
In Lagos, it is no exaggeration that noise pollution has become commonplace. In many places in the city, it is almost certain to begin the day with preaching on the street with a megaphone. The noise, when combined with other human and vehicular activities, could be chaotic.
Governments at different levels have issued warnings and threats to those who are behind such environmental pollution, but the activities continue with total disregard to the health of other residents.
As typical of many Lagos residents, tired from a hectic day work, managed to manoeuvre through the heavy traffic, most of the people still cannot rest or sleep because of the persistent noise from neighbours. Without considering others, the blast is from all corners in different formations and intensity is killing, to say the least.
Every day, typical cities of Nigeria begin with music, preaching on the street with megaphone, daily church programmes, echoes from the mosque, advertisers on the streets, electricity generating sets, motor vehicle engines and horns, and so on. Many of them strive to snatch the attention of innocent residents who probably are still far asleep and may not want to be disturbed.
This trend has left many perturbed that noise-induced hearing impairment is hardly a matter of public health concern in many developing countries, such as Nigeria. In residential populations, combined sources of noise pollution, as repeatedly warned, will lead to a combination of adverse effects such as impaired hearing; sleep disturbances; cardiovascular disturbances; and annoyance, among others. These effects are the result of stress from noise; stress that health experts have been increasingly linked to illness.
Vulnerable group are patients with various diseases, patients in hospitals or those who are rehabilitating from injury or disease, the blind, the hearing impaired, foetuses, infants and young children, and the elderly. Although anyone might be adversely affected by noise pollution, groups that are particularly vulnerable include neonates, infants, children, those with mental or physical illnesses, and the elderly. This vulnerability to noise may be an age-related sensitivity but may be also be based on behaviour or to an inability of the very young to remove themselves from a noxious source.
Virtually everyone is affected. Both in households and offices, people yell at each other as if in a debate or quarrel. Complicating this ugly development is the rising number of open-air pubs, bars and night spots in residential neighbourhoods, who turn on their loudspeakers to infinity.
Daily Sun gathered that some of these joints have the backing of security personnel who keep watch of their businesses at the expense of neighbours.
They usually turn o the volume of their speakers to the highest level, in the name of attracting customers. It thereby disrupts the comfort of people around, constituting more harm to the children and the elderly, who experts classify as the vulnerable.
Worried by the increasing number of Nigerians suffering from both complete and partial hearing loss, experts have begun to raise eyebrow over chaotic level of noise emanating from residential neighbourhoods, including recreational noise.
According to experts, uncontrolled environment noise could trigger depression, mental disorder and other psychological concerns among balanced people. Though there are no definite statistics to authenticate it, surveys confirmed that hearing deformities are not as predominant in low density areas across Nigeria when compared to high density neighbourhoods. Over the years, there has been a steady increase of rural-urban migration, thereby condensing the population figure in the cities.
On operating club houses at residential areas, residents expressed grief that the blast from such centres was deafening. “It causes sleepless nights, frustrating and giving us health challenges.” That was the confession of a resident of Agbelekale in Alimosho Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos, Mr Adeboye Lanre who lives close to where a night club is newly opened. According to him, everyday of the week, music blaring from the bar lasts till midnight, causing the environs sleepless nights of pain.
Several studies have shown that noise pollution could be life-threatening. It is also described as a risk factor in sleep disturbance, cardiovascular dysfunctions, speech interference and mental distortion.
Other medical workers submitted that high levels noise from neighbourhoods could result in intolerable reactions and negative impact on job satisfaction and performance.
The process of hearing impairment as reported may be gradual but it can eventually result in the destruction of the hair cells in the ear.
“Apart from high noise causing acoustic trauma, it can cause a temporary or permanent shift in the hearing threshold. Such impairment may result in profound or total deafness,” experts have maintained.
On legislation on noise, there are few or poorly enforced noise-pollution control laws in many parts of Nigeria. In every part of the nation and neighbourhoods, people exposed to noise pollution are hardly aware of the health risks of persistent noise levels.
In fact, most environments contain a combination of sounds from more than one source, such as aircraft, motor vehicles, and trains. In urban environments, boom-cars, car horns, car alarms, and public transit systems may be the nuisance and indeed the offenders. Adverse health effects appear to be related to total noise exposure from all sources rather than the noise from any single source.
The effects of noise on the foetus and newborn though still under scientific debate, suggests that exposure to noise during pregnancy may increase the risk of high-frequency hearing loss in the newborn, shortened gestation, prematurity, and intrauterine growth retardation. Based on this, it has been recommended that pregnant women should avoid noisy work settings.
A general medical practitioner, who is based in Lagos, Adewale Michael Olu, said that the level of noise pollution in Nigeria was excessive. He described it is an unwanted and objectionable sound. He explained that noise induced loss occurs gradually, invisibly and often painlessly.
“It causes elevation in the blood pressure. Acute exposure to noise activates nervous and hormonal responses, leading to temporary increases in blood pressure. The strain could also adversely affect the nervous system. It reduces productivity, impaired teaching and learning, absenteeism, increased drug use, and accidents. It can impair the ability to enjoy one’s property and leisure time and increases the frequency of antisocial behaviour.
“Like other airborne contaminants, noise can be controlled at the source by damping, reducing or enclosing the vibration surface, especially at industrial environment. Noisy areas impede concentration and may cause accident.
“The gradual loss of hearing may deteriorate and result in permanent deafness over time. In US and UK, noise level is strictly adhered to and companies may be shut. Local and state governments should work together and enforce standard of a healthier nation to the benefit of all. It is better to prevent noise due to its health hazards.
“It affects future generations by degrading residential, social, and learning environments with corresponding economic losses. This however points out the need for improved methods of local control that should include public education, enlightened legislation, and active enforcement of noise ordinance,” Olu said.
Meanwhile, in time past, governments at various stages have taken steps to curtail the ugly development. For example, Lagos State Government in 2020 issued warnings to public peace offenders, threatening to clamp down on them if not restrain their offensive activities.
At different times, the government has warned the religious institutions involved to desist from the act or face the wrath of the law. It went as far as directing Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency to halt proliferation of churches and mosques in residential quarters as part of efforts to reduce noise pollution in the state.
But it appears that the warning fell on deaf ears as the number of worship centres keeps soaring by the day. The residents remain helpless as their emotional torture continues unabated in the hands of their tormentors.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, causes cardiovascular and psycho physiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.
Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) clearly states that the standard approved noise level in residential areas shall not exceed 55 decibel during the day and 45 decibel at night, while the standard approved noise level in industrial areas shall not exceed 90 decibel during the day.
As expected by the agency, the standard approved noise level for commercial areas shall not exceed 70 decibel during the day.
“All religious houses, club houses and other entertainment outlets are to operate within enclosed and soundproof environments with regulated use of speakers, giving due consideration to neighbouring residents.
“The above facilities shall equally reduce the number of internally placed speakers to the barest minimum to address only the congregation and clientele and not the neighborhood..
“All open air and outdoor activities shall be carried out with due authorization from relevant Government agencies while those involving the use of amplifiers and speakers shall hold after due authorization from LASEPA without contravening the stipulated approved noise limit for that environment.
“The use of power generating sets in commercial, residential and industrial areas shall be in compliance with the stipulated noise levels without any negative impact on human health and the environment.
8. The use of megaphones/amplifiers at motor parks, commercial centers and more shall be duly controlled/regulated to ensure that the permissible noise limit for the environment is not exceeded.
“Religious activities are to be carried out in a completely enclosed structure while uncompleted buildings and tents are not allowed. Pending enclosure of facilities that are yet to be enclosed/soundproof, no musical instruments shall be used at night so as not to disturb the neighborhood especially during week day evening services and night vigils for religious houses, and events on entertainment/clubbing activities etc.
“Everyone is to obtain noise permit for open air shows, crusades and promotional advertisements etc
“The use of power generating plants in residential, commercial and industrial outlets shall not affect others by way of noise pollution,” the agency stated.
But many keen observers would easily agree that the above regulations appear to be dead on arrival. Most of the religious centres, bars, and industries using heavy duty machines and generating plants have contravened the rules with impunity. It won’t also be a surprise to discover that many of the people and organisations flouting the laws against noise pollution do so out of sheer ignorance.
Recently, the Lagos State Government gave reason it has not yet secured any conviction from noise pollution by religious organisations in the state.
Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tunji Bello, said anything bordering on religion was always a sensitive issue and caution has to be taken, in order not to create a bigger problem as solution to a minor issue that can be amicably resolved between parties.
He said not that no religious organisation had been caught in the act of noise pollution in various communities across the state, but instead of prosecuting organisations for violating the law, the government would rather issue warning, dialogue with the culprits and, if there is no changes, sanction would be the last option.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olumide Adegbite told the reporter on the telephone that making laws without enforcement was a complete waste of time and resources.
He stated: “It is only in Nigeria that laws exist merely on paper. It sounds very ridiculous that people keep disobeying the laws while the law enforcement agents look the other way.
“In the real sense, it is enforcement aspect that make law what it is. Getting people prosecuted and making it to serve as deterrent to others is the beauty of law.
“It is not only applicable to noise pollution; it cuts across board. Street hawking has been banned in Lagos for about a decade but they are still everywhere. Mobile drug sellers are still everywhere in Nigeria.”