By Olasunkanmi Akoni
THEYÂ have been perceived as agents ofÂ noise pollution. And determined to curb their excesses in this regard, the Lagos State government decided to clamp down on them, especially those found to have erred in terms of failure to comply with relevant laws enacted to check noise pollution in the metropolis.
In fact, at the last count, no fewer than 10 churches have been sealed up by the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA). And their offence was cited as going against the noise pollution control policy of the state.
It all began about two years ago when the State Ministry of Environment took the first step of issuing out threat notices to churches, mosques and other religious institutions in the state to desist from constituting what it called â€œnuisance to members of the publicâ€ through their public address systems (PAS) which often blare out sounds at deafening decibels.
But the churches are fighting back or making a strong case of why they should be allowed to operate as they deem fit.
This they are doing under the auspices ofÂ the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Oshodi Local Government Area of Lagos State which recently sought audience with the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji on the need to urgently amend three critical areas of the purported laws in the interest of all.
They came prepared with a proposed amendment to the law. AlthoughÂ they could not see Speaker Adeyemi after waiting for several hours, they later met with the Assistant Clerk of the Assembly who received the proposal on-behalf of the assembly with an assurance that it would be forwarded to the appropriate committee for immediate consideration.
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 asÂ early morning service should not commence before 7.am and midweek services should not exceed 9pm and should be conducted without musical instruments.
LeaderÂ and spokesman of the group, Pastor Barnabas Otoibhi stated that the amendments became necessary to accommodate the erection of religious worship centres in residential areas as well as other places where people are found, so thatÂ all citizens can feel free to effectively discharge their duties in a mega city of their dream where God reigns.
According to the group, the laws should be amendedÂ for this important reason: 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 OtoibhiÂ explained: â€œThese 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 1999â€.
According to CAN, citizens are groaning under the said laws/policy, adding that the laws â€œare inconsistent with the principles of divine law in Exodus 25: 1-8; this commandment must be adhered toâ€, saying that the laws â€œdo not meet divine purpose in everything we do; we must consider pleasing God first because taking religious worship centres out of residential areas will insulate them from the public which they are supposed to train to become God-compliant and to support governmental initiativesâ€. They did not stop there.
â€œThe state Physical Development Regulation 2005 and the Land Use Pattern which forbid the erection of worship centres in residential areas discriminate against the Christian faith which allows the Christians to worship in residential houses/areas,â€ CAN alleged.
The clerics recalled the meeting they held with the state Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) on March 26, 2009 during which the Agency informed them that churches within residential areas contravened stateâ€™s physical planning law, subsequently warning them to relocate churches to a more conducive environment as defined by the Land Use Pattern of the state.
The good news for CAN members is that after a meeting with the House Committee on Environment they were assured that government would amend the contentious law and that churches would not suffer any embarrassment asÂ long as they do not constitute a nuisance to the public.
â€œIronically, section 14 of the state physical development regulation 2005 (permissible development) made no provision for the erection of religious worship centre. The option that was available for religious organisations to utilize is known as â€˜special application for change of useâ€™ which is possible under the institutional zone of â€œpermissible uses.
â€œUnfortunately, as at today, the â€˜change of use â€˜option is no longer permissible, so where does LASEPA relocation advice leave religious worship centres?â€ they asked.
They declared that if the laws are amended, â€œIt would enhance the atmosphere of peace required to make progress in the mega city project. When laws are humane, they provoke love and promote patriotism.â€
Confirming the receipt of the proposed amendment, house chairman on Environment, Hon, John Ogunkoya said; â€œwe have receive their demands, we will make some verifications in the course of our findings, we will visit those places they said they have their branches, check if they are within residential areas and further identify them, see whether they are genuinely within that premises or not.â€