WHILE enforcing Section 58 of the Oyo State Environmental Sanitation and Waste Control Regulation (No. 6 vol. 38 of 2013), the Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Water Resources recently sealed off three churches in Ibadan metropolis for flagrant contravention of the law on pollution. This law, which first came into existence in Oyo State in 1985, has been observed largely in the breach. The seeming utter disregard for the law is believed to have been fuelled mainly by ignorance and impunity. On account of ignorance which of course is not an excuse for infraction of any law, a lot of people tend to construe environmental pollution control within the narrow context of flood control, solid and liquid waste management and control of industrial effluent discharge into water distribution systems and the air. While these variants of pollution have deleterious effects on humanity, environmental pollution arising from a noise level beyond 90 decibels is by no means less harmful. Though insidious, noise is even reputed to be more devastating in its effects. There is also a category of culprits who deliberately generate harmful noise levels and because they have always got away with the breach of the law, they have developed a sense of impunity.
Going by the official statistics, religious organisations, especially churches and mosques, top the list of perpetrators of dangerous and intolerable levels of noise as they reportedly account for 70 per cent of noise pollution in the state. That probably informed the regulator’s major focus on them. Ironically, and sadly so, religious institutions that should be exemplary in guiding their members to be law-abiding are in the forefront of the violation of the law in the state. This is not acceptable. We support the sealing off of the three churches for pollution and the two-week ultimatum given to all religious bodies and shops selling music and videos to remove their external loud speakers or face the wrath of the law. There is no scriptural support for the kind of risky levels of noise that are generated by mosques and churches, oftentimes at odd hours. The scriptures actually advise solemnity and sobriety in the conduct of service.
And for those religious houses that assume, without empirical verification, that a positive correlation exists between their noise level and attraction of potential members to their fold, they are adopting a wrong-headed strategy. For instance, a potential convert whose peace is being disturbed by the blaring external speakers mounted by a religious group ostensibly for the purposes of evangelism in his or her neighbourhood is more likely to feel resentment rather than attraction towards such an unfeeling group. He or she hears the troubling noise and not the message. Thus, it is even counterproductive for churches and mosques to make noise at levels that are inimical to the peace of the people in their neighbourhood under the cloak of evangelism. The law approves of 45 and 60 decibels of noise levels for night and day respectively and we consider this reasonable enough. There is hardly any auditorium where these levels of sound will not ensure an effective communication if that is the purpose and ordinarily, the objective should be for the speaker or the preacher to be heard clearly by the audience or the congregation within the auditorium.
Strangely, some people are not only contravening the law but are also obstructing its enforcement, which is another strand of infraction of the law. The Commissioner of Environment and Water Resources was reportedly insulted and harassed by a pastor, the owner of one of the sealed churches, who also allegedly threatened him with impairment of his ‘destiny’ if he sealed the non-compliant church. This is a deplorable and dangerous trend that must not be allowed to thrive in a civilised environment. Freedom of worship does not encompass infraction of the law and/ or engaging in acts that constitute health hazards to others. The government should not yield to blackmail, rather, it should pursue the enforcement of environment-friendly noise levels with renewed vigour. The cost of noise in terms of loss of productivity and physical, psychological and emotional damage is too exacting to countenance the vituperations of some selfish individuals and organisations that are unwilling to act responsibly.