Worship centres in residences: Thin line between piety, inconvenience

Illustrative: Church building

Proliferation of worship centres, especially in the city centres, has led to indiscriminate siting of churches and mosques within residential areas constituting a nuisance to residents and sometimes leading to fracas between worshippers and residents. PAUL OKAH writes on the inconveniences residents suffer, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The pains

On this promising Sunday morning, Felix Okereke, a civil servant living in Kugbo, a suburban community under Karu in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was roused from sleep at 3:15am by the loudspeakers of a mosque calling out Muslim faithful for prayers.

 He had returned home very tired at 11pm the previous day and was understandably irritable and unwilling to be robbed of his resting time by the continued blabbing from the speakers, positioned just directly opposite his apartment.

Unable to return to sleep, Felix lay awake in his bed and decided to attend the 6am Mass at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, just a few streets away from his house.

Throughout the duration of the Mass, Felix like hundreds of other parishioners, concentrated on the different activities in the church, oblivious of the fact that occupants of nearby buildings were being inconvenienced by sounds from loudspeakers mounted in different positions in the church.

Mass over, Felix returned to his apartment, had breakfast and relaxed to catch up with his lost sleep before leaving for an appointment.

However, he almost went berserk when he was once again roused from sleep by sounds from the loudspeakers of Living Faith Church beside his house.

A growing menace

The experience Felix had is basically what obtains in many communities across the federation including the FCT, where mosques and churches are sited indiscriminately, to the discomfort and displeasure of many residents.

All over the country, churches and mosques are sited in residential areas to the discomfort of residents, who bear the inconveniences and noise pollution either as a result of being members of one of the churches/ mosques or simply because they are ignorant of what to do or feel helpless.

One can hardly pass through a street in many Nigerian communities without counting at least five churches and mosques.

Some churches and mosques have even taken over shopping malls, while some are situated inside beer parlours and recreation centres as well as hotels for no clear-cut reasons.

Even when affected residents complain about the noise pollution they hardly approach the churches or mosques to complain, let alone instituting legal action against the religious bodies. This is largely because many feel that complaining against these religious organisations may be perceived as working or opposing the gospel of God/Allah.

 Itinerant preaching too

Adding to the menace of indiscriminate siting of churches and mosques around residential areas is the growing activities of itinerant preachers, who sometimes choose odd hours to carry out their evangelical missions.

Many residents of the FCT have lamented how they have been inconvenienced by these preachers, who move from street to street preaching salvation to mankind in the wee hours, when they ought to be resting from their toils of the previous days.

This action is particularly carried out by members of Pentecostal churches for as early as 4am or 5am with megaphones, with which they appeal to sleeping residents to give their life to Christ by seeking the kingdom of God so every other thing shall be added unto them.

Battle with noise pollution

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a resident in Dutse Makaranta, Mr Joseph Adewale, said he had to be proactive when a Mountain of Fire Church nearly frustrated him out of his home in Lagos state, despite being the landlord.

He said he was surprised to find out that a building erected directly opposite his property was rented out to the church and members always disturbed his sleep by practising musical instruments as early as 3am and 6am.

He said he reported the inconveniences to the pastor of the church, but the latter failed to address the issue two weeks after his complaint.

Consequently, he reported the matter to Lagos state authorities and the DPO of a police station in the area, but that they all failed to react.

Adewale said out of frustration he purchased four giant loudspeakers to give the church a dose of their own medicine; in a bid to put an end to the ugly development.

“Though the church beside my house here in Abuja is not inconveniencing me much, I will never forget what I went through with a church in Lagos. The noise from the church nearly frustrated me out of my own house. It was situated directly opposite my house and the noise from the church was frustrating.

“One day, I was woken up at 3am by the noise being made by two of the church members practising how to play musical instruments. When I went to them to draw their attention to the inconvenience, they ignored me and totally rebuffed me. Even when I told the pastor after their morning service that I wanted to discuss the situation with him, he kept me waiting for hours before driving off without discussing with me.

“Consequently, I wrote a letter to the DPO in my area and the chairman of development control. However, I could not get any form of reply from them within two weeks, while the Mountain of Fire church continued to disturb me with their noise. I knew I had to act,” he said.

Continuing, he said: “Consequently, I went to Alaba Market and bought four giant speakers. I was earning $6,000 per month and had a lot of money to spend. I also bought music CDs that could not make sense to discerning minds, connected the speakers and started my own noise. Being high quality speakers and with steady light, I had a swell time inconveniencing the church too.

“The pastor of the church, who earlier on avoided me, had to come around for a compromise. I kept him waiting the same way he frustrated me when I called at his church, but eventually reached a truce. Until I left Lagos for Abuja, the church was careful with their musical instrument and conducted service with minimal noise.”

Speaking further he said: “Even here in Abuja, I can repeat the same noise making if the churches here inconvenience me. However, so far, except for the five minutes blabbing of the mosque speakers here in the morning, it has been relatively quiet here. The noise from the speakers in the mosque is tolerable because they start and stop almost immediately.”

Hearing risk

A resident of Kubwa in the FCT, Rita Mba, said the siting of churches and mosques in residential areas has many disadvantages, especially the possibility of having hearing problems or a robbery incident occurring without appropriate reaction.

She said: “Songs form 60 per cent of activities during Sunday service, not to consider those services during the week. In Nigeria, Christians hold services from Monday to Saturday, now tell me won’t this impair your hearing, with drums and all your acoustic equipment? Frankly, I think there should be restriction if the church wants to use public address systems.

“It can be dangerous if in case there is robbery or anything. The noise won’t make anyone aware of what happens. The call to prayer will last for the maximum of two minutes. Five times a day equals 10 minutes. On the other hand, first, second and last services of the church lasts for two hours each at least. Now, 60 per cent of six hours is three hours 40 minutes.”

 Adapting to noise

For Regina Tunde, who resides in Karu, though inconveniencing, the noise level of the speakers from the mosques or churches can be gotten used to.

She said, “Actually, you would be surprised on how quickly you would adjust to the noise. I used to have one near my area in Karu. It was not much of a church building, just a primary school with a huge field. A pastor rented it for church activities. Those guys made one’s life a living hell.

“You couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But gradually, I kind of acclimatised to it. Those noises at night can drive one insane. I honestly contemplated picking up a match and a gallon of fuel to set the church on fire.”

Respect for rights of others

Francis Patrick, resident of Nyanya, FCT, said people should try and practise their religions without inconveniencing others.

“The almighty NEPA seized their light and we were left to our fate last night as one of the numerous churches on my street had vigil on Monday night and I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. It was hot and I had to open my windows, which made it worse. They shouldn’t use loud speakers for vigil for God’s sake, especially for Monday vigils. I am a Christian and I love church, but I think we should be respectful of our neighbours and their space and peace.

“Serving and praising God does not mean we disrupt the lives of those around us. Yes, have service, we’ll praise God lively and sometimes it’ll get real loud, but don’t exaggerate with speakers that you can hear from the next country, or have round the clock events at 3am on a weeknight when people are trying to sleep and get rest for work the next day. Part of serving and loving God is treating your neighbour like you would want them to treat you, and respecting their needs,” he said.

Rights protection

For Francis Akpan, a Port Harcourt-based businessman, just like Joseph Adewale in Lagos, it took a drastic action on his part for a church that was inconveniencing him to react to his complaints of noise pollution.

He said: “Why is there nothing we can do about this? I know a lot of people in Nigeria who have the same problem. Does the church have more rights than the other residents who also pay rent or own homes? Surely, we must be able to do something about this situation in Nigeria. I used to stay very close to a church when I was living in Port Harcourt two years ago.

“I really did not have any problems with them during the week, as I always come back late in the night when they must have gone and on most Sundays, because I do go to church. However, I noticed that the church faced their speaker right to my bedroom door and it was hell for the whole week the programme lasted.

“I complained and shouted and threatened to no avail. On a particular Sunday, I brought out my sound system and faced all three speakers toward the church and started my Naija sounds for more than three hours on my generator. Only then did church members come to my house to plead that I turn it down a little bit so they can start their Sunday worship. That was my opportunity and I used it wisely.

“I extracted serious commitment from them never to face their horn speaker towards my flat again and to generally reduce the noise. We shook hands and they even prayed for me and invited me to the grand finale of their programme. The gist is that if we have not shown them how hurt we are, they may not notice. Once in a while, one has to be a mad man to get the message across.”

Government’s role

To Bello Musa, who resides in Lugbe of the FCT, indiscriminate siting of churches and mosques in residential areas shows failure of government in delivering its mandate.

“Noise pollution is a serious offence in developed countries, but it is up to the government to enforce regulatory laws. There should be strict limits on where churches can be located, certainly not in residential areas and same goes for mosques. Yes, the call to prayer lasts for only two minutes, but it is two minutes of disturbing the sweet sleep of many at 5am every day.

 “The noise pollution from worship centres is a sign that town planning has failed in our major cities. Churches and mosques are not supposed to be located in residential areas. If you happen to come across the plan of Abuja, for instance, there are areas that have been earmarked for commercial and industrial purposes. But due to the inefficiency of our town planning officers and corruption, anything goes these days.

“Well, it is disgraceful. We, Nigerians, just take religious practises to the extreme. It is now a battle of which religion is the loudest. Have you noticed the way churches and mosques are springing up all over?

“They are starting to compete with banks, constituting public nuisance and lack of respect for public serenity. No one is to blame, except the town planners. In Abuja particularly, people are desperately buying lands and building houses on a daily basis. There has to be a strictly residential area. But at the moment, you have got to endure where you are,” he said.

Legal options

A resident of Kugbo, Emeka Nduka, said there are solutions to noise pollutions from churches and mosques, both legal and illegal.

He said, “If you want to do something about it, you have a lot of options. Ask them to install sound proofs. If they refuse or call you a demon, you can try other things like arson. Just buy big speakers, face them towards the church and play music while they are holding services, or organise a protest. You can get signatures from the residents or hold protests while they are holding services. You can also call town planning authorities to intervene.”

 Serving God or …?

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, the Pastor in charge of St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Jahi 1, Evangelist Donatus Iliya, said the reason for the establishment of churches within residential areas “is for accessibility by people.”

He said churches do not deliberately set out to inconvenience residents in the community they operate in, but that the main purpose of churches is to win souls for Christ.

He said despite his church holding late night and early morning services, he has never been sued by residents for noise pollution, but instead neighbours, who are not members of the church, join them during vigils, even as he said that people should not complain of being inconvenienced by sound from church speakers, as their existence is for God.

He said: “September will make it four years that I became the pastor of this church. However, I have never been approached with complaints of how my church inconveniences people. Rather, neighbours who are not even members attend the vigil we hold on the 3rd Friday of every month, which usually last from 10:30pm till 3am or our Wednesday evening service that usually last from 6:30 to 8pm.

“Everybody has his or her religion, so nobody should complain of our church disturbing him. Our speakers do not even make much noise like those from the mosque nearby, though I am not criticising them. In a nutshell, our main purpose is to serve God, though we cannot deliberately inconvenience people in practising our different religions.”

‘Islam doesn’t encourage excesses’

Speaking to this reporter in an interview, an Islamic scholar, AbdualAzizu Abna Salihu, said Allah forbids disturbing people with noise and cited many Koranic verses to back up his claims.

He said, “There is no way my comment is not going to raise eye brows. Nonetheless, I have to make it, to straighten out the raised issues. Islam is not created to inconvenience mortals or place burden on them. Rather, it is to guide towards peaceful coexistence with all, irrespective of others’ inclinations.

“He commands us to call each other to observe the rite of worship, leaving us to the use of our discretion. In the days of nonexistence of microphones and speakers, how were callings made intermittently, and the rites observed when they congregated?

“The callings are not for any purpose than to remind all, whether at alert or forgetful, that the time is right for the rite to be performed, alone or in company of others. Climbing to a height and to be assisted by the wind as echo was one of the reasons for the minarets, while the other is to make out the place of crouching from a distance, especially by strangers.”

He further said, “It is the congregation that is performing the rite of worship as gathered, not those outside of the place of crouching that couldn’t make. They can do theirs alone too. There is no need for a high pitch to disturb the neighbourhood as we witness these days, under the pretext of wanting those at home to follow up or show the eloquence of the reciter and his fluency.”

“The use of modern instruments to aid the voice should have a limit to its usage, without hurting or causing displeasure to others, as commanded. Whether in a residential or commercial areas, peace is commanded of us at all times, with the neighbours; hence, conducts worthy of emulation are expected of us.

“In using the microphone to call others’ attention, it shouldn’t be deafening, since it is meant for those within radius of about 100metres. And once that is done, it should be turned so low for just those present, depending on the size of the building and those gathered. He has commanded us to a mild tempo, in our recitations, while the observance of the rites lasts.”

“Islam does not encourage excesses or inconveniences towards others. On grand congregational day, the leader’s exhortation is for those present, not one for the neighbourhood to show displeasure of being disturbed or inconvenienced by the blaring speakers. Irrespective of the health hazards and what have you, He has commanded against it and we should follow it to the letter, in text. Q17:110, Q62:9.

“The government, of late, took the right step to curtail this unhealthy behaviour by threatening to close down any place reported by the neighbourhood. It is left to the people and government to act. Peace unto those that follow the guidance, By His Will.”

‘Not illegal, but…’

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a human rights lawyer, Barrister Bright Uche, said siting of churches and mosques within residential areas is not illegal, but that religious organisations should consider other people’s rights and reduce the noise they make at night.

“Our country is a place where less attention is given to enforcement of our laws, except where it is intended to score some political goals. That underscores the reasons why there are many dead laws (laws that are lying without implementation) in our law archives. Situating churches or mosques in residential places in itself is not legally wrong. However, the town planning of the location is what determines the legality or illegality of situating them in residential places.

“It is trite that where one’s right ends, another person’s right begins. One of the oldest forms of right of action is nuisance especially one caused by noise or emission of excessive noise. The principle of nuisance, in a nutshell, envisages one’s enjoyment of his or public property or facility without any unlawful disruption occasioned by noise.

“Generally, in residential areas, the permissible noise level in such areas ought to be minimal, but that is seldom the case in Nigeria. For residential areas, the noise permissible at night is 45 decibel, whereas 65 decibel is allowed at night,” he said.

Uche also said, “The practice by religious worship centres – mosques or churches – in bringing loudspeakers or sound amplifiers outside the structures housing the mosque or churches in most cases contravenes the level of permissible noise in residential areas  see National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007.

“In order to restrict the level of noise in residential areas, particularly the FCT, the then Minister of State for Environment, Mr John Odey, issued a guideline to that effect as contained in the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control Regulations) 2009.

“Anyone who contravenes the regulations is liable to a fine not exceeding #50,000 or one year imprisonment upon conviction, and other penalties contained in the guideline.

“But our bane has always been implementation of our laws. Hence, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency (NESRA) saddled with the enforcement of those rules has not fared better in its implementation. On the whole, albeit the situation of churches or mosques in residential places is not legally wrong, they must comply with the level of noise permissible to avoid being a nuisance to their hosts.”

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