By Samuel Onyekwere
Thursday 24, February, 2020, could have passed like every other day for worshippers at Assemblies of God Church, at 32, Babatunde Street, Olodi Apapa, in Lagos, but for their unpalatable encounter with officials of Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), who put the Church under lock and key.
The encounter was the consequence of a complaint filed against the Church by one Alhaji Jimoh Tijani Ajibade, the Alfa of Allahu-Nur Mosque, a neighboring mosque, in the same vicinity. The Alfa had complained about the noise allegedly from the Church during their worship sessions.
Following the Alfa’s petition, LASEPA wrote a letter dated 18th February, 2020, reference number EP/LAS/1650/ENF, ordering the closure of the Church. The letter reads:
“In pursuance of the enforcement power conferred on LASEPA, Lagos State Environmental Management and Protection Law, Part V1 of 2017, and the National Environment Standard Regulations Enforcement Agency and Noise Pollution Standard Regulation 2009, the agency is hereby ordering the closure of Assemblies of God Church at 32, Babatunde Street, Olodi Apapa, as a result of noise pollution and non-compliance with the agency’s directive.
That Assemblies of God Church, 32 Babatunde Street, Olodi Apapa, ceases forthwith to operate at the site, and the site remains closed until its compliance status is satisfactory.”
According to the pastor in charge of the parish, Rev Emeka Udeyi, the action of the agency came to him as a surprise, as the church has no speaker outside that could generate noise pollution in the area, unlike the complainant’s mosque which has two horn speakers hanging outside the mosque.
He said despite meeting up with the conditions of the agency from the previous meeting they had, they still went ahead to seal up the church premises.
Apart from the closure, the church was fined a sum of N50, 000 as penalty.
The church, the same week, went to Alausa to make payment, but could not, as the agency was not able to generate the account for the payment.
He said: “The agency told us that we do not have fence which we agreed to, but we complied and have now raised the fence to the roof level. However, on Tuesday, while attending a Pastors’ meeting, I got a call from someone in the church informing me of LASEPA’s action.
After the closure, we made frequent visits to their office to resolve the matter but they demanded to know if we have fully complied with their conditions which we affirmed. I am surprised at this development, because there are other churches and mosques around; even the petitioner’s mosque still has two horn speakers outside.
“This is religious persecution and intolerance. The petitioner is a Muslim and I am a Christian. Both of us have the same freedom of worship. His mosque generates noise everyday but I have never complained. Yet he keeps tormenting my church. Incidentally, the agency did not investigate properly when they received the petition. They did not come to investigate if we were really causing noise.”
He continued: “We would want the world to hear us very clearly. It’s absolutely a fight against the church and I see it also as ethnic bias.”
One of the Church lawyers, Barrister Daniel Anih, said the action of the agency smacks of bias and intimidation, as the church had already fulfilled all the requirements by the agency despite not being the only church or mosque in the area.
He wondered why the same action was not meted out to the other churches and mosques, including the petitioner’s mosque, whose horn speaker is directly opposite the church.
When contacted, the petitioner, Alhaji Jimoh Tijani Ajibade, said he had on several occasions complained to the former pastors in charge of the parish but they pleaded for understanding.
According to him, he moved from his former abode within the same area to his current abode at No 30 Babatunde, Olodi Apapa because of noise from another church. When he moved to his new house, he discovered that the church close by – Assemblies of God Church – was causing noise also. He complained to the then pastor in charge, who promised to address the matter.
Alhaji Ajibade said: “When I came here in 2009, I met the church in the next compound and it was being pastored by an elderly man.
“I wrote him a personal letter complaining about the noise level. But he retired and a younger pastor took over. The pastor was very peaceful and never stayed more than one or two hours in his church services. But I usually call his attention each time the noise level gets higher and he will always do something about.
“When he left, another pastor came. The new pastor and his wife were friendly with my family. I also complained to him about the noise level. He served for five years before he left. But when this new man came, there was no sign of change. I sent a message to him and thereafter wrote a personal letter to him but he did not respond.
“Later, I went to visit him with two witnesses who attested to the noise pollution but nothing was done. I presented evidence of the noise to LASEPA and also sent a letter of complaint to them, which the pastor and the church lawyer were aware of.
“So, my quarrel with them is that their noise level is very high and I insist that it should be scaled down and they should have hours of worship, not all days. The church worships in the morning, afternoon and night. Sometimes I have to call him seven in the morning to scale down their noise for my grandchildren to catch up sleep, but he never complied. They should make their worship center sound proof,” he advised.
Following the closure, the church has been forced to conduct its services in the open with rented canopies and chairs.