Johnnie Hughes writes: Accra regains its noisy self today!

The month-long ban on drumming and noise making imposed by the Ga Traditional Council, on the Ga Mashie area of the Greater Accra Region elapses today. The sacred “odadaw” drum will be played by the Gbese Mantse to lift the ban.  This signals that the Homowo festival of the Ga people has arrived and the Nungua and Lante Dzan We clans will lead the pack to enjoy and sprinkle “Kpokpoi”, the festive meal. The festival will also be marked by beautiful, colorful, endearing ceremonies and of course breath-taking rituals. To this end, Accra will return to its noisiest and I can say that those who cannot stand it will have to keep up or shut up, in spite of their right to speak! This is not the first time the city has experienced this “low or no noise” versus “high and uncontrollable noise” situation, and it definitely will not be the last because someone is either sleeping on the job or is struggling to stay awake. In the meantime, the legality and essence of the ban on noisemaking has come up a few times each year within the period when the ban is imposed and when it is lifted. Some believe that the ban is necessary and for others, it has lost its value with no legal locus and thus must be abolished all-together. While the debate continues, noise lingers. Annually, despite the early announcement before its imposition, the ban is often characterised by pockets of violence and altercations between the Traditional Council and those it considers as offenders or defaulters. On the average, churches have been the main victims, suffering seizing or destruction of musical instruments and equipment, forcing them to either tone down heavily or avoid using public address system at all. Churches which disobey, had a few of their things seized. Of course, some unscrupulous persons also took advantage to extort money from churches. Some churches and individuals have had to pay fines slapped on them by traditional authorities to reclaim their seized items. On the reverse, mosques strangely have maintained their levels of sound, perhaps in blatant disregard for the ban or in accordance with their religion. I took time to visit Muslim dominated suburbs such as Nima and Maamobi and found out that mosques still had their loud cone speakers actively summoning worshippers.  At these same places, parties, funerals and such functions requiring loud music (for whatever reason) continued unabated. If you ask me why they chose not to play by the rules set by the Ga Traditional Council, I will tell you, “I have no idea, and that we can go and ask the Ga chiefs in those areas.”

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While the ban was in force, I also took time to re-examine the laws that govern noise pollution in Ghana; just to be sure if something had changed or not. Interestingly I noticed nothing had changed. All was intact. Infact, the Environmental Protection Agency Act 490 of 1994, mandates the EPA to prescribe standards and guidelines relating to the pollution of water, air, land, and noise in the country. The acceptable decibels of sound for both residential and industrial areas are clearly defined. The roles of duty bearers are also specifically spelt out. Armed with this information, a few questions come to mind: why aren’t we implementing all the beautiful laws in our books? What is holding us back from doing so? Does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have the full complement of the men and women to deliver on their mandate? Do they have the requisite equipment to deliver excellently? If not, what support do they need to be effective in policing sound pollution? If the folks at EPA indeed have all it takes to respond to the country’s noise pollution needs and yet haven’t acted to solve the problem, then can they be asked to go home and find other jobs? I can only imagine the nuisance of noise on the streets of Accra and within the many suburbs that the city experiences at different times. I can’t imagine the large number of itinerant music CD vendors, ice cream sellers, rubbish collectors, preachers and fake pastors on the pavements, medians in heavy traffic, in buses along with their loud sounds and virtually engaging in shouting parades. I can’t imagine the noise from beer bars, pubs and the numerous live band stands. I can’t imagine the unpardonable din that comes along with illegal blocking of roads just to have parties, wedding receptions, out-dooring ceremonies, Crusades and so on. I can say, that the system is broken, but certainly not beyond repair. Is there commitment to fight this giant monster that grew from a little creature a few years ago? I wholeheartedly doubt so. But, If the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) can effectively collaborate with the EPA to fix this, we will be fine. If they keep their eyes open and their minds open to ideas, churches and beer bars won’t spring up over night to compete with each other over who gets heard most as against those who have to endure sleepless nights in most residential areas. I need not tell you that health professionals confirm that the high volumes of noise can cause restlessness, stress and eventually impact negatively on productivity which hurts the nation ultimately.
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The sad truth is that most of these noise making ventures have permits from the AMA and they dutifully pay business operating permits, property rates and such other fees to enable them continue disturbing the whole city. I am not saying that churches, pubs, bars, and what have you cannot operate to make an honest living. I am not against celebrations and happy moments. I am all for anything that is not sakawa, 419, stealing, prostitution and armed robbery. I believe in making an honest living. But can we please desist from breaking the law while we eke out decent living? The fact is, while you are happy and making merry, another may be sad or in a pensive mood. So, can we live and let others live too? It may be true that the legal argument against the ban holds some water. However, to the extent that the Ga traditional authority is able to enforce and subdue the noise levels in Accra to its barest minimum ‘illegaly’, at least for a whole month, is a wakeup call to the EPA that it can do far better with all the legal power it wields. No need to reinvent the wheel, it’s time to act to restore sanity in Accra as far as noise pollution is concerned and the time is now. And may we not return to this subject matter next year without a progress report. It will be a tragedy and irony at the same time. Happy Homowo to all our Ga brothers and sisters. Celebrate in moderation.  Tswa, ni omanye abla wor. Hiao! Author: Johnnie Hughes
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The writer is the Host of Community Rights Advocay Programme “Community Connect” on 3fm 92.7 and Host of NewDay on TV3.  ]]>