For Ayo Folarin, being a landlord at Kelani Olaniyi Street, Toga-Zanmu, Badagry, Lagos, has brought more hardship than comfort for him and his family.
Mr Folarin, 55, lives with his wife and five children at Toga-Zanmu village in Badagry, “in what he called an escape from tenancy and killing house rents of Lagos.”
Mr Folarin said building his house at Toga-Zanmu has been one of his greatest achievements. This excitement has, however, been marred by the citing of a telecom mast behind his house, causing him distress.
“When the generator powering the mast is on, my house vibrates non-stop. The smoke of the generator enters the house, this is causing health problems for my family.
“My wife is unable to sleep in the house, her mind is never at rest, two of my young children have developed high blood pressure,” Mr Folarin lamented.
Mr Folarin told PREMIUM TIMES that his children – aged eight and 12 – have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. He did not provide proof but said they were told at the hospital.
Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) Nigeria erected a telecom mast at Kelani Olaniyi Street, Toga-Zanmu, Badagry, in 2008.
Now managed by IHS Nigeria, a telecom infrastructure service provider company, the mast with Site Identity Number LG 3200 was erected a few metres away from Mr Folarin’s house.
“I moved to my house in 2006, because it is a new site, only few houses were around, I had only two neighbours then. There was another piece of land directly behind me and it was used as MTN site. At first, we didn’t know their plan for that place, we only saw building materials on the land and they started work later,” he said.
Mr Folarin said it was when construction began on the site that they realised it was meant for a telecom mast.
“At the initial stage, the network mast was powered by solar and caused no disturbance to the neighbourhood. But it was for a short period.
“Later, they started using a generator and the generator began making a lot of noise. I called the landlord in 2012 to tell him about the issue,” he said.
Mr Folarin said when the telecom mast was brought to the area, he was employed as a security personnel since his house was the closest to the site.
He said since he was working seven hours per day in Agbara Industrial Estate, he said he accepted the offer and was being paid N10,000 monthly.
“I started working for them around 2009, my job was just to open and close the place,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
He narrated that things began to turn sour when the generator being used to power the mast started causing disturbance for him and his family.
“I didn’t pay attention to it initially, but I knew my wife was unable to sleep when at home, her heart always beat fast. The house vibrates a lot and the children are also affected. It was later I realized I was being paid for something that is affecting my health and my family,” he said.
Mr Folarin said that he consulted with the community leaders, the family that sold the land to the company, a lawyer, and the Area K, Police Command in Badagry over the issue.
“We cannot leave our houses because MTN brought a mast to the area, it is a residential area and they met us here,” he said.
A family’s ordeal
Mr Folarin told PREMIUM TIMES that the problem with the IHS mast has brought a setback to his family health-wise, with the condition of his wife consistently relapsing.
“The generator makes so much noise that we cannot sleep, you know it becomes worse at night when the area is quieter. Also, we feel the vibration in the house, that when we are at home, we also vibrate,” he said.
“My wife has health issues and whenever she is in the house, her heart beats really fast. She cannot sleep when in the house, when she goes out, she does not want to come back.
“Not just that my wife has health issues, her family has fought me several times and threatened to take her from my house because the environment is making her health worse,” he added.
Although there is no medical report to show any health condition of his wife was caused by the network mast, Mr Folarin said her health worsened due to the closeness of the tower to his house and the disturbance it causes.
“My children fall sick often, I have bought several drugs for my wife and children. Two of my children had high blood pressure the last time,” he added.
On January 19, 2019, Mr Folarin, through his lawyer, Latif Rashidi, petitioned the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for the removal of the telecom mast within his client’s premises.
In the petition, the lawyer said that MTN had erected a mast too close for the comfort of the Folarin family thereby making them suffer medically. He demanded NCC’s intervention for the removal of the mast.
In reaction, the NCC set up an investigation team and conducted a site inspection on February 21, 2019, to guide the NCC’s action on the matter.
In a copy of the report obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the NCC team led by Yetunde Akinloye, Director, Legal & Regulatory Services, found that “the distance from the generator to the demised building is 6.15 meters,” while the distance from the tower (mast) to Mr Folarin’s building is 10.54.
“There was slight sign of air pollution but no oil spillage at the site; there is a hybrid power system at the site although not operational; The noise level of the generator at the demised building is 68.2 decibel (dB),” the report says.
On radiation and its possible effects on humans, the NCC team maintained the position of the World Health Organization (WHO) on base stations which states that:
“No adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the Radio Frequency (RF) signals produced by base stations; and Signals from base stations are comparable to broadcast services and there is no convincing scientific evidence that such weak RF signals can cause adverse health effects.”
Meanwhile, on the noise level permissible in residential areas, the team reported that the 68.2 dB noise level of the generator is “in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation that exposure to noise should be limited to a maximum of 90decibels.”
“As resolved at the said inspection, IHS Nigeria Limited will be directed to replace the solar batteries in order to reduce the usage of the generator and also service the generator,” the team concluded.
Despite the recommendation that the solar batteries powering the network mast should be replaced, IHS did not comply with this directive since 2019.
In a recent petition to the NCC for the removal of the mast, Tinka Gabriel, counsel to Mr Folarin, said despite site inspection, the NCC perpetrated a “calculated fraud” in its recommendations and called for the removal of the mast.
When PREMIUM TIMES checked the guidelines of WHO on noise in specific environments, it stipulated 50-55 dB for outdoor living areas and for a maximum of 16 hours.
For indoor noise, the WHO guideline stipulates 30-35 dB, stating that the critical health effects of noise indoors include; “moderate and serious annoyance, sleep disturbance at night-time and speech intelligibility.”
Despite the clear guideline of the WHO which the NCC said it followed, and the possible health risks associated with noise in living areas, the NCC said MTN/IHS limited complied with regulations.
Similarly, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Law (LASEPA Law) said the standard approved noise level in residential areas in the state “shall not exceed 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels at night.”
A Comparative Analyses of Base Transceivers Station (BTS) and effect on Human Body also recommended a minimum of 16m distance from transceiver stations and buildings. This is contrary to the 10.54metres distance between the IHS tower and Mr Folarin’s house.
Regardless of the different regulations guiding the placement of masts in residential and commercial areas, Mr Folarin and his family have been subjected to hardship as a result of the mast.
All efforts to reach Ikechukwu Adindu, the spokesperson of the NCC, on the matter were unsuccessful. The official did not respond to calls and text messages.
MTN, IHS react
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson on MTN Nigeria, Funsho Aina, he explained that the network mast is no longer operated by the company.
“MTN does not own Base Transceiver Stations anymore,” Mr Aina said.
“There is what we call managed services that we did many years back when we sold our towers to IHS Towers. We sold our towers to them and they own them now, we are just paying to use the infrastructure and it is like that with many telecommunications.
“They are the ones managing it. It is an IHS tower and IHS site and not our own,” Mr Aina responded.
Reacting to the matter, a spokesperson for IHS said the company was looking into the complaints of Mr Folarin.
“IHS Nigeria is aware of alleged complaints regarding a site in Badagry, Lagos, and takes these matters very seriously. We are investigating the concerns and will follow up with relevant residents in due course,” the company said in an e-mailed response.
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