· Schools shut down in Abia, Imo, Delta, Enugu
· Obiano, Army clash over secret immunisation
Soldiers caused panic and confusion in the South East and South-South zones on Wednesday as they stormed schools in five states, unannounced, to immunise the students.
Attempts by some state governors who were caught unawares to stop the exercise were rebuffed by the soldiers-turned medical doctors.
Consequently, schools in Abia, Anambra, Delta, Enugu and Imo States were promptly shut down.
In Abia State, when rumours that military personnel were going round schools and vaccinating pupils filtered into
the state, parents and guardians rushed to schools to collect their children and wards.
The soldiers were reportedly sent to vaccinate the pupils against monkey pox, which has spread to six states in the country – with 33 confirmed cases.
The fear was triggered by the speculation that victims of monkey pox in the neighbouring states allegedly contracted the deadly disease after they were vaccinated by the military.
No fewer than 13 pupils were said to have died in Anambra State after they were allegedly vaccinated by the military last week.
As the rumour spread like wildfire, traffic flow around Umuahia metropolis became chaotic and almost grounded as parents and guardians jostled for their children and wards in different schools in the state capital.
The Assistant Director, Army Public Relations 14 Brigade Ohafia, Major Oyegoke Gwadamosi, told The AUTHORITY that the rumour was a cheap propaganda aimed at tarnishing the image of the military.
He said the Army was not on any vaccination or immunisation exercise in any part of the state and urged members of the public to disregard the rumour.
He said that in line with the ongoing Operation Python Dance, the Army last week conducted a successful free medical service at Ovim in Isuikwuato after duly sensitising the pupils and the community.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mr. Nkwachukwu Agomuo, said that the ministry was not aware of any vaccination in any school.
The Principal Secretary to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Chief Emma Nwabuko, said he had personally spoken with the Brigade Commander, 14 Brigade, Ohafia, who told him the Army had no such programme.
He therefore enjoined parents and members of the public to disregard the speculation.
Meanwhile, a principal in one of the private schools in Umuahia, who pleaded not to be mentioned, said parents would be notified when to return their children to school.
Gov Obiano clashes with Army medical team
Against the directive to the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to stop its medical mission in Ozubulu and its environs because the state was put in the dark by the purported immunisation, the Nigerian Army has said it is going ahead with the exercise.
The Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kate Omenugha, lamented that the Nigerian Army did not inform the state about the medical mission hence the suspicious alarm and panic but said “no child died in Anambra.”
Omenugha said that the medical mission was not meant for children, but for adults.
“Public and private schools in Anambra were shut at noon when news broke that some military men were forcing school children to take monkey pox immunisation and about 10 have dropped dead.
“Nobody knew how the rumour came about but it spread like wildfire. Hundreds of thousands of parents rushed to the schools to withdraw their children.
“At some schools like St. John of God, the parents scaled the fence to go home with their wards but were shut out as school activities continued.”
In a statement titled: “Exercise Egwu Eke II – Free Medical Outreach Not Harmful to Anyone”, the Director, Public Relations 82 Division Nigerian Army, Sagir Musa, said: “The attention of the 82 Division Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to a silly and mischievous publication now trending on the social media alleging that the ongoing free medical services in some communities in the South Eastern Region of Nigeria is with a sinister motive of depopulating the region through the so-called ‘monkey pox vaccination’ purportedly being conducted by the Army in the region.
“The Division wishes to make it clear that the free medical outreach is not a vaccine intended to infect monkey pox or any major contemporary or emerging diseases in Nigeria to the people of South East or any part of the country”.
Governor Obiano, in a statement through the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, said: “The attention of the state government has been drawn to an ongoing medical outreach being undertaken by the Army in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area.”
Tension in Imo State
There was high tension in Imo State yesterday over the rumoured use of force by the state government to vaccinate students and pupils against monkey pox disease.
As early as 9am, students were seen running in their numbers to their homes while some parents and guardians hurriedly removed their children and wards from the schools.
Some teachers were also seen going home before their normal closing hours.
Some of the students told The AUTHORITY that they were sent home by their teachers on the claim that the state government was going round the schools to forcefully vaccinate them against monkey pox.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Andrew Enwerem, confirmed the vaccination but explained that they were not for monkey pox.
Enwerem noted that the exercise was just a normal routine by the soldiers who he said used the medical outreach to end their “Operation Python Dance” which they launched two months ago in the South East.
In a statement, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, denied the existence of the disease in the state.
The statement described the rumour as wicked and unfounded.
The situation was the same in Enugu as parents and relations rushed to schools to collect their children.
The vaccination of the students was leaked to parents by those with handsets who called to alert them of the development.
Before the information went round, some students were purportedly immunised by soldiers.
At Queens Comprehensive School, Enugu, a woman who was being questioned by the gatemen on why she came for her daughter who is supposed to be having her classes, simply replied the gate men that she received an urgent call to come and pick her because most of her colleagues were vacating the premises.
At Modern Primary School in Nsukka, a parent who gave her name as Stella Ozioko said her sister called her from Umuahia to quickly go collect her children from their schools as people who dressed in military uniform were going to primary schools injecting children with monkey pox vaccine.
Panic in Delta
The free medical outreach organised by the Nigerian Army caused panic in the state as parents rushed to schools where the exercise was supposed to take place to withdraw their children.
Trouble started when people began to circulate rumours that some persons or groups were going to schools to forcefully inject children to death.
It was learnt that the rumour followed the ongoing Nigerian Army Medical Outreach programme in neighbouring Anambra State from where the rumour which caused wide panic in Delta State emanated.
But in a swift reaction, the Delta State Information Commissioner, Mr. Patrick Ukah, advised residents not to panic but to go about their normal businesses.