Panic in S’East, Asaba as Parents Withdraw Children from Schools over Monkey Pox, Military Outreach

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  • Nigerian army allays concerns Seven patients discharged, certified free of virus in Bayelsa

Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu, Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba, Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia, Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki, Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka

Panic wednesday enveloped the entire states in the South-east following rumours that soldiers from the 82 Division of Nigerian Army were going round schools to inject pupils with monkey pox virus in their ongoing medical outreach in the region.

The rumour, which gained momentum just before midday, caused pandemonium as parents rushed to schools to take home their children and wards thereby leading to early closure of schools.

Some private school owners shut down their schools to safeguard pupils from any unforeseen mishap and health risk.

The South-east states are still smarting from the special military operation by the military tagged: ‘Python Dance’ apparently aimed at checking the excesses of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) agitators.

The rumour had it that the military wanted to depopulate the South-east using the medical outreach, especially with tension over the monkey pox virus still raging as a smokescreen.

It took the prompt intervention of the state governments and in some cases, the military, to douse tension in the affected states.

The rumour which spread like wildfire, THISDAY gathered, started in Anambra State when soldiers stormed a school in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, to begin the administration of drugs to indigenes.

Rumours however went round the town that the soldiers were in Anambra to inject children with vaccines as was allegedly done in Bayelsa State to infect them with the monkey pox virus.

The rumour had caused serious pandemonium in town as some people claimed that over 50 children had died in Nnewi after they were administered with the vaccines, leading parents to rush to the schools of their wards to withdraw them.

As early as 10a.m., most schools in the state had sent their pupils home to join their parents, while others shut their gates against visitors, to resist the attempt of anyone coming in to immunise the children.

THISDAY however gathered that the medical outreach was not for children but for elderly people, just as the army insisted that there was no truth in the rumour.

Colonel Musa Sagir told journalists in a chat that the rumour was false. He stated that he was at the venue of the supposed medical outreach, and that the rumours of dead children were lies as no child had been immunised.

Also, the state government called for calm among citizens of the state, saying that there was no truth in the rumour that soldiers were injecting children to death.

A statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof Solo Chukwulobelu stated that the outreach was a well intentioned exercise, but said it was unfortunate that the military did not announce the exercise or sensitise the people of the state before arriving.

In Abia State, a proprietress of a private school on Aba road, Umuahia, had a hectic time controlling the rush by parents and guardians who were there to take away their children and wards. She was seen shouting, “I don’t know you” when she saw a man she apparently didn’t recognise.”

Explaining her action, the proprietress told THISDAY that “in this type of confusion, bad people can just enter the school and take away somebody’s child and I’ll be the one that the parents would hold responsible. I don’t want to take chances,” she said.

Both the state government and the army high command in the state were taken aback by the vicious rumour but there was nothing they could do to stop the early closure of schools as parents, teachers and school owners were not ready to verify the rumour before acting on it.

When contacted on phone the Principal Secretary to the state governor, Chief Emma Nwabuko, lamented the speed at which the rumour gained ground, insisting that “there is no truth in it.”

“The rumour mongers are at it again,” he said in exasperation, adding: “That’s what we’re suffering in this state and what they want to achieve is to cause confusion.”

He said he had done investigations and contacted all relevant authorities, including the state ministry of health and the Brigade Commander of 14 Brigade Ohafia, Brig Gen Abdul Khlaifa Ibrahim, and the answer he got was that no vaccination exercise was being carried out by the army.

Nwabuko explained that there was no way a vaccination exercise could take place in schools without the knowledge of the ministries of health and education.

The Assistant Director, Army Public Relations 14 Brigade Ohafia, Major Oyegoke Gbadamasi, denied the rumour, saying the originator of the rumour did so to tarnish the image of the army which he said was not engaged in any vaccination exercise.
According to him, the army carried out a medical outreach last week at Ovim in Isuikwuato Local Government Area, adding that it was successful as many people turned up and received medical care.

In Enugu State, the situation was not any different as parents invaded both public and private schools to take their children resulting in the abrupt shutdown of virtually all the schools, including nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Attempts by some school authorities to douse the raging tension by locking their gates to stop school children from leaving were vehemently resisted by the parents who even had to force their ways through.

But in a swift reaction, however, the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army dismissed insinuations that its ongoing free medical services given to some communities in the South-east had a sinister motive of depopulating the region through “Monkey pox vaccination.”

In a statement issued by the Deputy Director Public Relations 82 Division, Col. Musa Sagir, the division made it clear that the free medical outreach was 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.

He said the exercise was part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall Python Dance 11 package to the people of the South-east region.
Also, the state government denied the knowledge of any ongoing vaccination either for ponkey pox or any other disease by the military or any other group in the state at the moment.

The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Fintan Ekochin, and his Information and Orientation counterpart, Ogbuagu Anikwe, told journalists that the panic was uncalled for, and therefore appealed to parents to return their children to school.

Also in Ebonyi State, the speculation also caused serious panic and apprehension as some students deserted schools for fear of either vaccinated or attacked.

Schools outside the capital city like Ezza South and Ohaukwu council areas were also shut down.
In Abakaliki, parents besieged schools to ensure the forceful withdrawal of their wards while in some schools, parents had to climbed fence to gain entrance into school to take away their wards.

In a statement, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dan Umezuruike, called on people to disregard the rumour and go about their lawful businesses.

“There is no such injection going on in the state and there is no casualty anywhere in the state. People should discountenance the rumour. We are making arrangement to track down these rumour mongers and deal decisively with them for disrupting public peace,” he said.

In Imo, the state government in statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, stated that “there was no truth to the wicked and unfounded rumor being spread by the wicked ones over the monkey pox virus which created undue anxiety in Owerri, the state capital especially among some parents, on Wednesday, October 11, 2017.”

“The state government wants to inform Imo people in particular and the general public that the monkey pox virus is not in Imo and will never be in Imo in Jesus Name,” he said.

He maintained that no child, pupil or student had been vacinated, adding “there is no need for such action”.
He noted that government was on the alert and would take the necessary action if the need arises, stating” Imo people will duly be informed. But for now, there is no cause for any alarm.”

In Delta State, as the rumour breezed into Asaba, concerned parents and guardians rushed to primary and secondary schools in the capital city and environs and forcibly took their children and wards away.

Reactions to the rumours in Asaba reportedly began as early as 11:30a.m. when telephone calls and text messages began to fly around with anxious parents seen running helter-skelter to schools to ensure the safety of their children and wards.

Although, no single case of military personnel trying to administer any vaccine on school pupils was reported anywhere in Delta State, anxious parents defended their action as precautionary, saying it was meant to prevent them from being administered with the suspicious vaccines or any other medicines.

It was learnt that similar situation was recorded in neighbouring towns of Illah, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Uku and Issele-Uku and Agbor.

Delta State Ministry of Information was inundated by anxious calls from parents and members of the public with the Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah rushing out of a function in Asaba to quickly issue a public statement debunking the rumour and assuring the public that there was no iota of truth in the monkey pox rumour.

The statement issued by Ukah read: “It has come to the attention of the Delta State Government that parents and guardians are withdrawing their children and wards from schools following unsubstantiated rumours of students and pupils being lethally injected by unknown persons.

“Government states without equivocation that the rumour is absolutely false and baseless. There has been no such reported incident in any school in Delta State. We advise parents and guardians to remain calm and go about their normal businesses.

Meanwhile, the list of those certified to have been free from the epidemic in Bayelsa State grew by five wednesday, following the release of an infected medical doctor and an 11-year-old boy earlier in the week.

Commissioner for Information and Orientation in the state, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said in a statement that the fresh five cases were discharged from the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital (NDUTH), Okolobiri where they had been quarantined.

He added that others were currently under strict supervision and had been responding positively to treatment at the isolation centre in the outskirts of Yenagoa, stressing that so far, “government has been able to successfully contain the spread of the disease as no new cases have been reported in the last few days.”

Giving an update on the scourge, Iworiso-Markson observed that “with the way the government deployed its machinery and with the team of dedicated health and medical personnel, the disease will soon be fully kicked out of Bayelsa State.”

He commended the state government, especially the Ministry of Health and its officials and officials of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for their efforts in the fight against the disease.

The commissioner also gave kudos to the people of the state for their cooperation, particularly for adhering to the preventive measures.

He urged them to step up efforts by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and hygiene, wash their hands regularly and avoid contacts with monkey and other bush meats.

He said from the feedback received from various channels, it was obvious that the public enlightenment campaign, especially in local languages contributed to the impending defeat of the ailment.

  • UZEZ0168209

    The best strategy to checkmate the unwarranted military incursion in the eastern states is to do the needful.
    The water treatment pipe line supply to the 82 division should be poisoned with arsenic salt . this can be done through the Upstream control valve ,since the mechanical actuator is not manned with whatever technology; hmmm Nigerian is still a third world country. The military should be decimated by any means.

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  • Abraham

    i smell a deadly hidden agenda in this Greek-gift-like gesture. Wicked rodents bite and blow air on the victim alternately so that the victim may never wake up from slumber. i have never heard that the military of any nation would just start giving medical aid in a location were there is no report of epidemics or impeding natural disaster. when did they start loving the south east that much; same people they just finished ordering to drink muddy water. what do they take the south east for. a bunch of dummies. if ever they have conscience and it is pricking them on account of the atrocities already committed against unarmed people, a public apology would do a better job than this ridiculous after thought in the guise of baseless medical outreach. my opinion though.

  • BankyMons

    First, there is no known vaccine against Monkey pox (Reference: WHO). Second, why are they using the army to administer vaccination? Third, why is it that parents, guardians and teachers were not warned prior to the army ‘invading’ the schools to administer the vaccines? It is evident that Buhari is on a suicide mission but God will help to achieve just that.

    • Toby

      Amen.

  • Jon West

    This Army of Anything Goes will never get it right. The citizens of these areas regards you as an occupying force and any evil is within your conveyance. Did you not kill thousands of unarmed civilians (men , women, children, pregnant women an geriatric unable to move on their own steam), dancing to welcome you in 1967 at exactly this time? Go to the blighted North and carry out your medical outreach on your devastated populations, especially in the Northeast. The Igbo people especially, are too well-off to require the assistance of this Army of Anything Goes. When. People start running away from their suppose protectors, then the end is nigh for this Zoo.

    To hell with Nigeria!! Go away!!

  • Tony Ezeifedi

    They just celebrated 50 years of Asaba massacre by Northern Nigerian army supervised by Muritala mohammed. How do you think they will trust a vaccine from a blood sucking army? If you were in their shoes, you will react the same way.

    • Jon West

      Please use the right word. You cannot Celebrate a massacre of your people. Commemorated perhaps?

      • Tony Ezeifedi

        You are right, bros. Thanks.

  • Ify Onabu

    Soldiers are sent to school to vaccinate children against a virus. Who will not be afraid of such soldiers? When soldiers do the work of nurses and medical doctors, what will doctors and nurses do? Go to the battle field to fight? Misplaced priorities, my brother!

  • Susan Mitchell

    The Nigeria Army is poisonous. How many times have you seen them taking care of bomb victims in the North? They should leave the S/E immediately we are not fools and cowards here like the north and south. They a free to go to Lagos, Kano and other places. The government is full of problems. Giving the people headache sleepless night. Nigeria Army leave our children alone. If they are sick we know where to tke them to. Take your free medical care to IDP camp biko.

    • Chisom Orji

      The Igbo people should please get some sense and quickly for that matter.

      How could people believe and still believe that they will be injected with monkey pox virus? Are we that illiterate and dumb in the South East?

      Any one who is a secondary school graduate or university graduate or a graduate of any higher institution or post graduate who believed that rumour and acted on it wasted all his/her years in school and also wasted the school fees. The school fees should have been used on something fruitful.

      • algol2000

        How can you believe that the military is acting in your best interest? Since when did soldiers become medical personnel?

        • Chisom Orji

          So the Nigerian Military does not have their medical personnel and also cannot undertake Corporate Social Responsibility? Please enlighten me.

          • algol2000

            “So the Nigerian Military does not have their medical personnel and also cannot undertake Corporate Social Responsibility?”

            The Nigerian army is undertaking Corporate social responsibility? Really? Is it a private organization that pays tax but wants to reduce the burden? Is it a government organ in charge of prevention of epidemics?

            What exactly is the function of the Nigerian army?

          • BankyMons

            Stop wasting your time with that human being.

          • BankyMons

            What CSR got to do with the army? Jesus, I have given up.

      • benedict chindi

        Madam,

        I also counselled relations and friends that soldiers did not start the monkey-pox epidemic in Bayelsa or anywhere else, and are unlikely to try to do that in the South East.

        However, if this exercise really did take place (and this quote: “He said the exercise was part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall Python Dance 11 package to the people of the South-east region” – suggests that it did take place in some areas), is it your considered opinion that it is right for soldiers to go into schools to inoculate children without prior recourse to the state or local govt authorities and without any prior campaign to educate parents, guardians and the general public?

        Has any public health campaign been carried out (even by the ministry of health i.e EPI) anytime and anywhere in Nigeria without radio and TV jingles at least a week before it starts? Did the Nigerian military get the consent of parents and guardians prior to this exercise?

        And you call people uneducated….

      • Jon West

        I have a genuine doctorate degree and will be as apprehensive as any of those parents. My school fees were well spent, as can be testified by the Nigerian Government , which spent 6 years paying them.

        What the hell is the Army that cannot fight Boko Haram (its primary responsibility) doing with a medical outreach,among the least poor people in all of Africa (not only Nigeria)? When did this Genocidal Army conduct a medical outreach in IDP camps in the Northeast, where their services are crucially required? This is really an opportunity for the generation and spread of conspiracy theories. If I had a child in school, I would never allow the best doctor in this Genocidal army to touch my child ,even if that is the only way to save its life. Its that bad.

      • BankyMons

        You are the fool here – there is no known vaccine against Monkey pox. Shut up your gob. You mustn’t speak.

      • UZEZ0168209

        If you believe the army operation , then get your Family for the vaccination. period.

  • Okworld

    If you see anything that looks like a Python soldier (s) please run as fast as you can…