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

  • 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.