Panic-stricken parents and guardians thronged primary and secondary schools in the South-East states on Wednesday to pick-up their wards following the rumour that the Nigerian Army was injecting viruses into school children .
Correspondents of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi gathered that the development was triggered by a false report published by an online medium.
The report alleged that the Nigerian Army was forcefully vaccinating pupils against the Monkey pox disease through its medical outreach and advised parents to immediately evacuate their children.
Mrs Bridget Eneh, the Headmistress of Victory Group of Schools, Abakaliki, told Our reporter that she was shocked to see parents throng her school to pick their wards.
“I read an online post that the army was forcefully vaccinating pupils against the Monkeypox disease, with an advice that parents should immediately evacuate their children.
“I decided to convene an emergency management meeting; but before this could be done, parents had besieged the school and forcefully left with their children,” she said.
Mrs Uchechukwu Ojigwe, another School Headmistress, told Our reporter that all efforts to assuage the fears of the parents, fell on deaf ears.
“I tried to explain to them that some security personnel had visited our school to ensure there was no pandemonium but they would not listen to me.
“A parent even accused me of supporting the army’s plans to kill children and I find this accusation outrageous and unbelievable,” she said.
Mr Nachor Ukonna, a civil servant and parent, who said that he also had to take his child from the school, advised relevant authorities to expeditiously review the dissemination of information on the social media.
“This sort of information can lead to stampede in schools with calamitous consequences,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Prof. John Ekeh, the Ebonyi Commissioner for Education, said that the news of forceful vaccination was false and urged parents and teachers to disregard such information.
“The purveyors of such information want to truncate efforts by the government to enhance the state’s educational system and we call on the pubic to resist it.
“We have gone round the schools and discovered that the army did not visit any school to vaccinate children or conduct any other activity,” he said.
Similarly, Commissioner for Health, Dr Daniel Umezurike, also debunked the news, noting that the ministry had refuted the information through appropriate media channels in the state.
“We are not conducting any vaccination or any other form of medical outreach in schools in the state and would definitely communicate to the public when we plan to do so,” he said.
Col. Sagir Musa, the Deputy Director of Public Relations, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, in a telephone interview, told Our reporter that the news was false and dismissed it as “mere rumour’’.
“I am presently at Ozubulu, Anambra, where we are conduction free medical outreach in schools but we are not vaccinating pupils,” he said.
Also commenting, Chief Ejikeme Ebonna, a Human Rights Activist, advised the army to re-assess its image before the Igbo public, saying that the people were currently living in fear.
In Enugn, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Fintan Ekochin, has advised residents of the state not to panic.
Ekochin told newsmen on Wednesday that the ministry was in constant touch with the media and would always make the situation of things known to them.
He said that the disease surveillance officers and other health workers in the state had been mobilised to monitor the development.
“We are on top of health surveillance in the state and I can authoritative tell you that there is no cause to worry.
“We have alerted all our health surveillance team, health workers and health partners on the Monkey pox virus.
“The children and their teachers should return to their classes; what they heard that some people are doing vaccination and injecting the virus in people, especially children, is a rumour and unfounded.
“There is no vaccination ongoing in the state for now and we are not planning any in days to come.
“As a responsible government and ministry, we have taken out time and energy to keep our health surveillance at the highest level of alert.
“Be rest assured that the ministry will respond appropriately and on time to any disease outbreak or even suspected case in the state. That, I will personally assure you,’’ he said.
The commissioner, however, said that there was a suspected case of the virus and that the ministry was currently following up the development.
“Suspicion does not mean that it has happened; it could, however, be other types of pox and not necessarily Monkey pox.’’
He said that the girl in question had been quarantined for clear monitoring as well as to protect people living around her.
In Nsukka, Enugu State, there was tension and panic as parents rushed to schools to pick up their children and wards.
Mrs Stella Ozioko, a parent, told Our reporter that her sister had called her from Umuahia to pick up her children.
“I am taking them home; it is better they stay at home alive than being injected to death.” she said.
At Township Primary School, a parent who gave his name as Mr Ben Ezema, said he was in the market when one of his family friends called him that he had just rushed to pick up his children, to avoid being injected to death.
“I have collected my children and they will stay at home until I am convinced nobody is coming to inject them in school,” he said.
Mrs Cecilia Ugwuoke, the Headmistress, Modern Primary School, Nsukka, expressed surprise at how parents embrace rumour.
“I tried my best to convince them that their children are safe and that we will not allow anybody to inject their children but they insisted they want to take their children home.
“We have opened a register in every class so that parents will sign before taking their children.
“This is to ensure that evil people do not use the opportunity to collect children that are not theirs,” she said.
NAN reports that students of Urban Girls Secondary School and Government Technical School, Nsukka, were seen rushing home as early as 12.30 p.m.
When contacted the Transition Caretaker Committee Chairman in Nsukka, Chief Ejike Asadu, described the vaccination story as untrue.
“We have not seen any immunization officer dressed in military uniform.
“I urge parents and residents to remain calm as the council will not allow anybody to inject any school children.
In Umuahia, public and private secondary and primary schools closed abruptly due to the alleged vaccination.
NAN reports that the rumour went virile, forcing schools in the state capital and other neighbouring towns in Bende, Ikwuano and Umuahia South Local Government Areas to stop academic activities and the students and pupils sent home.
The development caused panic and tension in the area as parents and guardians rushed to fetch their children and wards from different schools.
The principal of one of the public secondary schools in the town told NAN that parents and guardians had besieged the school and demanded to take their children and wards home.
“We tried to dissuade them and convince them that it was all rumour to no avail,” the principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
In one private primary and secondary school in Afara, Umuahia, the head teacher said that she was inundated with calls from parents and guardians who were trying to confirm the rumour.
“While we were trying to convince them on phone that there was no cause for alarm, many rushed into the school premises insisting on taking their children home.”
Reacting to the development, the spokesman of the 14 Brigade of the Nigeria Army, Ohafia, Maj. Oyegoke Gbadamosi, said that the army was not embarking on the vaccination of children in the area.
“It’s all rumour and propaganda to tarnish the good image of the Nigerian Army,” he said.
Gbadamosi, who wondered about the source of the rumour, said that the military held a successful free medical outreach in Isuikwuato last week and that there was no vaccination.
Meanwhile, Chief Emma Nwabuko, the Chief of Staff to Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, has described the news as unfounded.
“I have called the Brigade Commander and the state Ministry of Health and they denied any ongoing vaccination in the state.”
He, therefore, admonished residents to disregard the rumour and go about their lawful businesses without any fear of molestation. (NAN)