A free medical outreach that the Nigerian Army extended to some communities in the South-East, as part of the ongoing Operation Python Dance 2, was described on Wednesday as a tool to depopulate the south-East region.
Pupils in public and private schools in the South-East states on Wednesday abandoned academic activities as information spread that a vaccination exercise had been added to the outreach and was meant to send schoolchildren to early graves.
In Asaba, Delta State, pupils on Wednesday abandoned classrooms following a rumour that soldiers would come to schools to inject them to death.
The unverified information filtered into Asaba at about 9am, and quickly spread like a wildfire.
Some school heads, who could not control the situation, alerted the government, but many pupils were already out of their school premises.
It was gathered that the state government summoned heads of security agencies for quick intervention.
The state Commissioner of Information, Patrick Ukah, advised both parents and teachers not to panic, saying there was no iota of truth in the rumour.”
He said, “This panic in schools is needless because there is no vaccination currently going on in any school.”
In Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano, ordered the army to stop the outreach.
The governor reacted to the panic at Ozubulu, in the Ekwusigo Local Government Area caused by unsubstantiated information that soldiers wanted to forcefully inject monkeypox vaccine into schoolchildren.
The Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, said there was misconception and misinformation about the issue.
He said the military was on a medical outreach that had good intentions.
The statement read in part, “The state has been made to understand that the exercise is part of the army’s social responsibility to members of the public.
“The governor has, however, contacted the army to stop the exercise until residents are sensitised.”
Parents and guardians in Imo State also stormed schools to forcefully withdraw their wards following the news of the vaccination.
It was said that pupils whose parents did not come on time scaled fences and took to their heels.
At a school, St John’s Anglican Nursery and Primary School, a parent, who did not disclose her identity, told PUNCH Metro that she had information that soldiers were forcefully injecting pupils.
The visibly tensed mother said, “I am here to take my daughter home. I don’t want anybody to inject my child. I will not take it.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Chris Ezike, warned patents and guardians to stop creating “unnecessary panic.”
Ezike said, “The army is not conducting any medical programme in Imo State.”
The spokesperson for the 34 Artillery Brigade, Imo State, Haruna Tarwai, did not pick calls put to his mobile phone.
In Ebonyi State, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Daniel Umezurike, debunked the information.
The Commissioner said, “We are not aware of any vaccination and there is no vaccination of any kind by any person or group.”
In Abia State, parents were seen trooping to schools to take their children home.
A parent, who identified himself as Mazi Okoro, said he received a call that soldiers came to the school to inject the pupils with vaccines that could cause monkeypox.
The Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 14 Brigade, Ohafia, Major Oyegoke gbadamosi, said the army did not organise any immunisation, adding that the information was mere propaganda intended to tarnish the image of the army.
“The army does not organise any medical outreach without informing members of the community selected for the outreach,” he added.
In Enugu, the Nigerian Army said the free medical outreach was not aimed at depopulating the region.
Deputy Director, Public Relations, 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Sagir Musa, in a statement on Wednesday, said the free medical outreach, being conducted by the army as part of Operation Python Dance 2, “was not harmful to anyone”.
The statement read, “The free medical outreach is not a vaccine intended to infect South-East people with monkeypox or any major contemporary or emerging disease.
“The exercise is part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall Exercise EGWU EKE 11 (Operation Python Dance 2) package to the people of the South-East region which is the area of responsibility of the 82 Division, Nigerian Army, and is also the theatre of the exercise.
“Instructively, the free medical services in the region started on September 18, 2017, in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
“The wicked, ill-motivated rumour is the handiwork of unpatriotic elements who can go to any lengths to discredit the noble services of the Nigerian Army in the region, and they will not succeed.
“The public is hereby requested to disregard the wicked rumour for the good of the people.