By Our Reporters
•Parents withdraw school children enmasse
•Army not responsible for monkey pox attack — 82 Div.
•Don’t panic, we are not sure if it’s Monkey pox – MINISTER
•Let your children stay at home until Army withdraws medical exercise – IPOB
LAGOS—The entire South East zone is currently in commotion, following widespread rumour alleging invasion of schools by men dressed in military uniform and allegedly injecting pupils and students to death with an unknown vaccine linked to monkey pox.
The development that came to light in the last 48 hours, has created confusion and anxiety, leading to stampede in states within the zone as parents dashed to various nursery and primary schools to evacuate their children and wards.
Reports from all the states revealed that there was panic and anxiety in the public arena as unconfirmed news of alleged deaths of some pupils spread like wildfire, following allegations that the free medical outreach programme which is part of the Operation Python Dance 2, is responsible for the monkey pox disease now ravaging parts of the South-South and spreading to the South East.
Stampede in Nsukka
There was panic in the university town of Nsukka, Enugu State, yesterday, over the rumour in the south east zone that school pupils in Imo and Abia states died after men dressed in military uniform allegedly invaded their schools and injected them with an unknown vaccine.
Parents dashed to various nursery and primary schools to evacuate their children and wards that had resumed before the alleged rumour broke.
Around 11am, Vanguard observed parents and guardians besieging Model Primary Schools, Township Primary Schools, among others, to withdraw their children and wards.
One of the worried parents who identified herself as Mrs Stella Ozioko, said a telephone call from her sister in Umuahia alerted her to the situation.
“I came to collect my two children. I am taking them home. It is better they stay at home alive than being injected to death.”
At Township Primary School, Mr Ben Ezema said he was in the market when a family friend called to tell him what happened.
“I immediately rushed to this place only to meet many parents queue, collecting their children and wards,’’ he said.
The headmistress at Model Primary School IV Nsukka, Mrs Cecilia Ugwuoke, expressed surprise when the school compound was filled with parents less than 30 minutes after the news filtered into town.
“I tried my best to convince them that their children were safe as we would not allow anybody to inject their children, but they insisted on taking them home.
“We have opened a register in every class so that parents will sign before collecting their children, to ensure that evil people do not cash in on the opportunity to collect children that are not theirs,” she remarked.
When contacted on the telephone, the Transition Caretaker Committee Chairman of Nsukka Local Government Council, Chief Ejike Asadu, said as result of the rumour and panic that stalled studies at different schools in the area, security men from the local government, led by the chief security officer (CSO), had been positioned at different entry and exit points of schools in the LGA to beef up security.
“People are only panicking because of mere rumour. We have not seen any immunisation officers dressed in military uniform. If there is anything like that, they would have to arrive at the council before embarking on their mission with permission of the council that must have ascertained where they came from before allowing them to schools.
“I urge parents and residents to remain calm as the council will not allow anybody to inject any school children without approval of the council, “he avowed.
Panic in Enugu, schools deserted
There was confusion in Enugu as parents made frantic efforts to withdraw their wards over the development. Parents that heard what happened in Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area, Anambra State, rushed to schools to bring home their children.
However, the Head Mistress of Women Technical College, WTC, Independence Layout, Enugu, Mrs Cordelia Ugwu, where the purported immunization took place, denied that any immunization took place in the school.
Ugwu, who told Vanguard that they were afraid when they saw a young man wearing what looked like an Army Uniform at the school gate making calls, pointed out that after a few minutes, parents trooped into the school and requested for the release of their children, saying immunization was not by force.
Also reacting, the Principal of Urban Girls Secondary school, Princess Okonkwo G.U, said she could not stop the students from running away from school once the rumour filtered in from a nearby primary school.
According to her, parents thronged her school gate threatening to pull down the gate if their wards were not released to them.
She stated that it was impossible to withhold the children once parents were almost violent and the students already agitated.
Nigeria Army spokesman, Col, Musa, Sagir when contacted, condemned the rumour, saying there was no time Nigeria Army was involved in any immunization in Enugu State.
Medical outreach put on hold in Anambra
The situation in Onitsha was no different. When newsmen visited some public and private schools yesterday, the school proprietors locked their gates and refused to release the children.
But in reaction to the monkey pox scare in the state, the Anambra State government has put the ongoing medical outreach in the state on hold.
A statement by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, said the exercise had been put on hold to ensure no further escalation of the situation.
The statement said Governor Willie Obiano had contacted the Army authorities and requested immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitization was conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits.
“Parents and guardians are strongly advised to stop withdrawing their wards from schools as the situation has been handled. All schools within the State will remain open as there is no cause for alarm!”
Tension in Imo
In the wake of the rumour, scores of parents in Imo State rushed to schools to collect their children before the closing hours.
A parent, Mrs Ogechi, told Vanguard: “I was in the office, a friend called me and asked me to go to my children’s school and pick them and that they were being injected with fake vaccine.”
Another parent, Mr. Augustine Iwu, said: “It is good that you first take preventive step. I have not seen anybody died but I must take action to avoid regret.”
Reacting, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, described the rumour as wicked and unfounded.
In a statement, he denied that the monkey pox virus was in Imo.
“The Federal Government has named a few states that have had one or two cases and the states that should be monitored closely and Imo State is not among any of the groups. So these wicked rumour mongers in the state will surely reap the ugly fruits of their ugly acts.
“Again, no child or pupil or student has been immunized or is being immunized as part of the rumour had carried, because there is no need for such action.”
Umuahia in turmoil
It was also panic and confusion in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, as parents rushed to schools, even as both the state government and the Army swiftly refuted the rumour through statements and radio announcements.
“There is no truth in the rumour, I have called the Brigade Commander and the state ministry of health and they denied any ongoing vaccination programme”, said Principal Secretary to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Chief Emma Nwabuko.
This was followed by intermittent announcement on the state radio, signed by Onyebuchi Ememanka, Special Adviser to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu on Public Communication, denying the rumour and reassuring the people that there was no cause for alarm.
He said the rumour was the handiwork of mischief makers who were out to cause confusion.
Although the police later debunked the rumour. For hours, roads and streets of Umuahia were filled with visibly panicked parents struggling to collect their children from schools.
At Regina Pacis Secondary School, Awka Road Onitsha, parents were seen loitering at the school gate to take their children but the school was under locks and keys and could not allow them in, on the order of the school authority.
A parent, who spoke to Vanguard, Mr. Emeka Obidike, said it was natural for parents to react the way they did because of the current situation in Nigeria where people including uniform men open fire on the citizens without provocation or on the slightest provocation.
However, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Anambra State, Nkiru Nwode, who debunked the rumour said: “It is the height of wickedness for anybody to say that the yearly Army Free Medical Outreach in the federation, including Anambra State, is forceful immunization.
“I want to tell you that what is happening in Anambra State is unfortunate and the result of wicked rumour being spread by some faceless people against Army. The Army is offering free medical service in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area as I am speaking with you now and some mischief makers started spreading false information that they are forcing people to receive injections and shooting people who resisted their treatment.
“The information is misleading and wicked, there is nothing like that in Anambra State.”
Army not responsible for monkey pox attack in South South – PRO
In a response, the Nigerian Army debunked insinuations making the rounds, particularly in social media, that its free medical outreach programme, which is part of its Exercise Egwu Eke ll (Ops Python Dance2), was responsible for the Monkey pox disease now ravaging parts of the South-South and spreading to the South East.
Allegations that monkey pox was intentionally brought to the area to depopulate the South East is currently making the rounds.
In a statement, entitled, “Exercise Egwu Eke 11: Free Medical Outreach Not Harmful to Anyone’ and signed by Col Sagir Musa, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, the Army 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 giving to 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 NA 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.
“The exercise is part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued in to the overall Exercise Egwu Eke 11 package, to the people of the South Eastern Region which is the Area of Responsibility of the 82 Division NA and is also the theatre of the Exercise.”
The statement continued: “Instructively, the free medical services in the region started on the 18th of September, 2017 in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area (LGA) of Ebonyi State. At the event, the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, the Chairman of the LGA and some traditional rulers of the benefiting community were there at the flag off of the exercise by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General TY Buratai.
“Other areas where the programme was conducted were Ovim in Isukwato LGA of Abia State, Mbaise in Imo State, ORJI River in Enugu and now Ozubulu in Anambra State.
“In all the mentioned areas, there has not been any recorded incident or complain of any kind arising from the noble humanitarian gesture of the NA.
“Hence, the wicked, ill-motivated rumour/ lie is the handiwork of unpatriotic elements who can go to any length to discredit the noble services of the NA in the region, which at the moment they will not succeed.
We are not empowered to diagnose monkey pox – NIMR DG
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Salako, yesterday, explained why the suspected Monkey pox samples could not be diagnosed in the institute, disclosing that NIMR could only do an epidemiology research on the virus.
Salako, who spoke to Vanguard at the official launch of its Centre for Human Virology and Genomics’ ISO accreditation said the centre cannot carry out the diagnosis for now.
“We have a virology unit that has expertise on HIV and Hepatitis etc but Monkey pox Virus is just a recent occurrence in Nigeria. We can try to identify what it is for now but there are laboratories elsewhere outside Nigeria like in Senegal that had seen such cases before, so it is appropriate to have taken the samples to those places where it can be done quickly.
FG expecting confirmatory results in 24 to 48 hours — Adewole
Reacting to the development, Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole said government was yet to conclude whether it was really monkey pox or not.
Adewole who assured the general public that outcome of the sample send to Senegal will arrive the country in the next 24 to 48 hours advised Nigerians to maintain high level of hygiene.
“What is particularly significant is that many of the cases so reported do not fit into the classic prototype of monkey pox but we are trying to confirm before the end of today (yesterday) or early tomorrow (today). We should be able to confirm exactly what we are dealing with, is it truly monkey pox? But what is obvious is that we have a disease that is close to the pox family.
Monkey pox: Conspiracy of Hausa Fulani government to kill Biafrans —IPOB
In its reaction, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, commended parents for withdrawing their children from schools over alleged forceful vaccination even as the organisation urged parents not to allow them back to school until Army withdraws the medical exercise.
IPOB in a statement signed by it’s Media and Publicity Officer, Mr Emma Powerful, said the present All Progressive Congress, APC, government and Nigerian Army are determined to kill as many Biafrans as possible in Anambra State, and South East in general.
“IPOB leadership worldwide through the instrumentality of the Directorate of State do hereby declare that no parent in Anambra State should allow their children to go to school until the Nigerian Army suspends this sinister vaccination on our children; vaccine is administered by personal submission not by force to our children without the consent of parents. It is a plague in the making, that will lead to thousands if not millions of deaths.
“Our children are now at the front line of a major biological warfare waged by Hausa Fulani Islamic government seeking to kill as many Biafrans as possible out of pure hatred and bigotry.
“All teachers should stay back home and no pupil or student should go anywhere near the Nigerian Army pending further announcement from IPOB High Command and Directorate of State.”
“Biafrans must know that it is not the duty of the Army to administer vaccines because the same exercise is not happening anywhere in Arewa Northern Nigeria where diseases and infections are rife.”