By Vincent Ujumadu
‘Misguided elements twisted Army doctors’ bid to rewrite bad news of the past’
THE South-East geo-political zone (Igboland) was thrown into confusion last Wednesday after claims on social media went viral that some soldiers entered some primary and secondary schools and were forcefully injecting pupils and students with poisonous substances allegedly causing monkey pox.
No fewer than two states, especially in the neighbouring South-South, Bayelsa and Rivers, have recorded cases of the ailment.
As soon as the information circulated, parents and guardians started rushing to schools to pressurize the authorities to allow them take away their children. From Imo to Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu states, the story was the same. Though some school heads tried to persuade the parents to allow the students to remain in class, they met stiff opposition from the parents who insisted they must go home with their wards. Hours later, virtually all schools in the zone were shut and the rumour continued to spread that the Army was using a medical exercise to inject poison into the people to depopulate the South-East.
Meanwhile, the exercise did not involve injection and the Army medical team, comprising ophthalmologists, dentists, general medical practitioners, pharmacists, medical laboratory scientists and physiotherapists, was there only to carry out an activity it had been carrying out annually for some years now.
And contrary to the information that was spread, the exercise took place in a church, far from the nearest primary school in the area.
The venue of the exercise was St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Amakwa, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra State. Indeed, there was an elaborate arrangement for the medical outreach as canopies were mounted and plastic seats hired for those expected to attend.
Reverend Father Jude Chetanna Chukwuneke, from Egbema, Ozubulu, who said he witnessed the medical exercise before the confusion set in, said there was nothing wrong with what the Army did as they were only there to help the people medically.
Chukwuneke, who works at the College of Medical Sciences, Nnewi Campus of Nnamdi Azikiwe University as a Chaplain said: “I have a first-hand information because I visited the venue of the medical outreach. There was a medical outreach of 62 medical professionals and personnel from 82 Division, Enugu at St Michael’s Catholic Church field, Amakwa Ozubulu. The team had five doctors.
“There was proper dissemination of information and authorization from the appropriate authorities. Firstly, the Administrator of Ekwusigo local government area was aware of the exercise. The Obi of Ozubulu invited his council and they approved it. The Obi also dispatched information to all the churches in Ozubulu and they said it was announced in the churches (all denominations). I confirmed for two Catholic parishes. People from these parishes confirmed it in their numbers.
“The medical team did not go to any school; they settled at St. Michael’s Catholic Church field, Amakwa, Ozubulu. Let me also say that it was a medical outreach for the entire town.
“Apart from the medical professionals, there was a confectionery unit which had food and drinks for those in attendance. More than 10 big sized canopy and seats were set on the field.
“There was no taking down of patients’ names; they treated without noting anyone’s identity.
“They were only taking vital signs. The dentistry unit had facilities for minor surgeries, while the ophthalmology unit was doing free eye tests and giving free glasses.
“They did not go any school and they did not force any person to come for the treatment. Some electronic media houses were there to cover the exercise. They said that the reason Ozubulu was chosen as one of the places for the exercise was to rewrite the bad news of the recent past after some gunmen stormed a church and killed worshippers.
“The question is, who spread this rumour; this fake news? People said the panic reached Emene, Enugu State and parts of Ebonyi. I was personally called by friends from those places. There were people who got wounded in the panic, schools were vacated at Ozubulu, Nnewi and environs. Proprietors of schools from Nnewi called me too. Which social media platforms and groups carried this fake news that caused stampede?
“Our people have been deprived free medical services by people who do not love them, but claim they do. When are we going to stop spreading unverified news? Rumour mongering can cause deaths. I am reporting from the venue of the medical outreach”.
The cleric also debunked the rumour that some people were shot, stressing that as at 2.00pm when he left the scene, there was not incident of any kind.
Worried by the development, which took security operatives in Igboland by surprise, Anambra State Police Command urged residents to ignore the monkey pox hoax.
The Command’s Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Nkiru Nwode, said: “Following the rumour being spread by some misguided elements that some persons in soldier uniform invaded schools in Anambra, injecting monkey pox into scholars, the Anambra State Police Command wishes to inform the general public and Ndi-Anambra that the story is false. It is pertinent to note that it is a routine medical outreach by the military.
“It is difficult to understand what misguided elements stood to gain from spreading this evil story aimed at truncating the peace of Ndi-Anambra and education of school children.
“The Command wishes to assure the general public and Ndi-Anambra of their safety at all times and ask them to disregard such story as hard as they can”.
‘Silly, mischievous publication’
The 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, which is at the center of the entire confusion, also reacted. The Deputy Director of Public Relations in the Division, Col Sagir Musa, said: “The attention of the Army has been drawn to a silly and mischievous publication trending on the social media, alleging that the on-going free medical services we are 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 Nigerian Army 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.
“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 Isoukwato LGA of Abia State, Mbaise in Imo State, Oji River in Enugu and now Ozubulu in Anambra State. In all the mentioned areas, there has not been any recorded incident or complaint 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 Nigerian Army in the region, which at the moment, they will not succeed.
“The 82 Division NA also wishes to thank all the good people of Ozubulu in Ekwusigo LGA including the chairman, Engineer Ofademe Ikenna and the Honourable Commissioner for Health Anambra State, Dr Joe Akabuike who turned out enmass to grace/ benefit from the exercise. Also our appreciation to the Anambra State National Coordinator of Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme Dr Okafor for gracing the occasion and commended the exercise. The public is hereby please requested to disregard the wicked rumour for the good of the people.”
Anambra State government also spoke on the incident, through the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, directing the suspension of the exercise so that the people would be made to understand that it was part of Army’s social responsibility to members of the public.
He said: “Strong apprehension among the populace has followed the exercise leading to withdrawal of students from schools by parents, misconception of the actual motive behind the exercise by stakeholders, community leaders and a general reservation by the public for whom the outreach is intended.
“To this end and to ensure no further escalation of the situation, His Excellency the Governor, Chief Willie Obiano has contacted the Army Authorities and advised for immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitization is conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits. The exercise has therefore been put on hold.
“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! Community leaders,
“Presidents General and all stakeholders are reassured of the commitment of the Governor and the State Government to the wellbeing of Ndi Anambra. The State Government also strongly condemns observed rhetoric on social media completely misrepresenting the situation with insinuations of spread of diseases and death of students in schools arising from the exercise. The state categorically refutes these rhetorics and confirms that there is no death of any student anywhere in the state. Mischief makers are warned to desist from spreading falsehood. Anambra remains calm and peaceful!”
Following the assurance from the state government, normalcy returned the following day as schools resumed without hitches in all parts of the state.
But despite the assurances, some pessimists still believed there was more to the medical outreach by the Army than met the eye. To them, there was no justifiable reason for the military to begin such an exercise while the brouhaha over the Operation Python Dance 11 was still going on.