Storm over army’s free healthcare

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•Drugs not harmful –Military

From Paul Osuyi, Asaba, George

Onyejiuwa, Owerri, Jane Nwaoriaku,

Enugu, Felix Ikem, Nsukka, Mohammed Mamman, Damaturu, Tony Osauzo, Benin, Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka, Jeff Amechi Obodo, Alloy Attah, Onitsha and David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi

There was pandemonium and palpable apprehension across the five South-Eastern states and Delta State, yesterday, following wild rumour that some immunisation officers accompanied by persons in Army uniforms invaded schools and were injecting children with unusual vaccine.

Following the unsubstantiated rumour, parents and guardians stormed schools to ‘rescue’ their wards thereby causing heavy traffic and commotion.

This came in the wake of the medical outreach embarked upon by troops as part of its package for the ongoing Operation Python Dance 11 code-named Egwu Eke.

    A statement by the Deputy Director Public Relations 82 Division, Col. Sagir Musa 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, failed to douse the panic.

     According to the statement, the free medical services in the region started on the September 18, in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area 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, 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 Nigeria Army.” 

  The army said  “the wicked, ill motivated rumour/lies” was  the handiwork of unpatriotic elements who can go to any length to discredit the noble services of the military in the region.

In Anambra, over 400 schools, both public and private, in Nnewi North/Nnewi South and some in Ekwusigo Local Government Areas abruptly closed around 10am over claim that some school children had slipped into coma after being allegedly injected.

Confusion also reigned in Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, as phone calls came from all parts of the country and even beyond urging relatives and family members to secure their children and ensure they did not take the vaccine.

Before the state government and the army could make a public statement to douse the tension, almost all schools had been closed.

Schools including Ado Girls secondary school, Onitsha; Promise Secondary school Fegge; Little Saint, Nursery & Primary school and New Bethel school Onitsha closed abruptly. A student of Ado Girls Secondary, Uju Ikezie, said both students and teachers ran home when the rumour got to the school.

A student of Great Mind Comprehensive Secondary School, Ifite Awka, Uchechukwu Nwonu, told Daily Sun that the proprietor dismissed them around 11 am.

In Awka, a man who gave his name simply as Martins, said he almost jumped out of his car when he saw people running helter-skelter.

“I was going to Abatete when I met a traffic jam in Amawbia; and behold, people, male and female, were running into St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Amawbia. Those running out were clutching their children; and there were tension everywhere. When I got to Abatete, the same scenario replayed itself; people where running into schools to carry their children. It was there that I heard that there was information that the army were injecting people with a vaccine and that those they injected the previous day were dead already.”

But when Daily Sun visited an open field near St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu where a team of army medical personnel were giving free medical services, beneficiaries were surprised to learn that panic had gripped people in other councils over the medical service.

A senior army officer from 82 Division, Onitsha said the rumour came to them as a surprise.

According to him, there were 62 medical personnel and professionals for the routine medical outreach given by the army to persons, especially rural dwellers, who could not afford to go to hospitals for medical treatment.

The Parish Priest in charge of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, which has the open field, Rev. Fr. Chidolue Don, said there was no basis for the rumour.

He said the army medical intervention was not even for schools or church but for the entire rural people. He wondered why people who carried the mischievous rumour narrowed it down to schools.

“Did you see any sign of crisis? It must be a tale told by a fool and confirmed by an imbecile,” Fr. Don said.

Regardless of his statement, fear and commotion also spread to Imo, Abia and Enugu states.

The rumour in Imo had it that two school pupils in one of the schools at Awo Omanma, Oru East Local Government Area, had died after the immunisation.

Tale bearers also had it that the immunisation was being carried out at schools at Obosima, Umunwaku, Ohoba  in Ohaji/Egbema council, but when our reporter arrived at the community no soldier or army personnel was seen. However, parents were seen in rushing to take away their children while some of the pupils who were yet to see their parents wailed.

At Victory International School owned by the Assemblies of God Church, a teacher who simply identified himself as Chuks, said they did not seen any of the immunisation officials or the army, noting that the school authorities decided to send the pupils home for safety reasons.

At St. Mary’s School Amaifeke, Orlu council, Mrs. Ogechi Onumomu disclosed that the school authorities sneaked the pupils upstairs for protection following the rumour that officers were forcefully immunizing children. She however, said they did not see any personnel or the army as claimed.

The state government in a statement issued by Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, chief press secretary to Governor Rochas Okorocha, described the rumour, as wicked and unfounded spread by the wicked ones.

In Enugu State, the rumour was equally strong in the metropolis. At the W.T.C Primary School, Ogui New-Layout Enugu, school children were seen clinging tightly to their parents that had rushed to pick them.

Also at Urban Girls Secondary School, the principal said there was no vaccination in her school.

“I started hearing noise from the neighbouring primary school; when parents started arriving and banging the gate, I was afraid of stampede, so asked them to let the gate open to avoid parents harassing the staff,” she said.

A civil defense officer at the school, Mr. C.E.O Chima said the parents should not be blamed for their action, as they did that out of  care and concern for their children.

It was the same panic mode in the university town of Nsukka as parents besieged schools to “rescue” their children and wards. By 11am, parents and guardian had laid siege to the Modern Primary School, Nsukka, Township Primary School,  among others to take their children back home.

Mrs.  Stella Ozioko told Daily Sun that her sister called her from Umuahia to say some people dressed in military uniform  were going to primary schools and injecting them with dangerous vaccines.

“I am here to collect my two children based on the information. I don’t want to hear any story. I am taking them home. It’s better they stay at home alive than being injected to death by evil people who dressed in military uniform to cover their real identity,” she said.

At the Township Primary School, Mr. Ben Ezema said he had collected his children would stay at home until he was convinced nobody is coming to inject them in school.

    Also, in Asaba and its environs, anxious parents allegedly knocked down gates in a bid to whisk their children home.

   There was also panic in neighbouring towns of Illah, Ibusa, Iselle-Uku, Ogwashi-Uku, despite assurances by the state government that there was no iota of truth in the rumoured deaths as a result of vaccination.

    In a related development,  parents on Monday withdrew their children from public primary schools in Damaturu, Yobe State forcing the schools to shut down.

Rumour had gone round  that an unnamed nongovernmental organisation was administering injection on the heads of male and navel of female pupils in public primary schools in the town.

There was pandemonium as angry parents stormed the schools to evacuate their children, with some confronting teachers who attempted to explain that it was a false alarm.

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