Fake news which caught fire in the South-eastern part of the country hampered the medical outreach organised by the leadership of the Nigerian Military as part of its social responsibility.
Some pupils dialoguing with their legs
The frosty political relationship between the federal government and the people of south eastern Nigeria and the resultant mutual suspicion took a dramatic and bizarre twist last Wednesday when a routine free inoculation programme launched by the Nigerian military, as part of the Operation Python Dance II, triggered a widespread pandemonium across Igboland.
What started as a mere rumour that some military officers were going round schools, injecting school children with suspicious drugs, allegedly responsible for the monkey pox disease now ravaging parts of the South-South and spreading to the South East, eventually snowballed into a bedlam with parents withdrawing their kids from schools, thus shutting down academic activities.
Orient Daily gathered that the free military medical services, which had already been administered at Nkwoagu Abakaliki community of Ebonyi state, Obim in Isiukwuato local government area of Abia state, Imo and Oji River Enugu state, took a controversial twist when the arrival of military medical officials at Ozubulu in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra state triggered an alarm.
Soon, the rumour of a purported massive death of inoculated kids at Ozubulu went viral, forcing parents and guardians across the state and beyond to withdraw their children and wards from schools to avoid the inoculation.
Orient Daily reporters, who monitored the dramatic events that engulfed most cities in Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo states, gathered that most parents who rushed to schools to withdraw their children were acting on a widely circulated message in the social media platforms – Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter – which forewarned them of the impending military medical outreach.
The message, whose author and source of origin is yet to be ascertained, had declared: “Please call your family, tell them not to participate in any free medical care by Nigerian government; they want to reduce South East population, they did it in Bayelsa that was the result of the monkey pox that is killing children right now. It’s a virus. Send it to people you know that live in the South East, you might save lives…”
The suspicion that the military medical officials had been specifically ordered to inject school children with the dreaded monkey pox viral drug, as the rumour mongers had speculated, became the ultimate spark that sent parents and well-wishers speeding in the direction of their children’s schools.
While many public and private schools threw their gates open and parents whisked away their kids in some schools where management denied parents access into the compound, a crowd of pleading parents cluster around demanding for their kids. A mild drama played out in one of the school around Awka, the Anambra state capital, when some parents, demanding the release of their kids in front of the school compound, suddenly took to their heels when they saw a military patrol vehicle heading towards them.
Eye witness account further disclosed that the sudden flight of parents at the gate also triggered massive pandemonium inside the school as the school management, teachers and students scampered to safety, thinking that the military personnel were coming to kill them.
Expectedly, hours later, the authority of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, issued a public statement, describing the rumour that triggered the pandemonium as a wicked lie and complete blackmail. The military explained that the free medical outreach was part of the Operation Python Dance II (Egwueke).
The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Col. Sagir Musa, who led a team of journalists to some centers explained further: “we regard this Ozubulu as a host community in Onitsha with the kind gesture of the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army Enugu, Major General Adamu Abubakar. We did not inject patients let alone injecting with killer drugs, you pressmen are here with us physically, you have not seen any injection, not syringe at all”.
“All these are rumour as we are not injecting anybody, you have seen the Chairman of Ekwusigo local government area, Engr Ofodieme Ikenna, the state commissioner for health. Dr. Joe Akabuike is also here; we are here purely on medical mission, to give free medical services to the people, neighbouring communities.
Musa urged citizens to avoid acting on unverified reports. “As Nigerians we need to deviate from rumour because it will not do us any good. This is a wicked lie and propaganda to damage the good services we are rendering. We urge parents to caution their wards against such false rumour as it is not good for God, the nation and mankind.”
Earlier in his speech, Anambra state health commissioner, Dr. Joe Akabuike also took time to quash the rumour of deadly inoculation. According to him, the military medical outreach was an annual programme that has not recorded any fatality. “We want to reassure our people that the military has been carrying out this free medical treatment yearly. This is not new in Anambra. In 2015, I personally supervised the one they did in Nzam; it is a medical mission. All the instruments they use are life-saving instruments. We are happy that they chose Ozubulu, Anambra for the free medical exercise”.
According to the commissioner, “we work with all the forces in the state. What is important is that we have pushed out the right information to the people”.
However, following the monkey pox scare in Anambra state, the state government has suspended the ongoing medical outreach. An official statement hurriedly issued 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.
Chukwulobelu explained that Governor Willie Obiano had contacted the military authorities and requested immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitisation 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!”
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has condemned what it called, alleged forceful administration of Monkey Pox vaccine in some parts of South East which caused pandemonium in the region.
The pro-Biafra group, however, claimed that the substance being used by the military in their inoculation service was imported from Iran with the aim of subtly annihilating the people of the region who are agitating for Biafra republic. In a statement signed by the leader of the group, Uchenna Madu, MASSOB warned the military to be mindful of their activities in the South East and South-South region.
The statement read in parts: “MASSOB, through our intelligence agency, have confirmed that the immunisation drugs were brought from Iran without the due process of clearing of imported goods. Our intelligence report also proved that NAFDAC was sidelined in the administration of the killer poison.
“We see this camouflaged medical humanitarian service of the Nigeria Army as another step to cause annihilation of the people of Biafra. This Nigeria military annihilation exercise can be described as “Operation Python Death.”
MASSOB claimed that the substance administered in Ozubulu was different from the medical drugs administered in Nkwegwu, Isukwuato and Mbaise. “This is a biological warfare waged against our people by Nigeria state. The level of hatred President Buhari and his kinsmen displayed using the instruments of the Nigerian state and primitive services of the security agents against the people of Biafra because of the emergence of Biafra can lead them to indescribable acts that will reduce our intimidating population.
Some social critics have equally condemned the timing of the military inoculation programme in parts of Igboland. According to Mr. Uche Ezechukwu, a journalist and social commentator, the manner in which government implemented the inoculation programme contributed to the bedlam.
“The Army might mean well and the motive might be salutary. Nevertheless, the project and its timing are suspicious in the extreme”, he argued.
Mr. Ezechukwu went further: “the issue of public vaccination in schools and market places against small pox is as old as independent Nigeria. As kids in the kindergarten and primary schools, there was usually stampede as local government health authorities chased us as they ‘invaded’ schools, markets and churches to vaccinate often unwilling children and adults. However, in its nearly 60 years of school and public immunisation that I have witnessed in Igboland, I have never seen the involvement of soldiers or the other arms of the military. The only uniformed people were the dreaded sanitary inspectors.
Charles Ogbu, a social critic adds: “anyone sending soldiers to administer any form of vaccines or whatever medical aide to school kids without sensitising the parents of the kids and authorities in the area, has ulterior motives. Such a person should be feared. He couldn’t have meant well.