On the run: these students can't get home quickly enough after rumours broke of Army personnel injecting pupils and students with the deadly Monkey Pox virus
Pandemonium broke out in Anambra last Wednesday over the commencement of a medical outreach by men of the Nigerian Army in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, when soldiers stormed a school in the community to begin the administration of drugs to indigenes.
The rumour mills however went to work that the soldiers were in Anambra to inject children with Monkey Pox vaccines as had allegedly been done in Bayelsa State.
This rumour had caused serious pandemonium in town as some people claimed that over 50 children had died in Nnewi after they were administered with the vaccines, leading parents to rush to the schools of their wards to withdraw them.
As early as 10am, most schools in Anambra had sent their pupils home to join their parents, while others shut their gates against visitors to resist the attempt of anyone coming in to immunize the children.
The panic recorded casualties in Awka when a man who was carrying his six schoolchildren in his motorcycle was involved in an accident. The children were said to be seriously injured and taken to hospital. The incident happened at Arthur Eze Avenue.
In one of the missionary schools, the school's management refused parents from picking up their wards, saying that if the parents were allowed in, some children might go missing in the pandemonium that would ensue.
Fides however gathered that the medical outreach was not for children but for elderly people, just as the Army insisted that there was no truth in the rumour.
Colonel Musa Sagir told journalists in a chat that the rumour was false. He stated that he was at the venue of the supposed medical outreach, and that the rumour of dead children was a lie as no child had been immunized. He however promised to send in a full press release to state the position of the military.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Government had called for calm among citizens of the state, saying that there was no truth in the rumour that soldiers were injecting children with the Monkey Pox Virus.
A press release signed by the Secretary to State Government, SSG, Prof Solo Chukwulobelu, stated that the outreach was a well-intentioned exercise, but said that it was unfortunate that the military did not announce the exercise or sensitize the people of the state before arriving.
Part of the release read, "The attention of the State Government has been drawn to an on-going medical outreach being undertaken by the Army in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area.
"The State has been made to understand that the exercise is part of the Army's social responsibility to members of the public.
"However, a strong apprehension among the populace has followed the exercise, leading to the 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."
The SSG further said that because of the unrest caused by the rumour, the governor, Chief Willie Obiano, had contacted the Army authorities and advised for immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitization was conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits.
'The exercise has therefore been put on hold,' the SSG stated.
He advised parents and guardians to stop withdrawing their wards from schools as the situation had been handled, even as he said that all schools within the state would remain open as there was no cause for alarm.
Chukwulobelu assured community leaders, presidents general and all stakeholders, of the commitment of the governor and the state government to the wellbeing of the Anambra citizenry.
The state government categorically said that student died anywhere in the state and warned those it called mischief makers to desist from spreading falsehood.
However, a schoolteacher, names withheld, advised that such exercises be done in hospitals or in the home to enable parents to monitor such. She said this was necessary in order to avoid a situation in schools where pupils could be inoculated twice on same disease if they were not supervised by parents.
Additional reports by Jude Atupulazi and Chioma Ndife