12 October 2017

Nigeria: Monkeypox - Panic in Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Others Over Rumoured Deadly Vaccine, Fresh Outbreaks

Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri, Abakaliki, Asaba and Abuja — - Parents storm schools to withdraw wards

- Military dismisses speculations

- Group faults army over medical exercise

Tension, panic and confusion were the situation in Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Delta states yesterday as parents stormed schools to withdraw their wards over reports of alleged forced vaccination of pupils by soldiers and rumour of fresh outbreaks.

It was alleged that the troops, in their numbers, were visiting schools to force pupils to accept injections considered to be dangerous to their health. Unconfirmed reports said that the exercise, which took place in some schools in Anambra State, had allegedly claimed the lives of some students.

News about the incident, which started in Nnewi, Oba and Awada, a suburb of Onitsha, filtered into Enugu at about 11.30 a.m. yesterday leading to parents running to schools, especially those owned by the state government, to withdraw their children.

When The Guardian visited some schools at noon, some parents were seen leaving the school premises with their wards even when there was no single soldier in sight.

However the Army Deputy Director, Public Relations, 82 Division, Col. Musa Sagir, urged the public to regard the development as "rumour". Sagir, who said they were in Ozubulu, Anambra State, for free medical exercise, stressed that "soldiers are not visiting schools anywhere."

Also, the state government also tagged the incident as rumour. Its position was contained in a statement by its scribe, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, who noted that the medical exercise was part of the army's social responsibility to members of the public. He added the activity had been called off until the residents are fully sensitised.

The rumoured outbreak of the disease in Imo created pandemonium in all 27 local councils of the state. The sudden rush to pick wards from schools at same time resulted in stampede and heavy traffic in Owerri and its environs, forcing commuters to trek long distances.

But the governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, swiftly debunked the rumour. In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemedo, he said: "The Federal Government has named 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 rumor mongers in the state will surely reap the ugly fruits of their ugly acts."

He went on: "Again, no child or pupil or student has been immunised or is being immunised as the rumour indicated, because there is no need for such action.

"However, we are on the alert and will take the necessary action if the need arises and Imo people will duly be informed. But for now, there is no cause for any alarm. Imo is in the hand of God".

Also, Ebonyi was in frenzy when the story of immunisation and outbreak broke in. Parents never wasted time to head for schools and withdraw their wards. A visit by our reporters to a number of private institutions in Abakaliki metropolis indicated that most parents were at gates to evacuate their kids.

Similar scenario played out in Delta when the news of the outbreak hit most major cities. In Asaba, Warri and other towns, anxiety and enveloped everywhere.

But the Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah, doused the tension, assuring the residents that there was no cause for alarm.

He urged security agencies and management of schools to be on red alert in order to nip in the bud the antics of mischief-makers.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has asked the military hierarchy to desist from administering vaccination on school children as such falls outside their constitutional mandate.

In a statement by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, in Abuja, HURIWA maintained that "in as much as there is no scientifically established nexus between the free vaccination/medical exercise/outreach by the Nigerian Army and the outbreak of the pandemic of Monkey Pox, it is still necessary that the military is stopped from performing the medical exercise since that is not the statutory mandate of the military in line with the constitutional provisions as enshrined in section 217 and 218 of the nation's lawbook."

Lawrence Njoku, Dom Ekpunobi,Charles Ogugbuaja, Nnamdi Akpa, Hendrix Oliomogbe,Owen Akenzua and Segun Olaniyi

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