Awka — THE incident that occurred on Wednesday, October 11, will remain a lasting memory in the minds of many school children, their parents and teachers in the South-East geopolitical zone for a long time.
Parents and guardians had dropped their children in their various schools in their usual routine and left for their places of work for the day and had looked forward to picking them after school. But around 10.00a.m that day, there was commotion in the zone.
Through the social media, information began to spread that some people in Army uniform had invaded schools in the region and were injecting pupils with Monkey Pox virus for the purpose of depopulating South-East and South-South. Without verifying the authenticity of the information, most parents rushed to their children's schools and demanded to take them home.
Drama in schools: In many schools, bewildered teachers tried very hard to explain to the parents that there was nothing like that in their schools and refused to allow the parents take their children, only for the parents to create scenes, thereby forcing the school authorities to give in to the demands.
Army's medical outreach: Indeed, the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army with headquarters in Enugu had planned a medical outreach for Anambra State that Wednesday at Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of the state. It had earlier conducted similar exercises in other states in the zone without hitches.
In fact, the Army medical outreach had formed part of its social responsibility and communities selected for it had always considered themselves lucky, considering the fact that while people from other communities would have to transport themselves to the venue, they (the host community) would merely walk to the place and take vantage positions before the arrival of people from neighbouring communities.
This came as the Deputy Director of Public Relations of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Colonel Sagir Musa, explained that the medical outreach was part of the ongoing Exercise Python Dance II.
South-East Voice gathered that Ozubulu was chosen to rewrite the community's recent ugly experience in which unknown gunmen swooped into a Catholic Church in the area and killed many worshippers during an early morning Mass.
Besides, the venue for the exercise, St. Michael's Catholic Church, was centrally located and close to a market to ensure that many people with various ailments could utilise the opportunity to obtain free medical service provided by the Army. It was not in a school compound.
Also, before the exercise, there were elaborate consultations with the local government authority and the traditional institution in the area and approval was said to have been granted. This could be seen in the large number of canopies and seats set for the comfort of the beneficiaries. The exercise was already underway when the bubble burst.
A tale of two reactions
While many parents besieged the schools to pick up their children based on the rumour of the alleged presence of people in military uniform injecting pupils, the benefiting patients were busy receiving treatment from the medical professionals at the venue of the exercise and unaware of the brouhaha going on in most communities in the South-East.
A parent, Mrs. Maria Okeke, whose two children are in a public school at Nnewi, said she got the first call from Nnobi in Idemili South Local Government Area to find out if the soldiers were also in schools in the area.
She said though the people she called did not confirm seeing any soldier anywhere, she still joined other parents to pick her children from their school. Several other calls from parts of the state and even from neighbouring states of Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu also filled the airwaves with inquiries about the incident. Even when they were assured that there were no soldiers anywhere, parents still rushed to the various schools and there was chaos in the entire zone.
Anambra govt steps in
Worried by the frightening level the rumour had taken, Anambra State Government waded into the matter by urging the military to suspend the medical exercise for the time being. Despite appeals to parents not to force school authorities to allow them pick their children, most parents mounted pressure on school authorities until they had their way. By noon that day, most schools in the zone were shut.
Secretary to the Anambra State Government, SSG, Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, had to appear in a live radio programme to urge the people to ignore the rumour to no avail. The Army was also put under pressure as its magnanimity was misconstrued, thereby forcing its image maker, Col. Sagir Musa, to issue a statement to clarify the situation. However, the exercise had to be called off and was yet to be resumed.
Reactions: But many parents said it was shameful that they had to fall into such deceitful situation. Mrs. Grace Ndianofo, a teacher at a primary school in Ihiala said it was unfortunate that she ran for what she did not know about.
She said: "It was as if everybody was possessed. Once we heard that soldiers were going to schools to inject people, we started running out of the school. Children were immediately asked to go home even when there was no soldier in sight. We behaved foolishly, I must say."
Mrs. Maureen Chiadi, who dropped her four children in their school in Awka before travelling to Nnewi for a workshop, said she ran away from the venue of the workshop and was constantly calling the headmistress of her children's school to know what was happening until she arrived at the school at about 12.20p.m. and picked up her children.
She said she was among the last set of people to take their children.
Little Miss Njideka Nwafor, 9, said when many parents came to pick up their children, she ran away from school since she was not used to anybody coming to pick her as her parents were traders in the market and could not leave their business to come and pick her from school. She, however, said she did not know why they had to go before closing time.