A mid day reign of panic, confusion and anxiety broke out in the South East, forcing some private and public schools in the parts of Enugu, Anambra and Imo states to shut down, as parents scrambled to withdraw their wards.
As the melee broke out Wednesday, the ready excuse was that “soldiers had invaded schools and were forcefully injecting pupils with a vaccine that caused monkey pox.”
Parents rushed helter shelter to pick their children, with most swearing that their relatives “called from Awka and Onitsha to alert them of the looming dangers of the vaccines and that some people had already died.”
In Enugu, reports placed the soldiers and their agents in some schools like the Women Training Centre (WTC). But there was nothing like that. At the Centre, which hosts nearly a dozen schools, even the pupils fueled the panic as they cried to leave school to rescue their siblings in private schools.
It was drama of sorts at the Holy Child International Schools, on Agbani Road in Enugu, where the parents of the most of the pupils are soldiers from the nearby 103 Battalion.
While the bemused soldiers, who dismissed the “rumors as baseless,” refused to join the confusion and withdraw their children from the school, their anxious civilian counterparts were obliged by the school authorities to take their children home.
In Command Schools in Enugu, there was no such panic as the school activities went on and the schools closed normally.
Also in some private schools in the metropolis, especially Missionary Schools like the Kingdom Heritage Model School, owned by Living Faith Church (Winners), there was peace and the authorities insisted that the school will close at the normal time, despite the concern of anxious parents who were calling on the phone.
At Alma Rose International Schools on Obiagu Road, Enugu, the school authorities were overran by anxious mothers who besieged the school gates. The concern of the school soon turned to ensuring that kidnappers didn’t use the opportunity to snatch children.
The Army Public Relations Officer Col Musa Sagir, who described the entire incident as mere rumour in the South East said that “nobody was being forced to be vaccinated,” as he urged the public to disregard the reports.
According to him, “there is an ongoing free medical exercise at Ozubulu in Anambra State.”
A yet unconfirmed report from Ozubulu claimed that team of “Federal Government agents accompanied by armed soldiers were going to schools in the South East to immunize children in both Nnewi North (St Stephen’s Primary School Umudimkwa; near Ojukwu’s Family House) and Ekwusigo (Ozubulu) LGAs.
“For the most part, the entire Nnewi town is in chaos and confusion; even the markets and workplaces have been deserted as parents rush off to various schools to take away their children.”
Meanwhile, in a statement signed by the Secretary to the Anambra State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu the State Governor, Willy Obiano urged a suspension of the exercise to ensure no further escalation of the situation.
He advised the Army authorities for an “immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitization is conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits.”
The State Government, however confirmed “an on going medical outreach being undertaken by the Army in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, which is part of the Army social responsibility to members of the public.
“However, strong apprehension among the populace has followed the exercise leading to 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 governor cautioned parents and guardians against withdrawing their wards from schools “as there is no cause for alarm! Community leaders, Presidents General and all Stakeholders are hereby reassured of the commitment of the Governor and the State Government to the wellbeing the South East and Ndi Anambra.”