From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Schools in Akwa Ibom, especially in Etoi axis, along Oron Road Uyo, were yesterday, hurriedly evacuated as rumours of vaccinators in white caftans escorted by soldiers went viral.
Tales that three pupils of the Methodist Central School, Etoi had died after being injected sparked a stampede, as parents stormed schools to rescue their wards from “poisonous” vaccine. Children whose parents could not respond early enough scampered into the bush for fear of being injected.
Some parents said they saw the alarm on social media and decided to play safe by rushing to pick their children.
“Even if it is a false alarm, my child would not come to this school again this week till the whole rumour is effectively explained. There is no smoke without fire. It happened in Rivers State. It happened in Bayelsa. It can also happen here. Let them not use my child as guinea pig of the deadly immunisation,” a parent who refused to give her names said. Another parent, Itoro Lawrence, said one of her wards informed her of the incident.
But head teacher, Methodist Central School, Etoi, who refused to give her name, denied the seeing any vaccinator.
“Nobody came, no injection was given to any child. We suddenly saw parents rushing in, screaming and then our children started running helter skelter,” she said.
The rumours, however, attracted police presence around schools in Etoi axis of. Its spokesman, Mr. Bala Elkana (DSP) confirmed that the rumour, which got to the police in the early hours caused the police to parade schools. He admitted that though there had been no evidence to authenticate the rumour, it led to early closure of schools in many parts of the state.
Akwa Ibom State government and the Army authorities also denied that people in military camouflage forcefully immunised students and pupils in public schools in the state.
The army through its 2 Brigade headquarters, described the rumour as callous, unpatriotic and spread by enemies of state.
A statement signed Maj. S. Umar, Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 2 Brigade, said the brigade was currently involved in Operation Crocodile Smile II, which is yielding tremendous successes, especially in curbing the excesses and activities of criminals, cultists and other miscreants in Akwa Ibom State.
“For emphasis, the 2 Brigade Nigerian Army does not and will never carry out its medical outreaches or vaccination exercises for that matter in schools. We, therefore, wish to inform the public that the ongoing rumours about Nigerian Army personnel in military camouflage going round schools in any part of Akwa Ibom State to forcefully immunise school children is false and should be disregarded,” the statement said.
Commissioner for information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh, who was on radio to dispel the rumour, said there was no truth in the speculation that school children were forcefully immunised.
“Any act as such is illegal, unauthorised and not from the government, therefore, anyone found doing so should be resisted and reported to the security agents,” he said.