The panic over the allegation that some soldiers were administering killer vaccines to schoolchildren in the country’s South-East geo-political zone is understandable within the context of the widespread mistrust of the Nigerian military in that part of the country on account of its controversial engagements in the area.
What, however, began as a rumour which sent parents rushing to withdraw their children from schools soon spread like wildfire throughout the zone into the South-South states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Akwa Ibom and even Ondo in the South-West and Kwara, in the North-Central, with their students running helter-skelter and many schools forced to shut down to arrest the pandemonium.
This grievous allegation against the military, which does not appear to have any basis, is unfortunate. It is disturbing, as it paints a picture of a people at war with themselves and their vital institutions. Pictures of students jumping over classroom windows and school fences to escape the so-called vaccination by the military are pathetic. It is, indeed, worrisome that some people in some parts of the country have developed such a phobia for the military. These are not positive signs for the nation and quick steps need to be taken to restore the confidence of all Nigerians in the military.
Reacting to the rumour of the alleged forceful vaccination by the military, the spokesman of the 4th Brigade in Benin City, Edo State, Captain Mohammed Maidawa, said there was indeed a medical outreach in their area of operation, and that it is one of the activities in support of the Operation Crocodile Smile II currently going on in the South-South states. The medical outreach, he said, does not involve the administration of injections or the immunisation of children.
Yet, many parents insisted on taking their children from schools. This allegation that is turning out be an unfounded rumour is fraught with danger for the country. The false claim, which may be only an attempt to discredit the military, could discourage parents from immunising their children, both now and in the future. In the face of so many child killer diseases, this would be bad news for the nation’s health sector and the unimmunised children who may fall victim to such diseases.
As it has turned out, there were attempts by the military to embark on medical and other social outreaches in the regions where it is presently or recently engaged in military and security operations. Some mischief-makers and enemies of state, however, took to the social media to cause disaffection for the military and spread panic in the country. That the ordinary people in these parts of the country believed such a rumour and acted on it shows their distrust of the military.
These times of widespread disaffection across the country’s geo-political zones are inauspicious for a medical outreach of this nature. The military will do well to suspend or stop such unsolicited medical interventions. Also, coming against the backdrop of the ravaging monkey pox infection in eleven states, Nigerians are clearly not in the mood for unsolicited and invasive medical interventions from unexpected quarters, such as the military.
The school authorities in some of the states have done well to douse the tension generated by the rumoured vaccinations. The possibility that some unscrupulous elements invaded some schools in military uniforms to inject pupils should, however, be investigated to permanently lay the rumour of forced vaccinations to rest. The military and the nation’s other security agencies should also be wary of unconscionable persons who may be impersonating their officials to carry out nefarious activities.
The pandemonium generated by the rumoured military medical outreach is evidence that all is not well with the polity. The military, in many parts of the developed world, is one of the most patriotic and widely respected institutions. The citizens look up to their military officers with faith and admiration, knowing that they would give everything, including their lives, to protect them. But, when citizens begin to see their military as an enemy, as suggested by the recent pandemonium over forced military vaccinations, it is time for a nation to think and strive to win back the confidence of the people.
This reflection should involve the government, the military and the generality of the people. What has gone wrong with the way the people perceive the military, and how can it redeem itself? These are critical questions that we need to answer in our quest for a strong and united country.