The Southeast didn’t, can’t reject vaccines, they rejected military brutality

School children in the southeast running away from school on hearing that the military was allegedly coming to administer some vaccination on them

By Nnaemeka C.I Meribe

The people of the southeast are not rejecting vaccination. It is on record that that part of Nigeria has about the highest rate of vaccination uptake. The people are sensible and educated enough to know the benefits of vaccination.

As kids growing up in Aba in the 1980s, our parents took us (not once, but many times) to the health department of Aba Urban to be vaccinated. I remember we used to call it 'oku aka'. One fierce looking man would bring out something like a short gun and 'shuk' you in your shoulder. One, two or three minutes of crying would then follow.

Even in the 1990s as a teenager and young adult, I remember going to Umule Village Hall and Osusu Village Hall at different times to receive free Yellow Fever and Hepatitis vaccinations.

Therefore, the people of the southeast did not reject a good thing (vaccination) as some are already mocking. However, people of the southeast are saying that they are not interested in their children being vaccinated by the Nigerian Army, which just three weeks ago invaded their land and killed their unarmed youths.

I am cocksure that the people will as usual consent to their children being vaccinated should the Rotary International or the then ubiquitous Kick Polio Out team come today tp give vaccinations.

Indeed, the people have the rights to be apprehensive. History is on their side. Remember that the federal government is still struggling to refute the allegation that they deliberately injected people with monkeypox in Bayelsa. Remember that there were also rumours that those who carried out the Ozubulu massacre were wearing military uniform.

Remember that the Nigerian army has a history of killing unarmed civilians: They did it in Asaba in 1967. They did it in Odi in 1999, They did it in Zaki Biam in 2000. They also did it in Aba and Onitsha in 2016. In the same 2016, they killed Joseph Izu (a footballer with Shooting Stars) in Bayelsa. Remember, too, that President Buhari does not even trust the medical competence of the Nigerian Army, hence he jets to the UK every now and then to receive treatment.

Again, remember, that just four days ago, news came that a former Army Chief, General Victor Malu died while receiving treatment in a Cairo hospital. So, if Buhari and Malu do not trust the capacity of the Nigerian Army to deliver, medically speaking, why should anybody blame the hapless southeast commoners for not trusting the army and their medical overtures?

In any case, the outright rejection of the so-called medical outreach by the people should get the Nigerian Army thinking. Perception is everything. The people see the NA as killers and nothing more pretentious. Obviously, there was poor sensitization before the ill-advised outreach.

The NA should learn how to engage the public. It is an art. Everything is not show of force. From the statement issued by the Anambra State Government, it was clear that there was little or no sensitization prior to the outreach.

Even the state government was not carried along. I doubt if the State School Management Board, teachers and parents were carried along too. In climes where people reason, the sensitization would have lasted for a month or even more, particularly if such an outreach is to be carried out in an area where the army just invaded and wreaked havoc. And the best combination of media would have been used to reach the target audience.

I believe the NA must have learnt a lesson or two from this misadventure and as such will engage the public better next time.
  • Nnaemeka C.I Meribe PhD, Writes from Melbourne, Australia
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