Person of the Year: The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation

 

 

Globally, a number of corporate organisations, governmental or non-governmental bodies, apolitical groups, religious bodies to mention a few bestow awards at the end of the year on deserving individuals, personalities or icons who have in no small measure impacted positively their immediate community, society or the world at large. The impacts these personalities exude, either in terms of promoting moral principles, innovative tendencies, pursuing social and human justice among others, makes them not only an epitome of pride but also persons worthy of emulation among a section of the populace. It is therefore, not surprising that President Barack Obama, both in 2008 and 2012, was selected Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (known previously as Man of the Year until 1999). Another award three years back would also make him the “Most Admired Man in the World” for six consecutive years (2008-2013).

What do we understand by the term Man/Person of the Year? According to Time magazine, it is a yearly award that highlights and profiles a person, group, idea or object who has positively or otherwise acted in many ways to influence the course of the year’s event. It is simply regarded, or spoken of, as a form of honour, award or prize bestowed on “subjects” or “objects” admired by people for their impacts. While Time’s conception is not to be endorsed wholly, after all, the Hasty Pudding Man of the Year bestows award to members of the Hasting Pudding Theatricals society who have made “lasting and impressive contribution” to the entertainment world and the Silverbird Man of the Year awards “a Nigerian…perceived to have positively affected the lives of Nigerians the most,” both, if not all, pursues almost a similar objective or aim—to honour someone or something that has impacted humanity throughout a year.

This therefore, takes us to my own Man/Person of the Year. The year 2014 for many Nigerians rounded off with lots of mixed feelings. Apart from those known challenges, it was a year that was perceived with mixed feelings. Despite the challenges 2014 brought, this writer make bold to say that we have every reason as a people to be appreciative. Not many countries in this part of the world would have faced half of what Nigeria faces on a daily basis and live to tell the tale. When we look at Somalia and its failure to form a stable government since the 90s or Southern Sudan, Libya and a host of others whom continually face civil strife and internal divisions, Nigerian would better appreciate their current challenges which this writer believes is surmountable.

When we talk of challenges, this writer sees it in terms of everyday human challenges. It is one of the fundamental problems Third World countries face daily. Poverty, unemployment, civil strife among others remains some of the challenges these countries continue to grapple with. In Nigeria for example, we are faced with insecurity, unemployment, lack of human empowerment etc. It seems that the Nigerian state has neglected its vey constituency, the people, and so not many think the impact of the government has been felt on them. This is where non-governmental agencies (NGOs) come in. A fact remains that government cannot do it all, and so these (NGOs) come to play a complementary role to assist government in its human development objectives. This is where the Sir Emek Offor Foundation (SEOF) comes in. Formed in the early 1990s by its highly ebullient and charismatic founder Sir Emeka Offor, the Foundation in the last two decades has been in the forefront of championing human capacity development, provision of skills acquisition, youth empowerment, widows cooperative, health services, educational grants and infrastructural development programmes. Through the Foundation’s support for small and medium enterprises, a significant number of lives have been touched positively.

The SEOF is not only one of the most outstanding Foundations in Nigeria in terms of how much it places value on human development, it is well respected for its important partnerships with international organisations and institutions whose core objectives are in tandem with SEOF’s own core values — empowerment and human sustainable development.

In the last couple of years, SEOF has taken its international partnership to a remarkable whole new level which for many marked a turning point in the history of human philanthropy and social responsibility in contemporary Nigeria. First, the founder Sir Offor felt the need to throw his weight behind the fight against polio, a disease which until now placed Nigeria as one of the three polio endemic countries in the world, the other two being Pakistan and Afghanistan. Polio as we all know cripples the legs and places a heavy socio-economic burden not only on the individual and family but also the state. Its effect is better imagined than felt. Nigeria’s polio endemic status was so alarming that it had to take the intervention of stakeholders to begin a process that will reduce the country’s endemicity. Starting from 2013, the SEOF went into a bold multi-year partnership with Rotary International. That year in Lisbon, Portugal, a grand donation of $1.3 million was made by the SEOF as part of its commitment to the END POLIO NOW. This donation was made after an earlier donation of $250,000 which Rotary had applied immediately to the on-going efforts in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.   

This commitment did not however stop there; the Foundation also presented another donation of $1 million last year to Rotary International PolioPlus campaign to provide resources that support polio immunization efforts both in Nigeria and globally. This totalled $3.1 million, marching the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 2 for 1, bringing the total to $9.3 million. The SEOF and Nigeria’s strong will and determination to end Polio will see it declared Polio free by the United Nations later this year.

For reasons that may or may not be identifiable, education on the continent has been poorly funded, utterly disregarded and in the process has adversely affected literacy levels among students. The situation is so grim that most schools in Africa do not have libraries and even when they do, are not adequately equipped. Understanding the value of education and borrowing from Peter Drucker’s statement that “Knowledge is the only meaningful resource today,” the SEOF as part of its core objectives champions the cause of education in Africa through its partnership with Books for Africa (BFA). Based in the USA, the partnership between the BFA and SEOF has seen shipments of books, desk and laptops and other educational materials to rural kindergarten, primary and secondary schools and local public libraries, including reference books like encyclopaedias across Africa. University libraries too receive books from the liberal arts, sciences, jurisprudential book volumes for law libraries and other specialised books which cover all areas of business administration. Interestingly, these books are not only new but also current while others are minimally used.

Since the initiation of the partnership in 2010, the SEOF has funded the shipment of over 73 containers of books to some of the most educationally disadvantaged countries in Africa, including Chad, South Sudan, Niger, The Gambia, Somalia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Liberia to mention a few. Nigeria alone has received sixteen containers of books delivered to libraries across the regions, making it the largest recipient country. Between 2010 and now, the SEOF have successfully provided the delivery of about 1.7 million books and computers worth more than $18 million to 19 African countries. The “one book, one child at a time” strategy has been a highly successful one and a testament of SEOF’s resolve to pursue an aggressive literacy and education campaign for the current generation. SEOF today remains the single largest independent donor to the BFA since its inception.

Understanding that youths are leaders of the future, the SEOF has placed much priority on the youth through its Youth Empowerment schemes. The Foundation empowers youths through provision of loans and micro-finance grants to low income earners and highly industrious persons. All these are basically done to engage youths in more productive ventures and help them to be independent. The motorcycle transit venture is one of the many programmes aimed at helping the youths to plan and manage their businesses. Remarkably, a high number of youths have been able to expand through this, venturing into commercial bus enterprise. This has not only brought additional employment to others, over 500 young minds have been touched and have success stories to tell of how a single, yet simple gift can grow ideas.

Aside the above, the SEOF supports people with disabilities through sponsorships to local and international sporting events. The 2014 International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Junior Games held at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Buckinghamshire England was one of those where Nigerian Paralympian Emmanuel Godwin who participated in the weightlifting category won Gold at the event, doing both the country and the SEOF proud.

One could go on and on but significantly, it must be noted that the local and international partnerships and collaborations SEOF engages with a number of reputable local and international organisations are very key to its philanthropic core objective which is humanity first. This is done basically to help build bridges, cement hopes and transform lives at all times. Our world today must revolve around removing people from poverty and helping to sustain their human needs. We need to understand that human development policies or strategies are the first and last steps to providing human needs without which crisis may set in. For the SEOF, its capacity to fulfil a significant number of our human challenges over the years represents a right step in the right direction of a purposeful human development strategy. It is only when people feel disconnected from their society and immediate environment that they begin to show deviance, a sign that crisis is about to happen. Nations must begin to invest heavily on people rather than on weapons and other less important issues.  

From the above, one would agree with this writer that the SEOF deserves a stellar award for championing the cause of humanity in so many ways. Not many philanthropic organisations today in Nigeria have done so much in terms of how deeply and positively they affect human lives. The SEOF continues to be a pointer to how private philanthropic organisations can effect dramatic changes in highly disadvantaged societies. No doubt, when the history of polio eradication, literacy and education advancement, youth and widows empowerment among other human development programmes are mentioned in Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation will really be part of that history. It is therefore, why this writer bestows the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation with the Person of the Year award. It is already etched in stone and its imprints are now felt on the sands of time.

 

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Scholarship Awards: SEOF Calls for Applications

The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) is calling for applications for its 2014/2015 scholarship awards. Below is the announcement, and a link to download the application form

 

 SEOF Scholarship Announcement

 

Click on this link to download the Application form: SEOF Sccholarship Form

Overcoming Obstacles to Eradicate Polio-Sir Emeka Offor Leads Way

Written by Dr. Edwin Ndukwe

 

 

Africans in their unique cultural tradition are endowed with rich social capital. Therefore, the welfare of each child in any community is inherently the responsibility of all, which gives credence to the proverb "it takes a village to raise a child".  In the world of business, that same spirit of communal support extends into our modern appreciation of corporate social responsibility, more aptly identified as social sustainability and philanthropy.

 

Philanthropy, whether internally generated or from external sources, is not a novel concept within the domain of the rich and wealthy. It is a principle that has addressed the fundamental challenges of our societies beyond the capabilities of the public sector. What is phenomenal, however, is the pace and scope of giving among Africans who have risen to play on the grander stage usually occupied by foreign western governments, international NGOs, prominent and super-wealthy individuals, and multi-national corporations. These emerging and highly successful African entrepreneurs are global Pan-Africanists who take great pride in the “African Renaissance” and have solidly embraced the traditions of their forefathers to be their brothers’ keeper.  

 

While we value and continue to welcome the commitment and support of UNICEF, WHO, CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other international donor organizations, we are proudly cognizant of our homegrown philanthropists and economic game-changers of our new Africa.   A 2014 publication from IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted a few African philanthropists who are having a significant impact on the continent. Top on their list are the following Nigerian philanthropists: Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Arthur Eze, and Theophilus Danjuma.  Several others from South Africa and Zimbabwe are also mentioned. The list is not entirely comprehensive but it shows that Africans are not idly watching from behind the fence waiting for others to address our problems and challenges. In fact, IRIN News reports that African philanthopists contribute an estimated $7 billion annually to an array of worthy causes.

 

Let us now turn the spotlight on health, and specifically, the Global Polio Eradication Initiatives (GPEI).   Prior to the discovery of the Inactivated Polio Virus (IPV) vaccine by Jonas Salk, polio ravaged the global community almost unimpeded.  This devastating disease led to paralysis and often death of an estimated half million people annually.  Confronting the polio health crisis became a challenging burden of leading nations and global health agencies. The polio vaccine discovery paved the way for an expedient relief, cutting the cases of polio in the U.S. from 20,000 per year in the 1950’s to 1000 per year in the 1960's. In 1988, through Rotary International support, the World Health Assembly articulated a global response to polio eradication. From 350,000 documented cases of polio in 1988 to a remarkable low in 2014, Rotary International, seeing the possibility of global eradication, is not letting up. Presently, there are only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, namely, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

 

One cannot speak of polio eradication efforts in Africa without mentioning the determined and passionate commitment of Rotary International’s Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor.  Sir Offor, who is the founder of the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) and one of Nigeria’s most versatile and successful businessmen, is not just the leading African donor to Rotary International’s polio efforts, he is also the Continent’s most active and vocal advocate for the eradication of polio, a tireless health crusader, and an impassionate voice for the preservation of health for all. One cannot speak of polio eradication in Nigeria without taking note of Sir Offor.  Known as a modest and self-effacing businessman, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Chrome Group and the Chairman of Kaztec Engineering Limited has quietly steamed past his compatriots with an accumulated total donation of $3.1 million.  Matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates 2 for 1 program, a new aggregate total of $9.3 million is accredited to Sir Emeka Offor.

 

It is important to underscore that while we have seen a 99% global reduction in the number of polio cases, there are still roadblocks to achieving the end game in Nigeria. Access to some interior communities in the heavily volatile areas of the Northeast has proven problematic in the heat of insurgent activities of the Islamic group Boko Haram. The Federal Government, however, is actively addressing these challenges. One approach that ought to be applauded is the defiance and bold strategy of “quick entry and exit” coordinated by polio workers at the grassroots in concert with community dwellers when the perceived threats of insurgent activities are low. In other words, when information filters through from locals that the insurgent activities have tapered, then polio workers make a quick entry into the area and immunize children and then vacate the community. Such social innovations and the commitment of health workers have provided sufficient buffer in the containment of polio and without equivocation formed the basis for the success Nigeria recorded in contending with Ebola.  

 

Recognizing these realities, Sir Offor recently allocated considerable financial resources to establish a center for tracking polio cases in the country. The new office not only serves as a hub for advocacy but also a proving ground for polio related policies and inter-agency cooperation. . Sir Offor's financial commitments and his widely recognized altruism have enabled Rotary to complement Government’s efforts and reduce the number of polio cases significantly to 6 in 2014, an 85% reduction compared to previous years.  In fact, a recent article by mega-philanthropist Ted Turner, the erstwhile owner of Time-Warner, titled "No Letting up Fight to end Polio", he further substantiates that over 75% of all children in eight Northern Nigerian States have been successfully immunized against polio in spite of a deadly insurgency and unprecedented insecurity in Northeastern Nigeria.  This is evidence of the immense strides made in Nigeria towards eradication of the disease.

 

Nigeria has the resolve, the human capacity, and a renewed political will to bring an end to polio. Private sector support without equivocation is paramount to achieving the desired goal. Sir Offor and other like-minded Nigerian philanthropists believe that the end-game is closer than ever before.   In his official capacity as Rotary International’s Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, Sir Offor has said he "will not rest until every child is immunized and Nigeria is polio free". This “privatization” of polio eradication efforts, I believe, represents a real turning point in Nigeria’s long fight against this crippling disease.  

 

It has taken leaders of uncommon vision, unbridled action, and deep compassion and commitment to get us to where we are today.  When the story of polio eradication in Nigeria is written, Sir Emeka Offor will feature prominently in the pantheon of the philanthro-capitalists who made it happen. 

An Interview with a Beneficiary

Mr Okafor at the eventThis is the interview granted by Mr. Innocent Okafor to SEOF Communication department at Barn Hills Resort Awka where Sir Emeka Offor Foundation distributed Crutches and Wheelchairs to polio survivors to aid them move independently. This is one of the activities by the foundation in October as a build up to marking World Polio Day on 24th October.


SEOF: Can we meet you sir?
Mr. Okafor: My Name is Innocent Okafor, a civil servant with Anambra state government and a polio survivor.
SEOF: Why are you here today sir?
Mr. Okoafor: I am here for world polio week and the event organized by Rotary club International being sponsored by Chief Emeka Offor.
SEOF: Like How Many beneficiaries are here today to benefit from wheelchairs and crutches distribution?
MR. Okafor: I think there are about three hundred beneficiaries present already.
SEOF: Sir in view of what SEOF is doing, how do you describe their activities and achievements?
Mr. Okafor: The activities of the foundation is really good and that is the kind of foundation we are advocating for. As u know, persons with disability in Nigeria are being discriminated upon by some individuals, groups and even the society. So SEOF is one of the groups I want to get involved in educating people that people with disability belong to our everyday society and that they have some contributions to input towards greater Nigeria. For example, if persons with disability are given jobs and some trained in skill acquisitions, they will contribute by way of tax payment and when they do that, they have contributed in the growth of our society. In communities, they can participate by paying community dues like rates, levies and participate in other economic activities beneficiary to the society. So Sir Emeka Offor Foundation is really trying for us, like today they are distributing mobility aid to persons with disability. So I thank them very well for their wonderful achievement and I also encourage them to do more because there more need to be done. Persons with disability need to be trained in various skills but I thank them for their achievement so far.
SEOF: When you talk about people with disability being trained in skill acquisition, can you please tell us some of the skills you think they can be trained in for them to contribute the way they want to in the society?
Mr. Okafor: Ok thank you. Persons with disability can be trained in different skills like shoe making, radio/television mechanic, computer engineering, auto mechanics which deaf and dumb can do, vulcanizing, welding, and many other skills they can do.
SEOF: I hope you wouldn’t mind some personal questions. At what age was it discovered that you have been affected by polio?
Mr. Okafor: It was when I was a year old.
SEOF: Can you describe growing up in a society where the disabled and are not taking good care of and how difficult mobility was for you before the establishment of organization like Sir Emeka Offor Foundaation. Describe how difficult it was for you going to school, church and getting involved with other normal societal activities?
Mr. Okafor: It was not easy, when it was discovered I had polio, my parents they tried their best because they never thought of abandoning me because of polio. They encouraged me, even when I got to the age of going to school, they had to take me to school on bicycle and pick me after school with it and this continued until I was able to use crutches. I never see myself limited by the disease or discriminated upon because I joined my childhood friends to do everything they did even following them to the bush to hunt so I was never limited by my condition though challenging but I conquered it.
SEOF: What impact do you think these gifts of crutches and wheelchair by Sir Emeka Offor Foundation have in the lives of polio survivors?
Mr. Okafor: It will have great impact in their lives. By giving them mobility aid will encourage them to live independently and move around. They can go to church, school for those who are still going to school, meet friend because if they are not given mobility aid, they cannot move around. This will definitely help them to move to places without looking for people to take them around and will not have to drop out of school or not acquiring skill due to immobility.
SEOF: What advice do you have for financially capable men out there to emulate from Sir EMeka Offor Foundation?
Mr. Okafor: My advice to them is that helping people with disability is one of the things God gave them money to do and not throwing their money into some unnecessary thing. When I say helping people with disability I don’t mean giving them money on the street but helping them to live independent life, helping them to start taking care of themselves without waiting for hand out from people. They can train them in school, pay for their skill acquisition, providing them with mobility aid and contribute meaningfully to Nigerian society. In fact, they should study Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and see how they have been able to help people with disability especially polio survivors meaningfully.
SEOF: Two days ago, Nigeria was declared Ebola free by World Health Organization (WHO) and we have had only 6 cases of polio in Nigeria as against same time last year when we had 52 cases showing significant improvement in the fight against polio. Now tell us how eager and happy you will be to see a polio free Nigeria especially by next year?

Mr. Okafor: It is a wonderful achievement because in the past like when I was young and it was discovered I had polio, there was nothing like polio Mr Okafor with the interviewersvaccine around then. So I am very happy at the reduction of cases and I am looking forward by next year or two, Nigeria will be polio free. I gladly thank Sir Emeka Offor for his huge financial commitment to seeing that polio is completely eradicated not only in Nigeria but in the world.
SEOF: Thank you sir.
Mr. Okafor: Thank you

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