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




October 16, 2014


Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International Commemorate World Polio Day

‘24 October, 2014’

Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria


Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis. Polio remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. This year Nigeria has made tremendous progress in curbing the spread, reflecting a 95 present reduction in transmission resulting in only six confirmed cases to date.

The World Polio Day was established by Rotary International over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Use of this inactivated poliovirus vaccine and subsequent widespread use of the oral poliovirus, developed by Albert Sabin, led to the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988. Since then, GPEI has reduced polio worldwide by 99%.

Sir Emeka Offor is Rotary’s largest donor from Africa and as the first Polio Ambassador to Nigeria he is determined to see that Nigeria is polio free. In furtherance of his commitment towards the eradication of polio, Sir Emeka has donated over $3.1 million to the National PolioPlus initiative; he has also initiated several programmes like the “Differently Able Project” to support polio survivors and continues to champion child immunization through advocacy with political, traditional and religious leaders.

The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in partnership with Rotary International will be sponsoring a number of activities to commemorate the 2014 World Polio Day. Activities will commence on the 18th of October and span through the 24th of October when the ‘Yes to Health, No to Polio’ audio book will be launched. 

As the World Polio Day draws close, all well-meaning Nigerians are urged to join the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International on their avowed commitment towards polio eradication in Nigeria. 

We are this close to eradicating Polio

About Sir Emeka Offor Foundation

The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) is a charitable, non-governmental organization founded by Sir Emeka Offor to help people in need become independent and self-sufficient. The Foundation seeks to alleviate suffering of the less privileged in society and is committed to providing support in the areas of human  capacity development, skills acquisition and the establishment of small and medium enterprises (SME’s) and cooperative societies. The Foundation has affected the lives of many Nigerians through its domestic and international projects. www.sireofforfoundation.org

About Rotary International

Rotary International is an international service organization whose stated purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. www.rotary.org  


Rosaline Agiamoh

Polio Ambassador Representative

SEOF/Rotary International

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Dr Edwin Ndukwe

Head Communications and Business Development

The Chrome Group

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The Chrome Group

22 Lobito Crescent,

Wuse 2, Abuja.






Access to books is fundamental to the promotion of literacy.  In Africa and other developing areas, the promotion of literacy through reading is hindered by the high cost of books and inadequate government spending on education, particularly in rural areas.  But two giant institutions through their unique partnership are, among other things, promoting access to books and changing Africa's future, “one book, and one child at a time”. The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF), a Nigerian Non-Governmental Organization and Books For Africa (BFA), based in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, are two of an iconic kind. Their shared vision, and the special relationship that they have developed, would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but it has now become a major driving force for literacy in Africa.


SEOF and BFA are, in their respective ways, quietly changing our assessment of how the African private sector can join forces with local and foreign NGOs to have a dramatic impact on the social fabric of the Continent.  Putting books back onto the once dusty bookshelves of rural schools and local libraries and into the hands of young schoolboys and schoolgirls is their overriding mantra. This is the new face of African corporate social responsibility as Africa becomes the home of some of the fastest growing economies in the world.  In Africa, a new kind of philanthropy, homegrown and focused on grassroots development, is emerging, and the collaboration between the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Books For Africa is helping to set the stage for this new trend.


Recently, a visit to Books For Africa at their main distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia gave me better insights into the robust synergy between BFA and SEOF and what these two very dissimilar but equally dedicated organizations are trying to achieve. The distribution warehouse, which holds several million books, is spread over 30,000 square feet.  To carry out its mandate, BFA depends on critical local support from thousands of volunteers, young and old, to receive, catalogue, and process the books that BFA acquires from multiple sources and sends out to recipients throughout the Continent.


According to BFA management, about 14,000 committed volunteers annually give their time and energy to sort and process books at the warehouse, which is a hub of volunteer activity.  The volunteers come from local colleges and universities, high schools, churches, fraternities and sororities, senior citizen groups, local companies, professional associations, and a host of other civil society groups. The volunteers supporting Books For Africa are considered to be the largest volunteer force of any non-profit establishment in the Atlanta area, and possibility in the United States.  Several years ago, BFA moved its new warehousing operation from St. Paul, Minnesota to Atlanta in order to be closer to East Coast ports in Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, and Houston.  This strategic move has paid off handsomely in terms of lowering transportation and shipping costs and drawing on a much larger pool of volunteers and donors.


Most books donated to Books For Africa are for African primary and secondary schools, kindergartens, and public libraries, including reference books such as encyclopedias.  BFA also, however, sources liberal arts, science, math, and other specialized books for universities, jurisprudential volumes for law libraries, and books covering all aspects of business administration. Many of the books are new and current editions; other are slightly used.  For the latter, BFA has a very strict vetting process and no books are shipped to Africa that would not be used in American schools.  Old books are recycled and processed to make the cardboard boxes BFA uses to ship its donated books.  BFA receives donated books from publishers, schools, libraries, churches, companies, other NGOs and the general public.  It also sometimes purchases new edition surplus books from publishers at greatly reduced discounted prices.  


In addition to books, BFA occasionally responds to special requests for school supplies, including pens, pencils, tablets, rulers, book bags and the like.  On request, it will also supply like-new, reconditioned fully loaded desktop and laptop computers.  The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation has purchased more than 300 computers at a cost of approximately $200 per unit. It has 400 more on order.    

SEOF in its partnership with BFA ensures that donated books are shipped to    identified countries and regions in Africa, usually to local NGOs but sometimes to local and State governments. From the inception of the partnership in 2010, the SEOF has underwritten the shipment of more than 73 40-foot containers of books to Africa.  Sixteen containers have already been delivered to Nigeria, which is the largest recipient country.  Five containers have gone to the Gambia as SEOF’s contribution to that country’s “Million Books Campaign”.  Thirty eight containers have been shipped to 18 countries in all regions of the Continent, with 14 paid containers scheduled for delivery. The SEOF has made special efforts to provide books to some of the most disadvantaged countries on the Continent, including Chad, South Sudan, Niger, The Gambia, Somalia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, among others.


For 2015, the SEOF has recently commissioned the shipment of 16 additional containers of books to Nigeria, along with 400 desk and laptop computers, and 27 specialized library collections (e.g., law, map and agriculture). The financial burden for this crucial role includes the cost of shipping to destination ports and inland transportation.  This cost is borne solely by the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation., which so far has expended more than $1.75 million.   


Delivering books to Africa does not stop with paying the cost for freight and forwarding.  There are other inherent and unavoidable challenges, which are encountered along the transportation chain. For instance, moving container loads of books from seaports over local roads to inland distribution centers or local NGOs can be hazardous due to poor road networks and security risks, particularly in areas mired in conflicts. Getting the books to land-locked countries presents special logistical challenges because once the shipment arrives at the closest seaport, the destination country can be hundreds of miles away over treacherous roadways. .  Such was the case with Chad, Niger, Somaliland, Rwanda, and even Botswana.


So far, the SEOF has successfully facilitated the delivery of about 1.7 million books and computers with a commercial, off the shelf value of more than $18 Million to 19 African countries, including Nigeria. The SEOF’s financial and logistical role in these chains of events is the engine that keeps the books and computer supply going; it is also a fillip to greater literacy in Africa. BFA confirmed that Sir Emeka Offor is the single largest independent donor to their organization since its inception.



The unique union between SEOF and BFA brings smiles and sometimes tears to faces of African children, who do not take learning for granted and who see literacy as the gateway to a better life.  Through a labor of love between SEOF and BFA, a lifeline to knowledge and a new world is open for young aspiring African youth. Inevitably, through the strategy of “one book, one child at a time”, SEOF and BFA are empowering the future generation of Africans through access to literacy and education.


Dr. Edwin Ndukwe writes from Houston

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