Educating Africa: Sir Emeka Offor Steps up to the Plate

By Doug Stone
Books for Africa


SEOF-BFA Book Distribution

A new business model is emerging in Africa and it has the potential to benefit millions of underserved people around the far reaches of the continent. The model embraces corporate social responsibility and involves business leaders giving back to the places where they built and acquired their wealth. These private benefactors are now also collaborating with NGOs and governments to advance core development needs and goals.


No better example exists than Sir Emeka Offor, a leading Nigerian businessman, who since 2011 has donated $950,000 to Books For Africa (BFA) to ship 1.7 million books and computers valued at over $18 million to children and students in 19 African countries, including his own home country Nigeria.

What is unique about Sir Emeka’s generosity beyond the size of the donation, is that his support will help people in so many different countries: large and small; Muslim and Christian; geographically diverse, land-locked and coastal, and poor countries thousands of miles from his own homeland.

Time and again, studies show that literacy and education are linked to health, wealth, and prosperity. Literacy is the foundation for a good education. However, there are many developing places in the world that do not have adequate access to reading materials to foster a culture of learning, including many communities in Africa Over the past 25 years, Books For Africa (BFA) has supplied more than 30 million books to 49 African countries. BFA could not have done so without the tremendous support from partners like Sir Emeka Offor.

Sir Emeka Offor impresses American visitors with his desire to help African compatriots to help themselves through education. His goal, he says, is to help every man, woman and child in Africa learn to read and he approaches this goal with enthusiasm, tenacity and uncommon generosity.

Sir Emeka Offor is the largest donor in the history of Books For Africa, and the largest private sector donor in the history of the program. Sir Emeka’s foundation now serves as the prototype and catalyst for other private sector companies and state governments in Nigeria, with books, computers and school supplies being provided to all areas of Nigeria with no regard to religion or ethnicity.

Significantly, Sir Emeka Offor has also paid for the logistical costs of book distributions in Nigeria, which are valued at an additional several hundreds of thousands of dollars. By establishing a warehousing hub in Southern Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor has built a distribution machine to process huge numbers of books. More than 50 people have been hired to sort, catalog, box and distribute the donated books. This distribution center represents a best practice for how to efficiently and properly distribute large quantities of books in a single country, and has become the prototype for other donation programs in Africa.

It is not uncommon for African philanthropists to support education and literacy projects in their own countries. It is unprecedented, however, for an African business leader like Sir Emeka Offor to financially support projects of this size and scope across Africa in addition to a major book project in his home country. Projects of this scale are more often conceived and executed by government entities such as USAID, DFID, the EU, and various United Nations offices, but never by a single individual.

Sir Emeka Offor’s generosity has benefitted the following 19 African countries through book and computer donations: Nigeria, the Gambia, Somalia, Liberia, Tanzania, Namibia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Niger.

Sir Emeka’s work is certain to inspire other African business leaders to adopt his model of philanthropy. He has hit a home run heard around the continent.

Doug Stone is an Associate at Books for Africa Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota

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Sir Emeka Offor`s Giant Strides to Eradicate Polio

Cutting of The Tape at the Launch of the Rotary International Polio Ambassador`s Office

Tuesday 15th April, 2014 cast a different shadow on the hearts of many Rotarians and indeed on the hearts of many mothers in and around Garki Family Health Center; a departure from gloom and horror of a vicious attack on the community of Nyanya, Abuja, a day earlier. Thanks a lot to Sir Emeka Offor, the founder of Sir Emeka Offor Foundation for his unbending commitment to see that Polio is totally eradicated from Nigeria and the world.

Sir Emeka Offor, a member of the Arch klumph Society of Rotary International and the First Rotary International Polio Ambassador to Nigeria unveiled a new office space in Maitama area of Abuja, dedicated as the Polio Ambassador Office, a demonstration and a fulfillment of his pledge to fight Polio till “every child is immunized in Nigeria and polio is no more. The new office according to him will serve as the coordinating office for all polio related issues under the umbrella of Rotary International. In addition, it will function as a control center and a hub for all applicable outreach projects, and a birthing platform for advocacy on Polio eradication initiatives.

The unveiling of the office, although significant, and the highlight of the day, it did not go without an immunization drive organized and held at the Family Health Clinic in Area 2 Garki. The Rotary International Ambassador, Sir Emeka Offor, along with a special guest, the visiting Chair Trustee of Rotary Foundation and the past Rotary International President D.K. Lee and his amiable wife Jong Lee were on site to administer oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) to many infants. Equally and actively involved in the immunization exercise was the National Chairman Rotary International Polio Plus Dr. Tunji Funsho. Others were senior ranking members of Rotary International including past and present District Governors. In addition to the esteemed group of participators is the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria Howard Jeter (Rtd.) and Peggy Asseo, the Rotary International Polio Campaign Manager.

Earlier during the day, Ambassador Sir Emeka visited the Polio Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to learn of their efforts in the fight against polio. While conducting a tour of the EOC at their Abuja office, Dr. Etsano, the program manager, shared with Sir. Emeka Offor and D.K. Lee in the company of many distinguished Rotary representatives their successes and challenges with the Polio eradication initiatives in Nigeria.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. Etsano salutes the efforts of the visiting donor in the person of Sir Emeka Offor. He said, “I want also to inform you that we are committed to eradicating polio in the country, the scourge of polio, by June this year. The Polio Emergency Operation Center, which is the place you have now was carved out in October 2012 to give a bite to the program and ensure that we put it on an emergency note based on the World Health Assembly recommendation that polio should not be a programmatic emergency, and that is exactly what we have been doing to ensure that we meet with the deadline and we should exit after India.” He also said that they are making strategic inroads towards polio immunization in high-risk areas of the country. He described high-risk areas as regions where Rotary efforts has suffered most set backs due to misinformation about the safety of OPV, predominantly in the northern corridors of Nigeria.

“Looking at the epidemiology of wild poliovirus in the country, we ended last year with 53 cases of children paralyzed from polio compared to 2012 where we had 122 cases. The first quarter of this year, we recorded 1 case in Kano and we just got an advanced notification of 1 case in Bayelsa. What I want to mention here is that there has been about 90% reduction compared to last year at the same period.” Speaking on the innovations that have given them success in the program in spite of the obvious challenges of insecurity in the North, he said that in order to win the hearts of the parents to agree for the immunization of their children, you must first of all win the hearts of the children. “What has worked for us is the introduction of sports whistles as a gift to the children…the kids are attracted to it and trust is quickly established. Another scheme as stated by Dr. Etsano is the integrated approach to health drives. When the children come in to the clinic for their routine visits, while they are receiving other acceptable vaccines, they are easily given OPV, he said. He further stated that the EOC, which was carved out in October 2012 is “committed to eradicating Polio by June this year (2014) from Nigeria…

Polio is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system often leading to partial or full paralysis of the lower extremities of mostly children under 5 years of age. According to a report from World Health Organization, “one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis.” In severe conditions, it may lead to death stemming from immobilization of the respiratory muscles. Poliovirus although eradicated from most paths of the world remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With concerted and renewed focus on the END POLIO NOW initiative, “victory is near for a polio free Nigeria”, D. K. Lee, the Chair Trustee for Rotary International Foundation said, during his remarks. The event on Tuesday was followed with another immunization drive on Thursday morning at a health center near garden city, Port Harcourt. During the visit, which was organized by District 9140, a billboard with Sir Emeka Offor’s “We are this close to ending Polio” was unveiled. The occasion was equally graced with many Rotarian dignitaries including D.K.Lee.

To see pictures from the event, click here.

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The River Blindness Elimination Commitment in Nigeria

It is not everyday individuals and groups of people come together to advance the cause of fighting diseases in Nigeria, especially those that affect millions of people. In the case of Nigeria, several health challenges confront the vast majority of its people, a serious issue which demand serious and swift attention.

River blindness also known as Onchocerciasis has become the most endemic disease in Nigeria which according to the Carter Center accounts for as much as 40 per cent of the global disease burden. The Center estimates that up to 27 million Nigerians live with the disease in different parts of the 32 state and need treatment for disease. In 2012, the Center provided health education and Mectizan treatments to more than 6 million people in more than 8,100 villages. This initiative has however received quite an appreciable number of supports in the last couple of years from organisations and NGOs based in Nigeria through partnership with the Center in the fight against Onchocerciasis.

One of the biggest supporters in the fight and elimination of Onchocerciasis in Nigeria is Sir Emeka Offor, the founder and the Executive Vice Chairman of Chrome Group. On March 26, 2014, an esteemed team of epidemiologists, entomologists and public health advocates from The Carter Center (TCC) in Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A. paid a courtesy visit to him at the Group’s headquarters located on 22 Lobito Crescent, FCT. Abuja. Among the guests was TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel S. Miri, OFR, Senior Associate Director of Development for TCC Health Programs Sarah Bartlett, Director Southeast Integrated Programs TCC Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel Emukah, Senior Program Associate for TCC Lindsay Rakers, and Assistant Director Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) TCC Atlanta Dr. Darin Evans. Representing Chrome Group included the Chief Energy Consultant Engr. Onochie Anyaoku, Director Project Engr. Tochukwu Odukwe, followed by the Group Administrative Manager Chief Inno Anoliefo while the General Coordinator Honourable Tony Obi ably represented the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF).

Speaking to the visitors in his office, Sir Emeka thanked all for their visit while stating his happiness in partnering with the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in all his endeavours towards the elimination of not just River Blindness in Nigeria.
“I want to continue my support to President Carter to see that River Blindness is eliminated from our region. And now, I know it is not just River Blindness but also elephantiasis and schistosomiasis.” Sir Emeka said;

He further stated that he was actively developing an office facility at the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) headquarter in Oraifite, Anambra State. The new office according to Sir Emeka will be dedicated to The Carter Center. In addition, he noted that his foundation is in the process of acquiring four Hilux utility vehicles to help curb TCC logistic challenges in the South-eastern part of Nigeria.

While thanking Sir Emeka for his continued support of the program, TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Miri confirmed that a thorough mapping of the seven endemic states in Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, and Imo) had been completed and that the Carter Center is poised to scale up its treatment target to reach about 35 million people. Dr. Miri said, “we still have challenges in the area of funding even though other agencies like WHO and USAID have made donations…however the funds are not accessible due to recent restrictions on foundations to donate to Nigeria because of Nigeria’s new anti-gay law.” Dr Miri therefore asked for Sir Emeka Offor’s continued financial support.

Speaking earlier during the visit, Sarah Bartlett shared President Carter’s appreciation for Sir Emeka Offor’s partnership in his efforts to bring about a total elimination of River Blindness in Nigeria. She noted how Sir Emeka offor’s donations last year had been very useful to the program such that it has established him as the highest African donor to the program in Nigeria. She also stressed that Sir Emeka Offor’s continued support was necessary because depending on other governmental donor organs may not be reliable. She affirmed that there were currently a lot of restrictions on how much or how long USAID could support the program especially in Nigeria.

Dr. Evans joined in by saying that Onchocerciasis elimination efforts had been very successful in the Americas through the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) and was equally successful in Uganda and Sudan. He said, “we would like to try to do this in Nigeria…perhaps we can get some support to implement the elimination studies we have done elsewhere.”
The visit ended on a good note with Sir Emeka Offor extending an invitation to the team from The Carter Center to return to Nigeria and specifically to the Southeast to initiate the “scaled up” elimination program.

With the above commitments and initiative, there is no doubt that the elimination of Onchocerciasis will be achieved. River blindness poses a great risk for us as a people. Stemming it vigorously now will not only prevent its further spread but also remove Nigeria from its endemic status.

Dr. Edwin Ndukwe wrote via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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The Carter Center Partners with SEOF to Combat River Blindness in Nigeria

President Jimmy Carter and Sir Emeka Offor

On March 3rd 2014, The Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta Georgia was noticeably alive as the 18th River Blindness [Elimination] Program Review kicked off in full swing.

The event, which holds annually, was graced by world leading epidemiologists and entomologists, public health advocates and country Ministry of Health coordinators, particularly from countries with Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) endemicity and those with partner relationship with The Carter Foundation. Others in attendance were prominent donors or representatives associated with the Carter Center in their homogenous and broad pursuit of peace, disease eradication and human capacity training.

Dr. Frank Richards Jr. Director, Carter Center RB, LF, SCH, ML Programs, opened up the conference by looking at River Blindness eradication efforts, challenges and recorded successes since the 2013 Review session. In his declaration, he reminded the panel of the purpose of the review, which according to him are; to examine The Carter Center assisted River Blindness (RB), Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), Schistosomiasis (SCH) programs together with represented partners from country Ministry of Health, assess targets reached during the previous year, review problems encountered in fulfilling set objectives and set new goals or objectives for the 2014 year.
He further urged the panel to evaluate and appreciate innovative efforts or concepts of integration otherwise called Integrated Vector Management (IVM). World Health Organization in 2011 issued a statement in support of IVM citing improved cost effectiveness in vector control operations and strengthening the capacity of programs as well, as it pertains to LF/Malaria, LF and RB elimination in endemic regions of Africa and particularly, Nigeria. IVM had encouraged an estimated treatment target of about 20 million in 2013, a remarkable jump from previous years number. Although a little more than 15 million treatment target was met, it however was considered a success.
River Blindness or Onchocerciasis is a disease that affects the eye and skin, which is brought on by a nematode called Onchocerca Volvulus. It is one of the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) with endemicity in South Eastern Nigeria. It is parasitic in nature and it is caused by an infection resulting from several bites from a black fly often found in areas with fast flowing streams. According to WHO, 30 countries in Africa are considered endemic with an estimated population of 85 million. Almost half of those numbers live in Nigeria.
Common symptoms include itching of skin, rashes or papules often tightening of skin tissue akin to a lizard skin characteristic. The accompanying inflammatory response leads to glaucoma type effect that may lead to irreversible blindness if not treated on time. Treatment is effected by the administration of a drug called Ivermectin (Mectizan), a Merck Company product, once or twice a year for about 15 years. An antibiotic doxycycline has also been used to hasten treatment when properly indicated.
Embracing the shift from control to elimination, The Carter Center has adopted a “scale up” modality in the treatment of RB. To enable the foundation and its partners achieve this goal, twice-a-year and sometimes four-times-a-year treatment regimens have been encouraged, particularly in regions where transmission persists. Such an aggressive approach requires coordinated and collaborative efforts from each country`s Ministry of Health, The Carter Center and most certainly supportive funding from donor organizations.
It is here that Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of a multi-billion dollar oil and gas conglomerate, has risen to augment the ongoing global efforts towards the elimination and eradication of RB from Nigeria. Through his corporate responsibility arm, The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, he donated over $250,000 of his personal money to the Carter Center during the year 2013. At this year’s review at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Sir Emeka Offor through his foundation representative renewed his commitment to the fight against River Blindness and further pledged provision of supportive logistics to advance efforts made by The Carter Center. Till date, Sir Emeka Offor remains the largest independent African donor in the world towards the elimination and eradication of River Blindness in Nigeria, a statement verified from the Center’s spokesperson.
While speaking at the closing of the review session, the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation representative, Dr. Edwin Ndukwe, commended the team of doctors, epidemiologists and entomologists for their persistence in RB elimination project. In his words, he said; “I commend the Carter Center for bringing together these colorful and quite frankly brilliant ensemble of scientific icons that are committed to wiping out the scourge of River Blindness from our region”. He further referred to them as “Iconoclasts” stating that through their unique disciplines, they are “breaking new grounds, stretching scientific borders and redefining scientific research standards.” Dr. Ndukwe reaffirmed Sir Emeka Offor’s passion for the ongoing work against River Blindness.

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