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. 

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