By Tunde Olusunle
It was scheduled to hold in the month of May. The plan was to have it coincide with his investiture with an honorary doctorate degree by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, NAU, Awka, Anambra State, Friday May 10, 2019. The honour was in recognition of his longstanding exertions and enterprise as an inimitable entrepreneur, a tireless creator of opportunities and a critical contributor to the national economy over time.
The pan-Nigerian, multi-religious, cross-cultural, even international colouration of the friends and organisers of the high profile reception conceived to honour Sir Emeka Offor on his conferment with the doctorate degree (honoris causa) in Entrepreneurship by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, however, necessitated a rescheduling till Saturday June 29, 2019, to allow for maximum participation and attendance.
Friends, admirers and acquaintances of ‘Sir E’ as Emeka Offor is fondly called, straddle ethnicities, cultures, faiths, professions, ideologies, nationalities and political persuasions. They are an interesting mix of governors (serving and retired), parliamentarians, ministers of the federal republic, businessmen, diplomats, academics, technocrats, bureaucrats, even the apolitical, all united by their multifarious linkages with and admiration for him. Saturday June 29, 2019, was therefore unanimously admitted as the consensual date by ‘Friends of Emeka Offor’ as the congregation of this group of close friends and associates of the respected business mogul, are known, to felicitate with him on his most recent honour.
Emeka Offor’s name and enterprise reverberate across the Nigerian socioeconomic space and beyond. In a country which is not in short supply of certified achievers and referential icons in business, commerce, and contributions to economic development, Offor sprouts above the shrubs, at home and abroad.
From oil and gas; through telecommunications and energy; and thenceforth to aviation and engineering; from clearing and forwarding to insurance brokerage and logistics, Emeka Offor has etched indelible footprints on the sands of time, in nearly four decades of his business and entrepreneurial odyssey.
Immediate past Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof Joseph Eberendu Ahaneku had observed in a press statement preceding the investiture, that ‘Offor has developed people and also developed our economy’ in several ways. He is reputed as one entrepreneur who survived the odds and sired several other entrepreneurs along the way. Instructively, Offor was honoured side by side with two accomplished Nigerian statesmen, the revered royalty, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha and the renowned diplomat, politician and administrator, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, which conferred authenticity on the honour.
Yet, his trajectory is not one of those fairytale platinum spoon-cultivated or gold crockery-nurtured stories denominating the profiles of a few members of his generation. Emeka Offor’s story is a prototype of hard-worn ascent from a very modest, perhaps disadvantaged and uncertain background to the very apex of fame, fortune and respectability. It has been recorded elsewhere that he is a self-made man in every sense of the word, who started from the ground and worked his way to the top.
He was the first of ten children born into the family of Benneth Offor and his wife, Comfort, on February 10, 1959, in Kafanchan, in the Old Northern Region which is today in Kaduna State, North West Nigeria. Leadership and fellow-feeling were therefore bestowed on him by the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. His parents hailed from Umuneke Umudalagbayim kindred, Nkalafia, Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra State. The senior Offor was in the primordial Nigeria Police Force, NPF, a career which engendered regular occupational movements and transfers.
Offor’s education and working life bears the imprint of a pan-Nigerian troubadour, a fact evidenced by his deep understanding of the sociocultural dynamics of his country and the effortless ease with which he interacts with friends and people across Nigeria’s diverse ethno-religious spectrum. He had his foundational education at Eziukwu Primary School in Aba, in present day Abia State and subsequently in St. Michael’s Primary School, Ogbete, Enugu, Enugu State. He proceeded to Merchant of Light Secondary School, Oba and thenceforth to Abbott Boys High School, Ihiala, both in modern day Anambra State. He worked briefly as a teacher in his alma mater, Abbott Boys High School, where he had a life-changing experience with his father.
The young Offor who believed that as a pupil teacher he was a young adult who could take decisions by himself, got queried by his father for not apprising him of his monthly pay packet and for spending from his own earnings, without his father’s express approval! In later life, though, he continued to build himself and to demystify the wrong notion that success and excellence are necessary by-products of paper certification.
Determined to be his own man, Offor took a plunge into the unknown as it were. His father’s former colleague, Pa Geoffrey Abadi, took the young Offor to Warri, the economic nerve centre of present day Delta State and found him a job as a transport clerk with Rivways Lines Nigeria Ltd. The company was in the business of the importation of bitumen products. Pa Abadi would further assist Offor in cutting his teeth as a cub entrepreneur, by facilitating his purchase and supply of small quantities of bitumen to smaller companies.
Within two years of apprenticeship, Offor had begun to aim higher, supplying bitumen to construction giants notably Julius Berger Nig. Ltd; Guffanti Nigeria Ltd and Fougerolle Nigeria Ltd, among others. His business prospered because of his dedication, business acumen, integrity and commitment.
By 1985, Offor took the plunge into the corporate world and established Chrome Oil Services Ltd. Today, that experiment has spawned a sprawling business empire with several thriving subsidiaries, which include: Kaztec Engineering Ltd; Nimek Investments Ltd and Global Scansystems Nigeria Ltd. There are also: Enugu Electricity
Distribution Company; Elcrest Exploration and Production Company Ltd; Chrome Insurance Brokers Ltd and Inland Containers Nig Ltd.
Offor has been Chairman of the Board of EHRC Energy Inc., an independent oil and gas company, based in the United States of America, which explores and produces oil and gas in the Gulf of Guinea, among several international engagements on the business front.
While images of the typical bourgeois adorn the pages of celebrity publications in their yacht cruises and grand revelry, Offor is eternally driven by the imperative to give back to the society, particularly the underprivileged, in recognition of his own background.
The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, SEOF, which he established therefore, is a non-profit, charity organization committed to poverty reduction and the creation of live-improving conditions for marginalized Nigerians, especially in the provision of qualitative education and healthcare. He is committed to pricking global conscience to the realization that the very poor and needy are potentially active and productive members of society, given requisite empowerment and mentoring. The Foundation operates a cooperative for widows, runs a youth empowerment and employment scheme and engages in infrastructural development.
Set up in 2003, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, SEOF, has been in active collaboration with several international bodies and groups to minister to the needs of the less privileged. In partnership with Books For Africa, BFA, the Foundation has donated books, computers and other instructional materials to schools and institutions in Nigeria and about 19 other African countries, to the tune of nearly $30 million. Nnamdi Azikiwe University for instance, received over 10,000 volumes of books on jurisprudence, medical sciences, engineering, information technology and other academic disciplines. The June/July nationwide book distribution exercise will see about 200,000 volumes of books being appropriated to institutions of learning at various levels.
Since 2007, the scholarship scheme of SEOF has privileged over 150 primary school pupils; 200 students of secondary schools and 300 undergraduate and postgraduate students. This has cost the SEOF well over N150 million. University graduates who earn a first class honours degree are also given automatic employment into subsidiaries in the Chrome Group, through the facilitation of SEOF. The Foundation has also endowed a professorial chair worth N20 million for the Faculty of Physical Sciences of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The Foundation equally provides a fellowship for Nigerian medics desirous of researching into glaucoma at the University of Mainz, Germany, while also supporting the Department of Opthamology of the institution with an annual grant of €150,000 for research into glaucoma. SEOF is also in partnership with the Carter Foundation in the articulation of panaceas for River blindness, in Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo Enugu and Imo, States.
Respected journalist, former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE and pioneer Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, CON, has known Emeka Offor for over two decades. According to him, the award of the honorary doctorate in entrepreneurship to Sir Emeka Offor, is richly deserved. His words: ‘I am very delighted by the award of this honorary degree to Sir Emeka Offor. It is an honour to a man who richly deserves honour for his doggedness, his compassion and magnanimity, and genuine generosity of spirit. His contributions to community development, to a wide variety of charities are truly enormous. These, characteristically, are executed with minimum noise and publicity.
Ugochukwu also salutes Offors loyalty to friendship. According to him, ‘On top of his many commendable qualities is his unwavering commitment to friendship and relationships. Sir E, stands by his friends through thick and thin. And he does have a lot of friends. I’m happy to count myself among his friends.’
Barr Steve Ahaneku has known Offor for nearly three decades and he is continually fascinated by the man and his multivalent endeavours: ‘Sir Emeka Offor is compassionate, loyal and humane. These for me are his greatest strengths and they are responsible for the huge sense of empathy that he has. He is there for you in good and bad times, and his commitment is total. Ahaneku comments on Offor’s official disposition: ‘His work ethic is incredible and his determination to succeed in all he does, is phenomenal. He is many things to many people, and most of them will agree that his generosity knows no bounds.’
Chief Ahaneku salutes the authentic and strikingly humble Nigerian in Offor: ‘He is one of the few genuinely detribalized people I know. He is multilingual and speaks quite a few Nigerian languages. He is a global citizen with no chip on his shoulders, ever conscious of his roots.’
Before his most recent honour, Sir Emeka Offor has been variously honoured by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International; the Consulate of Romania in Nigeria; the Botswana Book Project; the Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture; the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Association of Energy Correspondents among others. He has also been recognized by the Oraifite Community- USA Chapter; the Nnewi Sports Club and the Consulate of Nigeria in Atlanta.
He has served as the Chairman of the Governing of Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo and is a Knight of Saint Christopher of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.
* Olusunle is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE.