‘It’s preposterous to conclude we’ve kicked out polio without sustaining the defeat’
Rotarian David Olaniyi Taiwo is the President of Rotary Club of Isolo, Lagos. A Surveyor and member of Surveyor Council of Nigeria (SOCON), he’s the one steering the ship of one of the oldest clubs in Rotary International, District 9110, which was founded 40. In this interview with ISAAC TAIWO he spoke on the activities of the club in Nigeria, intervention programmes that culminated in ending polio in Nigeria, the next focus for Rotary International in general and how Rotary Club of Isolo is contributing to the project.
As the President of Rotary Club of Isolo, could you share with us a bit about the club’s history?
The club was founded in June 1980; this Rotary year makes it 40 years and one of the founding fathers is still very active. In fact, the history of Rotary Club of Isolo cannot be well told without mentioning our own Past District Governor, Asiwaju Dr. Michael Olawale Cole, who was the President of the Club in 1983. We have had 39 past Presidents in the history of the club and I am the 40th President of the club.
We have been celebrating the 40th anniversary of club. Other pillars in the club include Past President Yomi Folarin, Past President Pa Francis Idowu, Late Pa Adeyemi and we also have icons in the club like our distinguished Senator and past President Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon.
Rotary Club played a vital role towards the eradication of Polio in Nigeria, how do you feel about this achievement?
It can be best compared with when a battle is fought and won by a country in the world. This is the kind of joy I am having today, which I believe every Rotarian in Nigeria is also having. We could also see it in President Buhari who gave kudos to the Ministry of Health and of course Rotary International when the country was finally declared free of the virus by World Health Organisation (WHO) on August 25, 2020. It was a fantastic battle that was won. As a Rotarian, in the last convention I attended at Hamburg, Germany, I felt so bad when, at that time, Nigeria was still remaining one of the countries yet to be declared free of polio. You can imagine the level of my happiness now that we have been declared polio free country.
What did it take Rotary to end polio in Nigeria?
We know polio to be an infection among children under the age of five, which is contacted through contaminated water. Absence of good water automatically is a challenge in some parts of Nigeria. Every District Governor in District 9110 had taken maximum measures to fight polio in Nigeria along with Rotary International fighting the virus all over the world. Thank God, there is a safe and effective vaccine that Rotary International discovered in 1955. It was found to be save and effective.
The first outbreak started in United States of America in 1894 where 18 deaths were recorded with 132 cases resulted into permanent paralysis. Since then, there had been a lot of researches. America embarked on different researches and in 1916, there was a major outbreak of about 2 million cases. In 1979, Rotary International began its fight against polio and pronounced six million children infected in Philippines.
When Rotary International commenced this fight, they started reaching out to clubs in Africa and to one of the partners, World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1985 when the major fight against polio commenced. There was initial fundraising of about 120 million dollars targeted at supporting health workers who were administering the vaccines. In 1988, 350 cases were reported all over the world in 125 countries. The fight was intensified and the goal of Rotary International was to eradicate polio in the world; it was eradicated from America in 1994. The challenge was then focused on Asian countries and Africa.
In 2003, Rotary International announced six countries with polio, which included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, India, Niger and Nigeria. In 2014, about 39 per cent were free of polio. Thanks to the efforts of Nigeria government with Rotary International that supported the government to eliminate polio in the country. Two years ago when the Rotary International President visited Nigeria, he commended the efforts of Nigeria government that partnered with Rotary International to fight polio.
The effort that District 9110 has been making to fight this polio could be broken down this way. We normally contribute an annual fund towards polio, where every Rotarian was expected to contribute to this fund. The fund was used for campaign and to create awareness of polio; to provide vaccines, to support health workers that gave the vaccines, to provide mobility for workers going every where including rural areas to help fight the virus. District 9110 also embarked on water and sanitation projects since the disease is caused by contaminated water. Provision of portable water was considered one of the strategies to fight the virus.
About two years ago, the District Governor then renovated Primary health centres as one of the approaches to deal with polio. The incumbent District Governor has charged every Rotarian to contribute a minimum of ten dollars into Polio Plus Fund. He expects every club to give a minimum of $2,000.00 dollars to this fund and I am happy to say that Isolo Rotary Club was the first club to contribute this levy into this year’s Rotary fund and we are still going to do more because it is preposterous to fold our hands and conclude that we have kicked out polio without the determination to sustain the defeat through provision of portable water to communities that lack this, as well as provision of vaccines for prevention.
What’s the idea behind Polio Plus initiative?
Polio Plus is a kind of initiative that was launched in 1985 by Rotary International with a view to raising funds. Then, when this initiative was launched, Rotary International targeted to raise initial fund of 120 million dollars, realising that there was need for having on ground a substantial amount to start the project. So, this amount of money was earmarked for fighting the battle.
Can you quantify how much was expended in the fight against polio in Nigeria?
From record, with the help of Rotarians, Rotary clubs around the world, including Rotary partner like Billgate Foundation that undertook to give double of whatever Rotary was able to donate to fight polio every year, nothing less than $1.9 billion dollars had been spent by Rotary International.
Then coming to Nigeria, I do not have the record of what Rotary in Nigeria spent to fight the virus because we have different districts in the country. The record can only be obtained from what each District spent every year against the virus. However, Rotary in Nigeria really spent a lot and we are still spending to sustain the victory. Like this year, I can envisage we are going to spend nothing less than $200,000.00, as each club in District 9110 alone is expected to donate a minimum of $2,000.00 and we have over 100 clubs in the District.
How do we sustain the defeat of polio in Nigeria?
We would continue to intensifying our campaign as well as creating awareness of the virus. For example, in our club, we have branded a car, which carries information about keeping polio at zero. This is the reason we still need money because we would still be needing vaccines to give to communities where the virus was concentrated while we would not cease providing portable water, provide sanitisers and others.
After polio, what’s next for Rotary?
While we keep on sustaining eradication of polio, it is a kind of advice to the Federal Ministry of Health to sensitise the citizens to be hygienic and ensure our environment is always kept clean; COVID-19 exposed us to some weaknesses. What we were taught like keeping our environment clean, washing of our hands and using of sanitisers should continue.
What do you do differently in Rotary Club of Isolo that made the District Governor places you as No. 1 in the District during his visit?
Our focus at Rotary Club of Isolo is ensuring good succession plan, which of course, is one of the ideals of Rotary generally. Two years ago, I was elected President nominee; last year, I was made President-elect and this year, by God’s grace, I am the President. It means an average succeeding president has two years to do a proper planning, with the privilege of studying from the predecessor. A club of 40 years old with past 39 presidents has a lot of mentors to learn from.
Another privilege that attracts encomium is that we have a good and co-operative board; we work together and round the clock anytime we have a project. We have the team spirit and dedicated minds, which gives us achievement and kudos from our District Governor when he visited us. We also have quality leaders like PDG Michael Olawale Cole who have been so supportive; past president, PAG Sunday Gbenjo, past president Ralph Abadon, Assistant Governor Bola Ogungbe and others. Past President Jerry Ajeyinsi of Rotary Club of Egbeda also calls us regularly and tells us what we are to do.
When it comes to membership, what are you doing to grow the club?
Part of what we are doing as Rotarians is to seek for membership; we publicise Rotary. We want people to appreciate our brands; that’s the reason we involve the media in what we do. We also publicise Rotary on social media; I did that and it was amazing to see responses of people asking me, what is Rotary? We give kudos to our governor, Rotarian Bola Oyebade who has mandated every club to bring in at least three people into the club this Rotary year. If the calculation works out, it means at the end of the day, we are going to have additional 300 members in the District this Rotary year. Everywhere we go, we want to see Rotary; we want Rotary to be everywhere with the ideals of Rotary 4-Way Test.
But there’s still this misconception in some quarters on what Rotary Club is all about, what are you doing to change that?
In this part of the world, we thank God that youths and not just adults are embracing Rotary. Probably because prior to this time and in some countries, old men dominate Rotary, people feel we are fetish some how. But I invite them to come to our meetings that are quite open to anyone, as we do nothing in secret. Within one and a half hours, we are done. Now that a lot of youths are privileged to join Rotary, including women, they realise nothing is done in secrecy.
Are there some benefits in joining Rotary?
This is the question that many people ask. What I tell people is that before anyone asks of benefits in any organisation, he needs to study the organisation, including engaging in thorough research. So, what I do is to first of all tell anyone who asks me the question, what Rotary is and what it does. By the time they understand what Rotary is and what its activities, they would answer the question themselves. Whether Rotary brings business opportunities to people, I tell them, that when you join, you will see for yourself.
We are happy to see smiles on the faces of people we reach out to on humanitarian ground. The handicap person we gave a freezer during our District Governor’s visit was crying that she made fruitless effort for a long time to acquire the freezer. Eventually, our joy was the smile we saw on her face; Rotary puts smiles on people’s faces. We help our community to be comfortable; we maintain peace. When we see a community without water, which we all know is very essential, we provide water to make them happy. We provide food for a community that is hungry; this is our joy.
Are there other activities lined up for your 4oth anniversary celebration?
As part of the celebration, we planned to plant 40 trees across Nigeria and all over the world; we’ve done this in some areas in Lagos, Ibadan, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. Among these 40 trees planting activity, we also adopted a garden in an Estate in Lagos on August 1. 2020. Apart from tree planting exercise, during our District Governor’s visit, we empowered 40 widows as part of the celebration of our 40th anniversary. We also gave support to less privileged by donating fashion designing machines, hairdressing equipment, freezers and others. Very soon, we are going to be supporting a minimum of 40 youth in the community for Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), which will take place later if it will not be shifted because of COVID-19.
We have also supported wonderfully District Endowment Education Fund (DEWEF) to which we donated N2.5million naira. We did this in honour of our past president, PDG, Michael Olawale Cole, who is the Rotary Chair of DEWEF in the District and also our Chairman, Council of Presidents, Past President, Abanum. We want to take the lead in this area and other projects.
Majorly, we are going to embark on Mega Project, which is the construction of Training Centre in Isolo community. Youth in Isolo can be empowered in the areas of fashion designing, hairdressing, plumbing, computer and others. These are part of our projects to mark our 40th anniversary. We also plan to sponsor 40 students on RYLA.
What really drives your passion as a Rotarian?
I believe the Word of God as a Christian that we brought nothing into this world and we would not take anything out and this has been driving my passion to give. I just believe that we need to help our community and lend hands and I see Rotary as a level ground to demonstrate my passion.
My role model is our past District Governor, Asiwaju Dr. Michael Olawale Cole. Apart from decorating me at my induction, he is a person to be emulated. You cannot talk about Rotary in the district without seeing his name written in gold; he’s an achiever. He is one of the founding fathers of Rotary Club of Isolo and still waxing strong. He gets to any meeting called before us and still playing his leadership role. He is AKS (Arch Klumph Society) who has been able to donate $250,000.00 to Rotary. He challenged me to be attending Rotary conventions of which I have attended like four times. This is my fifth year in Rotary. If not because of COVID-19, this would have been my fifth year of attending Rotary International Convention.
What Legacy would you want to leave behind as president?
It is to ensure continuity and for the culture of succession plan to be upheld. The next President after me is known; he has to be prepared for another successful tenure.