Ituah Ighodalo, the Senior Pastor of Trinity House is finally speaking up about his life since the untimely death of his wife, Ibidunni Ighodalo barely two months ago.
Speaking with a Punch correspondent, the widower shared on the life and times of his late wife, how he broke the news to their two children plus how incomplete he feels since the shocking loss.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
Since the death of your wife, you have displayed a great level of strength. What has been your motivation?
It has always been God and a refusal to think about myself, pain and sorrow. I decided to think firstly about God and secondly, my wife. I asked myself what would my wife want and thirdly, I decided to think about other people. How can I send the right kind of message in the midst of this to help other people? I refused to think about myself and what I was going through. I thought more about what God would want me to do. As soon as I focused more on those things and less on myself, it wasn’t a very difficult thing to do.
How did you break the news of the death of your wife to your children?
My children are young. My daughter is nine years old and my son is two and a half years old. So, it wasn’t so difficult. When I got home that evening, I hugged and kissed them. Then, I whispered to my daughter, “Your mum has gone to be with Jesus Christ.” She asked what I meant and I explained that her mum had passed on. She understood what passing on meant, so the question was, “I won’t see her again?” I said, “Not physically but in eternity.” Then, she cried. My son was too young to understand what I was saying but he knew that his mum had gone somewhere. He eventually saw his mother in a coffin. My daughter asked me more questions and I did my best to console her. But then, children are strengthened by God. From time to time, even till today, she asks me one question or the other and I answer her.
Many people described your wife as an angel in human flesh. How do you feel that she’s no more?
It’s not that she’s no more. She may not be here physically but angels are spiritual beings. She was an angel that lived with us for 39 years and 11 months and now, she has disappeared. But, angels don’t stop working. They keep moving in the spirit, making things happen, interceding on our behalf and reminding God what needs to be done. I know that since my wife passed on, I’ve received a lot of support, help and inspiration. Firstly, it rained throughout the week of her death, and on one of the days, the thunder was so strong that it was as though even the heavens were weeping and rejoicing at the same time. On the day of her burial, as soon as we got to the vault, it started to rain again and it kept on raining until we laid her to rest. So, I know that there was a heavenly conversation concerning my wife and her entrance into heaven. I know that she may be gone physically but we see her presence everywhere― the people she inspired, the things she did, and the provisions that have come for her foundation. People, including governors, call me every day, asking how they can donate to the foundation. Some of them didn’t know my wife but they want to donate.
It appears Ibidunni became more popular after her death. Why do you think that is?
That is the power of death. You sometimes don’t know what you have till it’s gone. Death is so strong, especially in our society and culture that it attracts people to the object of death. All of a sudden, they become bigger in death but also, that is proof of somebody that lived a life of purpose. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice, in terms of death, for things to come alive. Martin Luther King became popular not while he was alive but after death. John F. Kennedy was the same. That’s why I tell people that Nigeria is worth dying for and unless somebody dies for this country, we may continue to struggle. People should be ready to play their parts and some of us, including myself, should be ready to die for Nigeria so that this country can truly rise up again. In my wife’s death, she has come alive. Ibidunni’s death has strengthened her dream and people have been attracted to her for paying such a great sacrifice for the benefit of many.
An initiative called ‘Project 40at40’ was launched in memory of Ibidunni. What is it about?
Project 40at40 is a dream my wife had for 40 couples at the age of 40. It’s what she wanted for her 40th birthday, which was on July 19, 2020. She wanted to give 40 couples the opportunity to get reproductive grants― money for in-vitro fertilisation. The grants range from N1.5 – N3m, depending on the complexity of the issue at hand. We are trying to raise between N120m and N150m to be able to take care of these people and also ensure that we can see them through. It’s not just the process but the pregnancy, and, if necessary, the delivery. We’ll not leave them halfway if we need to.
How would you assess the impact of ‘Project 40at40’ so far?
The project is going on well. We have closed our portal to new registrations. Over 1000 people had registered before that. The secretariat is going through the weeding process to arrive at the 80 people that would be picked for the next stage, which are the medical examinations. On the fundraising, we have also not done too badly. We have got almost 60 – 70 per cent of the total funds we’re looking for. This means we can boldly move on to the (next) stages we want to embark on. The donors have given us tremendous support.
Do you plan to sustain the project for many years or are there other projects being planned to honour Ibidunni?
Yes, there is a plan to sustain this project in honour of my (late) wife. We would be doing the in vitro fertilisations every year. We also plan to expand to other parts of Africa, depending on the funds we can raise as well as being able to sustain it. We would also be doing a lot of family counselling. Some people don’t necessarily need medical treatment; they just need emotional or spiritual guidance. Also, one of my friends thinks we should set up an isolation centre in my wife’s name and he’s ready to help raise the money for that. Ibidunni was passionate about motherless babies, so we plan to meet specific pressing needs such as boreholes and training within a budget.
What is the projected cost of this project?
We’re trying to raise about 150 million. That may not be the cost of the project but it’s our target. If we do about 40 in vitro fertilisations, it would cost about N2m for each. However, we may get it at a lesser amount if we’re able to negotiate with our doctors. The cost is determined by each treatment and how complicated it might be. We may also need to support some of the patients either at pregnancy or delivery stages.
What roles have the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation played in the past to solve infertility issues?
We started the foundation in 2016 and so far, we have done about 50 IVFs. We do an average of 10-12 IVFs yearly and had a 40 per cent success rate. We have had conferences where we educated people and we’ve held events where we looked after babies and their mothers for a period. In three to four weeks, we should be announcing the people selected for Project 40@40.
Has COVID-19 affected the operations of the foundation?
I can’t say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her foundation. By God’s grace, we have been raising money. Our medical support team is still ready to support us in spite of COVID-19.
My wife died in active service amid COVID-19. She was setting up isolation centres all over the country when this unfortunate incident happened. She didn’t die of COVID-19 but she died serving the country, to provide help and succour for people. It was a risky thing for her to do but that was Ibidunni for you. She went out of her way to take risks and to help other people.
As a man of faith, did you question God over the death of your wife, or did you see her death coming?
God is unquestionable. You can ask why but you can’t ask, “How dare you?’’ There’s a difference between “how dare you?” and “please, explain to me what I need to learn from this process. Why did you do this and how do I move forward?’’ I would not stubbornly say God has done something bad. God does not do bad things and sincerely, death is not bad. The only way to eternity is by dying. We all want to live long but we must live right. Some people are not destined to live long. What are you doing on earth anyway when all you are here for is temporarily to fulfill a purpose? Once one has fulfilled one’s purpose, the rest is either enjoyment or extra time. And if one is not careful, one may make a mistake in the period of enjoyment. An actor does not remain on the stage when his scene has been acted, otherwise, he would become useless to that stage and the audience would boo him off. I think my wife has done phenomenally well. We would have loved her to be with us for a longer period but God preferred her to go. Nothing happens without God’s permission; so if he decides to consent to it, who can question him?
What are some of the qualities you most admired in your wife?
My wife was a very good soul- extremely caring, compassionate and loving. She was very interested in people. She met people, took to them very quickly and made them feel special. Most of her friends thought they were her favourites but there were so many of them. She had the ability to make people feel special. She got involved in their lives and their children’s lives too. A lot of children had special relationships with her outside of their parents. Ibidunni just loved having people around her. A few years ago, she took about 12 people to China on an all-expense paid trip and the excuse she gave me was that they would (help her) bring back her luggage. I eventually discovered she just took them on holiday to expose them and give them an experience. Whenever she went with her team for any job outside Lagos State, it was like a little festival. They would go in a convoy of two or three buses. They would feast, stay in nice hotels and come back looking rosy cheeked. That was my wife for you.
Ibidunni had many adopted children who gave kind testimonies about her. Will you be adopting all these children?
I would try to adopt all of them.
Can you remember your wife’s reaction when you proposed to her?
I’m not sure I can bring all those memories out now. Maybe when it’s the one-year anniversary, I can talk about them.
There have been many deaths this year, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic. Do you think all these are signs of the end times?
I’m not sure about that because these signs have always been there. This is not the first time the world is witnessing a pandemic. There was the Spanish flu in 1918 and we have had HIV/AIDS. From a spiritual perceptive, these are just signs of God’s disappointment in the behaviour of men. All these have proven that there are still a lot of things men don’t know and we’re not as infallible as we thought we were. So, we need to be very careful with the management of ourselves and societies. We also need to be cautious. My prayer is that this will blow over and we will return to normalcy. We would have learnt the lessons and be better-behaved people.
There have been mixed reactions since the ban on religious centres was lifted. What’s your take on that?
Society has to return to normal. We have to find a way to return to what we were used to. The measures by the government were not meant to be permanent. They were measures to protect the citizenry from a disease. We have to slowly return to normal by taking little steps to see how the disease would ‘react’. It’s most welcome and we should go back cautiously. When the churches resume, we would see whether the disease ‘reacts’ or not. If infections don’t skyrocket, then we can open up restaurants and other (public places still closed). There’s no big deal about it and I wonder why people are making an issue out of this. The ban was not personal. A responsible government must respond to a pandemic by keeping people apart to curb the spread of the disease. I think now, we’re a little better in managing this pandemic. We are not as frightened as we were three or four months ago. Life must go on. We are social beings.
What activities have helped your healing process?
I’m still healing and getting used to the situation. It’s not easy; it’s like cutting off half of one’s body. We used to think together and think through one another. I won’t say that I have deliberately engaged in any activity to help me through. I just live the way I need to and react to situations the way I want to. However, I didn’t rush into anything; I took my time. I didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. I did only things that I felt were proper to do. I have not rushed myself into anything because of my mental state. For example, for the first six weeks, I didn’t watch television because I wasn’t interested. If I don’t feel like going out, I wouldn’t. Thank God for video calls and meetings, it has kept me in contact with a lot of people. I have told myself to gently re-enter society. Of course, my routine has changed because I need to spend more time with my children, thinking and managing the activities that my wife used to oversee. I need to spend time with her staff and do some domestic activities. Those things where not my business before. My life has changed and I hope the other people I’m responsible to (my professional practice and church) will understand and accept that they have to deal with me from a slightly different perspective going forward.
Spiritual people often claim to see things that others don’t see. Have you had any vision or dream of your late wife since her passing?
I’ve had a few dreams and revelations but those are not ripe for public consumption.
Some people think you’re really hurting and trying to be stoic on the surface?
It’s not a pleasant experience not being with someone that one loves, so there’s the pain that comes with that. However, it’s not a crushing pain that makes me unable to think. I have accepted what has happened. I’m not annoyed, bitter or angry. I miss my wife very much but I accept that it is what God allowed. Therefore, I must be able to do what is right because it’s not about me; it’s about the person that has passed on, God and the people I’m responsible for. If I’m so pained that I can’t make money to feed my children or receive people who come to commiserate with me, then I have not done well. If I’m that pained, I wouldn’t be able to encourage other people such as my wife’s family and my siblings. I tell them that we should lift ourselves out of this situation and face the future together. I have to be there for my children. It’s not about me; it’s about making sure that everyone is happy and we can move forward.