June 14, 2020 was one of Nigeria’s darkest days when the country woke up to the news of the Founder and CEO, Elizabeth R, and Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation’s sudden death. She was a shining star and one of the biggest Event planners in Nigeria. While the entire nation mourned, people wondered how her husband, the senior pastor of Trinity House Church, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo took it all in, more so being a reserved person by nature. It’s been almost a year now and ltuah hasn’t said much to the media about the sad incident until now.
In this riveting interview with Guest Correspondent, AZUKA OGUJUIBA, as he turns 60, lghodalo opens up about many things including his reaction to the demise of his beautiful wife, his views on the Nigerian youths #endsars movement, the state of the nation and much more.
Now that you are 60, you are closer to your evening than your morning. What do you miss most about the Nigeria of your youth compared to Nigeria of today?
I tell a lot of people that when I was growing up in Nigeria, we had no burglary proof. The Naira was stronger than the Pound. There was constant electricity. What you saw was what you got, just living a simple life with your friends especially where I grew up, in Ibadan. I actually do miss that Nigeria a lot. There was hope, there was simplicity, there was no Boko Haram, no walls, no burglar proof, no fences. You moved around freely. People treated you with respect for who you are. People were involved in people’s lives. A very idealistic peaceful Nigeria. We lived in government GRA. We knew everyone, all the children played together, went to school together, we were like brothers, like family. They remain some of my best friends now. That was the Nigeria of those days.
Do you think in your lifetime, considering the state of the country now, you will witness a change to see Nigeria of your dreams ?
If we are going to be realistic, starting now, it would take about 10-20 years to change Nigeria by which time, I would be like 80 years old. But who knows? God can do it. It doesn’t take a lot to change Nigerian because I tell people the fundamentals are there, the weather is there, the population is there, the natural resources are there. So it is just to harness those resources and put it to work and that is the difficulty we are having in Nigeria. That sincerity of purpose by the people who are in leadership is really what is missing in Nigeria.
As a Pastor, you must have counseled many young couples facing challenges in their everyday life. What, in your view, is the predominant problem with couples of today?
Well, the couples of today don’t understand the principle called marriage. They get married for the wrong reasons. They get married to the wrong people. They get married thinking that marriage is the solution to a problem. But marriage is a journey, not a solution to a problem. I have heard people say, “Oh l was getting old. He was the only man that approached me. I thought she was domestic. She got pregnant, that’s why I got married”. And I also hear things like “I thought he would change after marriage”, I say No. Those people get it wrong. It is a sacrificial thing for Adam to get married. He had to fall into a deep coma and it was from that sacrificial coma that his wife came from and he recognized her to be his wife. Marriage was established for two people under the guidance of God, to work together to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. That is the fundamental reason of marriage. If the two people don’t know their purpose in life, it means that the marriage is almost dead on arrival. If you see it succeeding, it is either they are just managing or somebody is paying the price of that marriage, or they are just coping with one another. 80% of the marriages you see around are just people managing to tolerating each other because they are not friends, rather, they are working together to manage the children.
What of the case where the marriage is abusive, what is your advise ?
In Christianity, we want to fight so hard to protect the marriage. In some churches, once you divorce or separate, that is the end but I think the world has advanced a bit. I advice my people that once that marriage is abusive or life threatening, it is better you’re preserved than just stay there and die. From outside, we can try and counsel both of them to a better understanding of each other but sometimes, it is the women that are abusive these days, anger issues, bad experiences, bad childhood, growing up in anger or a man marrying a woman who reminds him of his past. As a Pastor, by the time you dig further, you find out there’s something behind every action, something not quite well and that is a challenge. Even people in serious positions of leadership, lots of them have different emotional and psychological issues.
Recently, Donnie McClurkin, the American gospel singer and minister, opened up about his sexuality as a bisexual and he sees himself as a lonely man, what is your take on this?
Well, like I said before, a lot of people have been through a lot of trauma. And unless those people receive a lot of therapy, they never quite get out of it. From what was said, I would say he had a challenged childhood where people took advantage of him and he never quite got out of it. Along the line, he became born again, truly loved God. People like that, we need to show them love, sit with them and get them to be able to voice their fears. Ability to do that is like 50% of your therapy. But as long as you hide it, it is allowing the demon to sit on you. I’m happy for him to be able to come out. This is not the time to castigate him, this is the time to gather around him and give him strength.
It as been suggested that the youths should have a stronger voice in the state of the nation and their voices should be heard more but the aftermath of the #endsars movement caused more havoc than good. Looking back, what do you think the youths could have done differently to achieve their desired result?
The youths are dealing with a government they didn’t quite understand and the government likes to sit across the table and negotiate. The minute they said they had no leader and they were not ready to sit across the table, I knew it would end up the way it ended up. I told one or two of them I was able to interact with at that time, that they really have to sit with the government. With this government, they were bit ahead. They asked for five things and the government seemed to have responded to all the five things immediately which had never happened before. I asked them to choose among themselves and begin negotiation, they refused saying they didn’t want to be compromised. But I want to tell them is, not to be discouraged. The youths must reunite and regroup and this time around, have leaders. You can’t have a group without a direction. And honestly speaking, they can seize this nation. They have the numbers and I want them to know that. And people like me are ready to support them to ensure that we have the right kind of leadership in Nigeria.
The struggle now is to ensure right leadership in Nigeria. I don’t care where you are from, you must have values and ethics. You must be visionary, hardworking and passionate about Nigerians. If you don’t have these principles, you have no business with the leadership of Nigeria.
You lost your wife, Ibidunni, less than a year ago. Some people were astonished that upon hearing of her demise, you still went ahead to conduct a funeral service you were scheduled for. They could not comprehend how you had the strength to do so while grieving which came across to them as insensitive. We’ll like you to use this opportunity to give our readers a clearer picture of your state of mind at the time.
You can not do anything about what happens to you in this world but you can do something about how you react to what happens to you.
Two days before my wife died, the boy whose funeral l conducted, had died. The mother and the child were strong members of my congregation. And I had gone to comfort and console the mother and had given them the time for the funeral. I told his mother I would see that the young man was decently buried.
Fast forward to 2 am the morning of the day of the funeral, I got the news of my wife’s demise. So the issue was what do I do? How do I react? What is the best thing to do to glorify God and bring comfort to people and I simply asked God for directions. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t grieving my wife or in pain. In fact if anyone listened to my sermon that day, I had to make sure I don’t speak in pain and over personalize the sermon.
After I finished what I had to do, I came back home and begin my period of grieving and any one who saw me that time knew how much weight I lost in three days.
The pain of loosing a loved one and my wife, is insurmountable. We were so close, we were one. We did everything together. It’s like a part of your body had been but off.
But what needed to be done needed to be done.
I had to comfort those who came to comfort me and let them know God is still God. I just needed to be there and be strong for people. It didn’t mean I wasn’t grieving my own loss. If anyone says that I was insensitive to still go ahead to conduct a funeral service regardless of the news of my wife’s death, I have no apology. I did what God led me to do. It took a lot of strength but I did it.
Can you tell us how you have been able to cope with the pain of your loss to help those going through the same journey?
Like I said, the pain of losing a loved one, a spouse is indescribable. I wake up every morning and ask God for fresh instructions and once I hear from Him, I do what is needed to be done that day. I still spend time with my wife, thinking about her. Even as I speak to you, I look at that door and I expect her to walk in and then I surround myself with her photographs. Everywhere in the house has her photograph on display.
Have you broken down since she died ?
No, I haven’t broken down and I don’t think I would. I mean there have been lumps in my throat. The first time I saw my son after my wife died was very emotional for me because I looked at the man and I said to myself, “Who is going to look after you? Why did she leave this boy and not be there for him?” There have been moments like that but I understand God and I understand what He is doing and these things have kept me going.
For a woman to balance home and career by no means an easy feat as it comes with its own challenges when something has to give way for the other to take place. Sometimes, the price to pay for such is too high. How best can couples, specifically the husbands, handle such delicate issues so as not to ignite problems?
You know I said before, the essence of marriage is for two people to be together to discover their purpose and achieve it together. The only way you can really be a good husband is if you allow your wife to fulfill her potential and not get intimidated. Being what God wants her to be. In fact, for most men, if you want peace of mind, just allow your woman to be. When she’s busy, she’s engaged. She’s enjoying what she’s doing. She will give you less stress and that’s why Ibidun and I got along. I understood her job and I allowed her. She could leave this house at 3am for a decoration and sometimes, tells me to follow her. I say no problem and I put on my clothes and follow her. Sometimes, I’m at home in the evening and she’s not back. I call her PA and ask if is she okay. I ask if she has eaten. Okay . Sometimes I go and look for her at the event and carry food for her and make sure she’s okay. If she’s okay, I am okay and that is what a man should understand. Find the purpose of your wife and encourage her. If she makes more money than you, what is the big deal? Who is she going to spend it on? Either you, herself or your children. Just be satisfied with what you have and continue. And Is she chooses to be rude, that is her problem. You must decide to love your spouse unconditionally. If you are not ready to do that, you are not ready for marriage. You don’t have to be intimidated by her company. Just come back home and come back home intact. When you have a problem, let’s discuss it. If they are harassing you, let me know. I allow her to be and for that, she tells me everything and I never loose my temper. I also made up my mind never to quarrel not that we never had our disagreements. She valued my opinion.
I had a very good marriage. You need to see us play around. I am grateful to God he brought Ibidun to me. And I can’t get over her. She played a very important role in my life. I still imagine her being here and I won’t take a decision without thinking what she would have wanted.
What key role do church members play for those who have lost a loved one to enable cope better with their loss?
In church we have a department that looks after, first of all, married couples and secondly, matured singles. We have two singles groups. There’s the young singles who are fresh and still looking for love and life and there is the matured singles whose issues are slight different. Either they have not been opportune to have a good relationship or marriage. We have a very strong and spiritual counseling group where we take their problems one by one and pray for them and encourage them to live life.
First thing is living life as you are. Because life is meant to be enjoyed. You don’t have to be dependent on somebody to enjoy life. The Bible says man is grass, he will wither, he will fade away. You live your life and you enjoy your own company. Find your purpose in life and pursue that purpose and do everything you need to enjoy life.
You may go back to your apartment, you wish you had someone to hold on to and in those moments, you look up to God .
Everyone prays to have a sanctuary of sorts where they want some time to themselves. What or where is your sanctuary?
My home. I have a space in my room where I talk truly alone with the Almighty. The only one who shared the space was my wife as she was the only one who used to come to that place. I have had a lot of conversations with God and He has helped me and lifted my spirit. I believe everyone should have a location like that. It helps mentally and spiritually.
As a Pastor, you are the people’s emotional doctor to speak to and as such, you barely have enough time to yourself because of the demand of your job. But as a widower now, how have you been able to create that special time needed for your children to bridge the gap their mother left behind?
Before my wife passed, I did very little engagement of people or external things in my home. I do everything either in the given office or business office. So by the time I get into this house, it is myself, my wife and my children and the house-help God blessed us with. So I spend time together with them. Most mornings, my wife and I spent time together. I take the children to school every morning them come back home to here before the day continues. But since she’s passed and this covid period where everyone works from home, l’m always home. I try to knock off work by 7pm so I can spend time with the children. I bath my son every morning. He sleeps in my room and my daughter spends like half an hour in the morning in my room. We do our prayers, meditation and conversation for the day then l take her to school. In the evening, we have supper together. So we have a good routine and God has helped me .
What parting shot would you like to give to our readers that best describes your state of mind and where you hope for Nigeria to be in your life time?
I want everybody to get engaged in the Nigeria project. There is something everyone can do to turn this country around. I’m very passionate about Nigeria and I think this country can be great. I want to leave the readers with a few things I think they should do. Number one, the ones who are knowledgeable about Nigeria should educate the others. I have told my people in my church to read about the history of Nigeria. Know the foundation, when the foundation is destroyed, what shall the righteous do? We need knowledge and information. Number two, we need to educate Nigerians on good and bad leadership. It is a question of competency. You can’t employ a footballer to fly a plane, it is either a pilot or not. Someone with compassion for the people. Number three is that INEC should open the portal for everyone to register and they should open it now. And everybody must get involved.