Tolu Odukoya, first child of Pastor Bimbo Odukoya, and the man to whom she’d be wed today, Olumide Ijogun, speak about their 14-year-walk to the altar and how their courtship was guided by the teachings of the late televangelist. Lanre Odukoya reports
Courting the daughter of pastors has understandable challenges and Olumide Ijogun must have felt what is perhaps the most unsettling several times: having no trysts where you can cast all inhibitions because you’re obliged to meet your heartthrob nearly all the time at her parents’ home, and having to endure that probing stare that seems to ask the question – have they crossed that forbidden line?
Ijogun is really not one that quits easily. “It all started many years ago; was it ‘99, 2000?” Odukoya reminds him. “It was ’98,” she said.
The couple met while they were both in Greensprings, a secondary school in Lagos. “It was quite a magical moment because as I walked into the class I noticed her amongst the rest,” Ijogun recalls.
“It was really a moment that I still cannot express in words. I knew it was a sign and this was a sign from God. I knew I might not have fully recognized it but I couldn’t miss it. If I can express it in words it would be like recalling how the spotlight shines on someone among so many people. I have never felt that way again with someone else.”
For Odukoya, it was an equally memorable occasion. “It all started for me when he came into Greensprings. Because Olumide is a fine boy, all the girls were all over him. I didn’t want to follow the crowd so I kept my distance and did my own thing. We knew we liked each other but we were kids at that point in time. So, I travelled away to America and came back. Then we started the relationship and we have been together ever since.”
Apparently, it was love at first sight for both. “It wasn’t really love at first sight,” she said. “There was so much fuss around him.” Ijogun countered. “It was love at first sight for her but she was denying it,” he said as they broke into an infectious laughter.
“We spent most of the first year just looking at each other. I was coming from a British curriculum trying to fit into the Nigerian curriculum which was very tough. And being the son of a very strict Ondo man, I had to look and focus on academics, because we had always been told when we were young; that if you don’t get this right other things will not follow, and if you got this right other things would follow. I think it was me prioritizing as much as I wanted to approach her. And she is a very fine girl too; she had so many guys on her. I was just watching from a distance while other guys flocked and jumped around. I was patiently waiting and focusing on my first goal. It was fantastic.”
It’s a familiar story for both – and one which they recall with much fondness. “I think we started dating, like in 2000. We graduated in 2001. Then I went to America and he went to London. We broke up in-between and, even when we dated other people, we knew we had to behave ourselves because we knew we were definitely going to come back together. And we always talked about our relationships like who did you date? What did you do? And how long were you with the person? We always knew where it was going. We were always in contact. I was always going to London for summer and we always came back home for Christmas,” she said.
Such certainty! We always knew where it was going. Was it something spiritual? “I won’t say it was something spiritual for me,” Odukoya said. “He is somebody I am comfortable with; I can be myself when I am with him. I realized that in church I was this child everybody looked at, but in school I was just a normal child like everyone else. So I could actually be myself with him; he was not like, ‘you are pastor’s daughter’. I could just be normal and that’s what I cherished about the relationship. We were friends and we grew together, and knowing that I could not be like that with anyone else was just something that kept me going.”
It’s hard not to feel the outpour of love between the couple; it’s so genuine and spontaneous that you wish it’s a similar experience for everyone.
“My relationship with her makes me sure. I think it’s déjà vu, and you know déjà vu can be either positive or negative. It can even be a warning if you are spiritual. I feel right when I am with Tolu. You can’t explain these things, so if anyone wants to explain how love is I think the person is joking. You can never really express these things. I like who she is inside, as a person. You can see someone at face value and you don’t know what is going on inside. She has got a good heart.”
To a large extent, it was a case of simply following their hearts. “A lot of people expected me to marry someone else who is always speaking in tongues and falls under the anointing. Olumide is someone I have seen grow; somebody I have seen God’s hand work on. He is not clouded. He is real. He is not trying to impress anybody,” Odukoya explained.
“We have grown together, we have had our ups and downs, and we have seen God manifest in our lives. He is my friend, my best friend, and I am a very, very strong woman. He is one guy, apart from my father, that I respect and listen to and look up to. A lot of guys, older than him, have tried to approach me but it is not about the age; it is about what you carry inside, and he carries what is right for me. He is somebody I respect and I want to listen to and I am so enthusiastic about a future with him. I can’t see precisely where God is taking us to, but I know that it’s huge because of the kind of person he is.”
Proposal was nothing dramatic because Ijogun “is a very simple guy,” Odukoya said with a spark in her eyes. “I didn’t really expect to see anything crazy because I would have said ‘this is not you’. He had travelled back from his MBA graduation. I was asking to see his certificate and he brings out two boxes and he held on to them, and I was thinking it was a bracelet or chain. My husband is very prudent with money; he doesn’t just spend money, so I thought he had gone all out this time to buy me something very expensive.
“But before he brought out the box, he was hugging me and telling me he loves me and he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. Then he turns it to me and there were two rings and he was really sweating and he tells me he loves me and he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and I said ‘yes, put the ring on my finger’. It was very simple because that is who he is. It was a precious moment.”
But, really, how does it feel marrying into a family where both parents are pastors? (the bride’s father is the head pastor of Fountain of Life Church, Pastor Taiwo Odukoya, whose wife, Bimbo, also a pastor, ran the hugely popular Single and Married programme before she died in a plane crash.)
“I have known the family for so long,” he said. “You tend to see people from a different perspective because you don’t know them. You won’t really believe the perspective that I see the family from. Like she said, she has seen me grow. I have also seen Fountain grow for like, how many years now?”
“Fourteen,” Odukoya reminded him.
“I have seen transitions; so I feel normal and I don’t feel any weight, no pressure, nothing.”
Not even when the late Odukoya invited them both to the church office for a matter-of-fact discourse?
“The crazy thing is that my mum actually spoke to us in 2005,” Odukoya said. “She knew we were in a serious relationship. She called us into the church office and we came into the office and we sat down and she said, ‘This Tolu you say you like, do you want to marry her?’ And he said yes. She said, ‘Hmm, this girl, she has problems o. She gets angry. I hope you know the bad part of her?’ He said ‘Yes, ma, I know’. She spoke to us like we were about to get married in a couple of months.”
And as if on cue, Ijogun adds: “She said marriage is not a contract but a lifetime commitment.” Another laughter.
“It’s amazing that she did that because people always ask me: ‘did your mum meet him?’ And I say ‘yes, my mother knew him’. She was at first driving him away. She was like ‘she is too young, don’t come to the house’ because then we were like 13.”
His excuse was always that he had come to give her some mathematics lesson.
“Yes, he used to come and teach me some math and my mum would be like ‘you people are just joking’. But then by the time we got to SS3 and we started dating. My mother was like ‘maybe my approach is wrong, maybe I should let her have a boyfriend but they must meet here in the house’. And then she started asking questions like ‘this relationship you guys are having, what do you do and what do you say?’ She wanted to be a part of it.
“By then, my dad had known, my mum had known, both families had known about it and they have been guiding us in the right step. From both sides, my family and his family, it’s been long-awaited.”
It’s inevitable the sad loss of her mother will soon be reflected on. How much of her counsel did they internalize?
“We don’t even have a choice. You want to do this, you hear her voice. You want to do that, you hear her voice,” Ijogun explained.
“And we use her books too,” his wife adds.
“For me it’s conscience,” Ijogun continues: “It is very easy to take stuff for granted. So, I’m always saying ‘let’s sit down’ and we start asking each other questions and that was something she kept drilling into people: ask each other questions. And when we do, we are so happy and it’s always like that was good we talked about that.”
Again, it’s inevitable the couple has to confront the question of chastity before marriage which is something the late pastor often advocated. How did they overcome carnal desires for 14 years?
“It has been hard, it has been very difficult,” she said.
Perhaps sensing some reluctance in his bride to deal with the subject, Ijogun said: “Hold on, I will handle this. It’s not been easy. It’s either you believe in something you have faith in or you don’t, no one is perfect. We all try to do what we can do, to walk according to the will of God and His purpose so we can receive not just half of His blessings but His full blessings. So, it’s been hard but we’ve pulled through.”
Odukoya agrees, but concedes that the real challenge may be apparent after marriage. “Anytime I want to do something bad, it’s like I hear my mother’s voice. It’s been drilled into my brain. So it’s been fun but I guess until we enter marriage, we won’t understand the full story. But so far, it makes sense.”
For her husband, there is a reassuring recipe for success. “I will say life is full of choices and choices are informed by something. If that something is not positive, if it’s not something that’s going to make you better, you need to go back to your source. In every relationship, you should make God the centre. If your choices are informed by the Bible, I don’t think anything will go wrong. Like one of our Aunties told us, marriage is like a triangle; you have God in the middle. The closer you get to him, the closer you get to each other. The farther you are from Him, the farther you are from each other. We all are humans, and we all have our temperaments, but once you are focused on the right source, everything will be okay.”
It may seem presumptuous to ask the rather young couple what their advice to other would-be couples, but that is what they have done in part. “My own advice is get to know each other because it’s easy to get lost in the whole of what you feel. Feelings are very deceptive; they are like seasons, they come and they go. I think what keeps two people together is the friendship you have. And how can you be friends with a person you don’t know?
“I don’t feel like the 14 years we have spent together is really enough because I keep knowing new stuff about him and the new stuff that I get to know is not stuff that will drive me away. It’s stuff that gets me closer to him because if you love somebody you get to see their weaknesses and their strengths. It’s good to also ask questions, ask as many questions as you can, because some situations will only happen after you get married. Ask your boyfriend or girlfriend, what would happen if this happened? What do you think about this? What would you do in this situation? All that will help you see whether you are in the right relationship or whether you are wasting your time.”
Both first child of their parents, the couple flaunts impressive resumes. “I went to Mahdi International School in Cairo, Egypt,” Ijogun said. “I was there for about six years. Then I came back to Nigeria and went straight to Corona for a year, and then went to Greensprings for three years. I did mostly sciences and went to do A-levels in the U.K. in 2001. Then I went to LoughbroughUniversity to study computer science and electronic business.
I graduated in 2007. I worked with Zenith Bank for a while and I have constantly been working with Ackmen Nigeria Limited. It’s a real estate company. It’s a family business so I have always been a part of it. While I was with Zenith I left to do an M.B.A. at Nottingham Business School where I majored in operations strategy. So, I am a trained management consultant, especially for small to medium sized enterprises. I am also skilled in capabilities and everything that has to do with efficient running of businesses. After that I came back and proposed.” You could guess what the response would be – prolonged laughter.
“I went to Starland,” Odukoya said. “Then I went to Little Saints and to St Gloria’s School. I also went to Greensprings for part of my Secondary School. I went to High School in America then came back to Greensprings. I went to Oral Robert University and got a B.A. in public relations and government pre-law. I moved back in 2006 and started working with Prima Garnet Ogilvy. I left in 2009 and went for my masters in advertising at Buckingham University in London then came back to work with Guaranty Trust Bank as a Product Manager in the Corporate Affairs Department. Now I work in GSK as a brand manager for Lucozade Sports.