Ibidun Ighodalo: A Purposeful Life

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

On 2nd October 2017, I used the metaphor of a cow with wooden leg to illustrate the story of Nigeria in a presentation titled, “A Nation on the Edge: Which Way Nigeria?” at ‘Platform Nigeria’. It is a programme of the Covenant Christian Centre hosted annually by Pastor Poju Oyemade in Lagos. The question I posed at the session was: What exactly do we mean by Nigeria? Interested readers can access that paper here.

In answering the question, I began by citing examples of negative people who by then had seized the public space and were disturbing the peace of our country. I defined the essential Nigeria as represented by change agents who deploy their talents and resources to make a difference in our world. One of the few people I referenced that day was “my beautiful sister, Ibidunni Ighodalo who, despite her own disappointments, continues to put smiles on the faces of other aspiring mothers by deploying her personal resources to pay for their In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment.”

It was therefore with shock and sadness that I learnt of Mrs Ighodalo’s passage on Sunday. As I commiserate with Pastor Ituah and other members of Ighodalo and Ajayi families, I encourage them to take consolation in the fact that the deceased achieved at 39 what many fail to accomplish in several lifetimes. And she left indelible footprints.

I vividly recall my first encounter with the then Miss Ibidun Ajayi in 2005 at THISDAY corporate headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. She had come to seek my counsel, at the instance of Pastor Ituah Ighodalo to whom I am like a younger brother. Here was this young and beautiful woman, innocent looking and evidently very shy, talking about event management business in a totally different way. As she shared what she had done and how she intended to grow her business with me, I was impressed. From that moment, we struck up a friendship that lasted till her death at the weekend.

While it is still difficult to come to terms with the fact that Mrs Ighodalo is no more, we must cherish her memory as an industrious woman who, right from early twenties, created a business that exploited a Nigerian marketplace niche and grew it to become one of the biggest names in event management in Nigeria today. But that was not what defined her. The wife of Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo once described the late Mrs Ighodalo as a ‘wounded healer’ and for me, no description could be more apt, given her inspiring story.

First, the process leading to her marriage in 2007 came with the challenge of doctrinal rigidity that made Pastor Ituah to leave the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Five years ago when we met outside the country at an event she planned, the late Mrs Ighodalo shared with me what she went through during that period. Then years went by after her marriage and she was unable to conceive. After being told by doctors that the only way she could have babies was through assisted reproduction, she went through 11 agonizing IVF treatments during which she conceived once. And then she lost the baby.

How we respond to adversity varies from person to person, but the late Mrs Ighodalo taught us that we all have choices to make: either we allow circumstances to dictate and embitter us or we focus our energy on helping others who may be going through similar challenges so we can derive joy from their happiness. It takes a special strength of character to choose the latter which often comes with enormous burden. Because, as one writer explained, it “doesn’t mean that we don’t feel pain, anger or frustration, but it’s finding the courage to reclaim our power and grow from the experience.”

Growing from the experience was exactly what the late Mrs Ighodalo did. We can glimpse from her recollection of that difficult season in her life and what she eventually made of it: “This period of delay also came with pressure and a lot of insensitivity from people to our situation. I also had to deal with the emotions, pain and the roller-coaster hormonal imbalance that comes with all sorts of treatments. Thankfully, I am married to an amazing man who has been there for me through all the procedures; unflinching in his support. Along the journey, I have met women who only needed one round of a treatment I had done nine times. The only thing holding them back was either the lack of finance or the psychological support needed to get through it. It was at that point I decided to stop thinking about myself and start trusting God to help these couples fulfil their dreams of having their children… I was ready to do my part to get rid of the stigma attached to childlessness. I wanted people to instead see couples-in-waiting as blessed mothers and fathers of nations! Upon thinking about the weight of this dream, I started out feeling a little reluctant especially when I thought about the privacy we might lose. However, when I thought about the unending joy it would bring to people’s lives, it seemed to me that it would be worth the sacrifice.”

Letting go the negativity that holds people back from fulfilling their destiny could not have come easy, especially in a patriarchal society like ours where married women endure all manner of humiliation and stigma when there is a delay in conception. But as Mrs Ighodalo also admitted, she kept her peace essentially because she had a husband who genuinely loved her. Pastor Ituah must have assured his late wife that it is God who gives children and that she was not less a woman by virtue of the circumstance over which she had no control. He also supported her in the choice she eventually made to be a blessing to other women.

The Ibidun Ighodalo Foundation (IIF) was formally launched in 2016 with a first batch of 28 couples who were offered financial assistance and other critical support to receive fertility services from reputable clinics. At the end, there were 15 successful treatments, five confirmed pregnancies and a delivery that turned out to be a set of twins. At the prompting of her husband, they also decided to adopt two children thus lending their star power to a culture of adoption that we need to encourage more in our country. But finding solace in the struggles of others and helping them while still facing your own pressures and pains is never an easy option. That is what define great people.

With her foundation, which hopefully will endure, the late Mrs Ighodalo did much more than bring joy to families. She made a far bigger statement. In building a compassionate society, there are roles that government must play and there are also roles for individuals. While Nigerians complain about the failings of government, and are adept at pointing fingers, only few believe in taking up worthy causes that entail making sacrifices for others outside their immediate families. For instance, in many other countries, Almajarai children would be in school rather than treated like eccentric relations who must be kept out of view when receiving important visitors. Even if the government failed them, they would have been accommodated under school adoption programmes being sponsored by people in the society. This, of course, is an issue for another day.

The death of Mrs Ighodalo is a personal loss for me. But this tribute is not personal. It is to remind us of the responsibility we all bear if we must change this society. Yes, there are several ‘important’ issues I could have written about today. There is the never-ending drama at the villa between the Office of the First Lady and Office of the President with gunshots now being added to the mix. There is the disqualification (from contesting primaries) of a governor by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) under whose ticket he rose to power. Following the Court of Appeal judgement which affirmed the suspension of the APC National Chairman, we now hear of an acting chairman who will be acting for an acting chairman at a period two other persons are laying claim to the same office! I am also aware of those who may want me to wade in on the controversial Naira Marley concert in Abuja which held only because management of the charter flight company thought they were transporting a minister and not “a bunch of useless people.” And with many states in the north becoming what Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed once described as ‘bandit territory’, the situation has degenerated into a shouting bout between the presidency and the Northern Elders Forum. Incidentally, I am currently in Katsina, the new epicenter of the violence. I arrived yesterday after a grueling eight-hour road trip from Abuja to interrogate the killings that have shattered the peace of the people in a state I fell in love with in the course of several visits with the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

However, while the foregoing issues are important, there is a compelling lesson in the life of Mrs Ighodalo that should remind us of our own obligations as citizens. The concept of wounded healer used by Mrs Yemisi Ashimolowo to describe the deceased was coined by famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. It is based on the understanding that some who experience pain can also feel the beauty of healing by reaching beyond themselves to help other people overcome their burdens. In establishing a Foundation so that other women could be enriched with what she cherished, the message from the late Mrs Ighodalo is for each one of us to know that we can grow beyond personal disappointments to impact our society.

Nations don’t develop by accident. They develop because there are men and women who are determined to leverage their talents, resources and energy to empower the community – people who think less about themselves and more about the collective good. Instead of complaining about how things could have been or should have been, such people reflect on everything they can be grateful for and strive to make the world a better place for others. We need more citizens like the late Mrs Ighodalo who used her experience to identify a need in our society and cared enough to make the requisite sacrifices for others so they could enjoy what she couldn’t. Because of that, she will live forever in the hearts of many.

Her death at such a young age has indeed brought home the message in the poem by Robert H. Smith. I commend it to the APC desperadoes whose obsession with 2023 has blinded them to the reality of Nigerian condition as I commiserate with Pastor Ituah and bid his beloved wife goodnight:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in Tomorrow,
For the Clock may then be still.

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com