IBIDUNNI ITUAH-IGHODALO: BITTERSWEET MEMORIES OF A BELOVED ENCHANTRESS

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ibidunni Ighodalo

Were an outpouring of eulogies and tears potent enough to rouse the dead, Ibidunni Ituah-Ighodalo, who died early hours of last Sunday, would have reconsidered spending a few more days, resurrected for a brief parting repartee before plunging into her eternal sleep, writes LANRE ALFRED

Few days after her sad demise, Ibidunni Ituah-Ighodalo’s family and friends unite to appreciate the kernel and towering humaneness of a princess whose life story resonates like a fairy tale, after her exit from the mortal world. The eyes of many were bloodshot and not a few fought back tears. The sun was at its peak; yet, they felt cold and walked with arms akimbo. It’s often said, death, we have since come to accept, is man’s most inevitable end. But when it does happen, it leaves in its trail anguish and sorrow.

Yes, no simple or ornamental tribute could capture the essence of Ibidunni Ighodalo’s extraordinary appeal. Men were swayed by her beauty and poise, but her hold on women was even more phenomenal. Ibidun stoked intense feelings of gratitude and contentment in most people privileged enough to have made her acquaintance during a 40-year spell on earth.

One week after her sad departure from the mortal world, memories assail her loved ones like a bittersweet gust of cold breeze after a discomforting heatstroke. For the umpteenth time, family and friends of late Ibidunni smarted from the pain of recollection as they were forced to relive the humanity and magnificence that characterized her short spell on earth with them.

Curiously, however, death has never been kind or sensitive. Neither does it pretend to care nor distinguish. It snatches where it wants, taking people regardless of age or virtuousness. Death has taken Ibidun Ighodalo, the former beauty queen who always had a smile, a peck, and a word of prayer for everyone. Her toothy smile was part of her everyday ensemble and it always lit up her beautiful visage. For a woman whose business was about giving people the best party experience, she didn’t plan to celebrate her 40th birthday in July. All she wanted was to put a smile on the faces of 40 families; a plan that summed up her whole existence; touching lives and sharing love unconditionally.

The Nigerian socio-economic and political establishment went cold and lifeless when on Saturday, June 14, news broke that the lovable and lively Ibidun Ighodalo, wife of Pastor Ituah Ighodalo of the Trinity Church, Lagos, had died in her hotel room in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, after purportedly suffering a heart attack.

Instructively, while many were still in denial after the news became public knowledge, a video of the widower preaching about the futility of life to congregants at a burial ceremony on the same morning surfaced.

“A lot of you know that I really shouldn’t be here. At 2 o’clock this morning, I received a call that shattered my life. Life is a deep mystery, there’s no human being, no matter how wise they are who can say they understand life. Let us accept the mystery of life. We don’t have any control over most things in life. Nobody has control over life. This time yesterday, if anyone had told me this is how it will be, I would have said it is impossible. Life is nothing,” he said.

As if in preparation for her death, Ibidun had visited her father, late Olaleye Ajayi’s grave in Ibadan before departing for Port Harcourt where she died. An emotional video of the trip to the graveyard was shared on her Instagram page where she was seen wading through the forest to locate the site with her paternal aunt and security officers in tow. She described the experience thus: “When I went to visit daddy’s burial ground, the graveyards were not organized, getting there was daunting and no space, people buried on people. Please, take time out to visit your loved ones and say a prayer. I was so emotional. I went to visit my aunty as she also wanted to visit her brother’s graveside. They were inseparable.

“As elderly as she was, she insisted on going to visit him with me. On getting there, there were quite a number of impediments and overgrown grasses that would have discouraged anyone from going to visit. But she persevered. It was such an emotional visit and I’m so glad we could go. Make sure you take time to visit loved ones and make them feel loved and cherished always even in death. Clean their grave always, regularly, and say a prayer.”

The Essential Ibidun
Had death tarried, Ibidun would have turned 40 in July. In a Whatsapp message she sent to her friend, the celebrity photographer, TY Bello, Ibidun disclosed that to celebrate the landmark birthday, she planned to ‘make 40 homes happy.’ TY added a footnote: “This is who she was … this was what she had on her mind. She never forgot others going through the pain of waiting. Even at the very end.” Ibidun is survived by her husband and adopted twins, her mother, siblings, and millions of associates, mentees, and beneficiaries of her large heart.

Ibidun was everybody’s darling; cheerful, lively, enterprising, beautiful, and prayerful. The outpouring of testimonials and tributes underscores her impact on many people.

Born on July 19, 1980, in Ibadan, Oyo State, to the late Olaleye Ajayi family, she studied Microbiology at the University of Lagos, Akoka, before getting further training in Business Management from the Lagos Business School. It was as an undergraduate that she won the maiden Lux Beauty Pageant. The organizer of the pageant, Ehi Braimah, in a tribute, said that during her reign as a beauty queen, Ibidun made life easy for everyone. She did not carry unnecessary airs while her conduct and attitude showed great promise. Braimah said that the virtues she evinced effortlessly were a reflection of her graciousness, strong family values and humility.

She added, “Ibidun was beautiful, soft-spoken, humble, respectful, diligent, talented and friendly. She had a generous spirit and inspired young people who saw her as a role model; they wanted to be like her. From the outpouring of tributes in some blogs to honour Ibidun, even those who were not close to her admired her strength of character, creativity, philanthropy and entrepreneurship.”

Her Business Empire
Despite initial ambivalence about what career path to take, Ibidun, a Microbiology graduate of the University of Lagos and fellow of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN), established Elizabeth R, an events management company, in 2003 to create exceptional events as opposed to the everyday ordinary event. Within a decade, the outfit had built a reputation for delivering indelible events and experiences while emerging as one of the best events companies in Nigeria with a roll-call of high-profile clients like state governments and foremost banks and multinationals.

Ovation magazine publisher, Chief Dele Momodu wrote, “Ibidunni loved to take on and achieve mega projects. Her proclivity for spectacular ventures made her one of the hardest working and remarkably successful women in Africa. Her company, ELIZABETH R, was a leading conglomerate in Events planning, Decoration, Rentals, Construction of Marquees, and Equipment Supplies… She was passionate and daring… Her beautification of Lagos during the Christmas seasons was legendary. She worked feverishly to light up Lagos and turned the streets to a Dubai in the works.”
She was working on the COVID-19 Isolation Center in Port Harcourt like she had done in Lagos and several other states when death came calling.

The Infertility Journey And Her Foundation
Ibidun got married in 2007 to Pastor Ighodalo, a successful accountant turned cleric. For several years, however, they had no child. She stated in a dated interview, “Like any newly married couple, my husband and I looked forward to starting our family and holding our children in our arms. You can imagine our dismay when after getting married in 2007, we watched the years roll by without a child of our own. After several doctors’ appointments, we were told that we wouldn’t have children unless we sought treatment through assisted reproduction.”

She had added, “This was the doctor’s report we received, but we choose to believe God’s own report, unshaken in our faith as we firmly believe that that we will have our children. 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.”
In 2018, while celebrating the 11th anniversary of her marriage, Ibidun confessed that she had done IVF 11 times and it failed every time. She resorted to adopting a set of twins when the last IVF she did was initially successful but had a miscarriage at three months. Scans had shown that she was carrying twins. The infertility experience also led her to start her foundation designed to “bring joy to the hearts of couples through their fertility journey by providing grants for women to pay for IVF treatments and help reduce the stigma around infertility in Nigeria.”

An Outpouring of Tributes
Death may have ended her life but not the relationship she built with many. Not surprisingly, because of her effervescence, bonhomie, and selflessness among other virtues that stood her out of the crowd, a lot of people who knew the former beauty queen are understandably still going through the numbing gamut of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Others even wished it was them, not her.
If money were enough, her husband who is the founder and Pastor of the Trinity House could have mustered the whole world to save her and fulfil his vows that they would grow grey together while humanity would have congregated and contributed to saving one of its finest representatives. The Grim Reaper, alas, had other tragic plans.

Prominent Nigerians have physically and virtually commiserated with the Ighodalos and the Oladele-Ajayis. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was one of the earliest callers at the Ighodalos. He said, “I was shocked when I received the news that my friend, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo had lost his wife and partner, Mrs. Ibidun Ighodalo. Mrs. Ibidun Ighodalo was an inspiration to many. I pray for strength for Pastor Ituah, their children, loved ones, and the many she has touched.”

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, President Muhammadu Buhari commiserated with Pastor Ighodalo whom he said regularly prays for the government and the country. The president stated that he shared the pain and sorrow of the family at the sudden death, and prayed for God’s comfort for the entire family, friends, and members of Trinity House, adding, “Please, accept my condolences. May God give you the fortitude to bear the loss, and strengthen you in this trying time.”
Similarly, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State said, “As close friends, our grief is hard to describe in words. Ibidunni was one of the finest among us. She was full of life and gave herself to causes that edified life and living. In her personal capacity and through the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation, she impacted society, helping to bring joy and happiness to peoples’ lives.”

In his tribute, Dr. Nsima Ekere, the former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State and later, MD of the Niger Delta Development Company, NDDC, said, “My deep condolences to my friend and brother Pastor Ituah Ighodalo on the passing of his wife Ibidun. May the Lord rest her beautiful soul.” Former Minister of Education, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili wrote, “Life! Ibidun Ighodalo? Just gone… like a candle in the wind. Too much heartbreaking news. May God comfort our very dear Pastor Ituah and rest of family in the way that only He can in Jesus name.”
Billionaire Aliko Dangote; the First Lady of Lagos State, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu; Pastor Paul Adefarasin and his wife; and Publisher of the Thisday Group, Prince Nduka Obaigbena among others were also at the Ighodalos’ home.

Yes, a tragic end to the life of one of the most acclaimed invigorators of Lagos’ social circuit and high society no doubt.

Alive, Ibidunni was an enchanteur; from childhood, she radiated such infectious mirth and loveliness that members of her nuclear and extended family, friends and other loved ones, fell over one another to pamper and please the little girl that grew up to ignite their unsullied affection even as they bore her in a carriage of care towards an enchanted future.

In one sense, though, Ibidun is not gone. She will continually and fondly be remembered as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, and friend who radiated great bliss, laughter, and splendour wherever she graced with her unforgettable presence.

Indeed, the true measure of a person is not how long he or she lives, but what was achieved while on earth. She was endowed with the noblest persona epitomizing kindness, selflessness, genuine humaneness, and an extraordinary ability to put a smile on people’s faces, even at the most improbable time.

Until her death, Ibidun’s world revolved around her family and friends, whom she loved without inhibition or compromise according to many of her loved ones. She was the people’s princess, and that is how she will stay, in their hearts and in their memories forever. With her tragic death, a beacon of light has no doubt been extinguished. She was a woman of grace, gorgeousness, and allure, and her beauty no doubt radiated from within, to form a glorious halo about her persona throughout her short but impressive stay on earth.