By Azuka Jebose Molokwu
A decade ago, Philemon Ihediwa, a director, producer and writer
debuted his first movie in the United States. He was one of few
Nigerians in the Diaspora that ventured into Hollywood. His movie,
Congo Boy In The City, featured Nollywood movie stars like Kanayo. O.
Kanayo and Mama Gee.
Through the years, Philemon struggled to release the epic movie, but
was constantly disturbed by the challenges of his divorce and child
support payments. He became heart broken, reclusive and rejected by
Ihed, as he was widely known in the US, was chased by the pain and
trauma of child support harassment, allegedly fuelled by his ex-
wife’s several court cases against him, in concert with the North
Carolina Child support enforcement.
He went from job to job, as he struggled to pay whopping child support
monthly bills. In 2013, Ihed lost everything. He was near homeless,
barely living in his storage: he hid his pains and troubles from those
close to him until a family member mistakenly found out he was hanging
onto life where he stored his little possessions. The family member
offered him a place to start life afresh. Sometimes in the spring of
2015, Ihed moved to this small road town, Smithfield. He wanted to be
far from years of sad memories from his marriage: he began recovery
from rejection by his children. He relocated to a small town of
Smithfield, North Carolina. On Saturday evening, police found his
bloated body in his apartment. He fell on the floor in his bathroom,
hitting his head against the bathtub.
Monday evening, Ihed, during a telephone conversation with his female
friend, Louise Gorsham, who lived “across town”, hinted that he was
not feeling well and would retire to bed early. Ms. Gorsham pleaded
with him to call her when he woke up at sunrise. He agreed and they
both wished each other goodnight.
“The next day, I called several times throughout the day but he did
not respond to my call. I sent text messages. No response. I waited
till Wednesday to repeat calls and text messages. I did not hear from
him. I was also at work. By Saturday afternoon, after I closed from
work, I pleaded with a coworker to drive me to Ihed’s apartment in
Smithfield, a thirty minutes ride from Raleigh. I was mad at him. I
thought he was ignoring my calls on purpose, might be he had found
another lady. But when I got to his apartment, I noticed his car was
in his parking space. I began to smell stench coming from his door. I
knew something wasn’t right.
“Immediately, I called the Smithfield Police department and requested
a welfare check on my friend. The police arrived few minutes later,
broke into his apartment and found him dead on the floor, bloated and
oozing. My friend died lonely from a broken heart and years of pains
from being denied relationships with his children. He loved those
kids. Ihed told me many times that his wife had, through the years,
barred his children from visiting him. She set them up against their
dad while she was busy collecting heavy child support. That man was a
very great man. All he wanted was to be a good father to his children.
But his ex wife was in the way. Now he is gone.”
Smithfield medical examiner’s office determined that the causes of
death were seizure and possible heart attack. It was recorded that
“his body was bloated and near decomposition when he was found in his
bathroom. The heat in the apartment accelerated decomposition
process.” The medical Examiner also concluded that Ihed might have
died five days earlier.
Unconfirmed sources say Smithfield police tried several times to reach
his ex-wife but she did not return calls placed to her cell phone. His
body was deposited in the morgue pending notification of his next of
kin, his children, especially the first son.
The Nigerian community in RTP in association with Ngwa Association, on
Monday attempted to move his remains to a funeral home to prepare him
for burial. But the funeral home indicated that it would only honour
the wishes of the family and not community members; to protect itself
from any legal fallout. The ex-wife and their first son refused to
participate in the burial of their father. On Wednesday afternoon,
after several pleas from members of the community to the ex-wife to
encourage his 19-year-old first son, sign a release form allowing the
community to be responsible for Ihed’s funeral, the ex-wife and first
son, George Uche, met Jebose Boulevard at a funeral home to relinquish
their rights for the final disposition of their late father.
Jebose Boulevard assumed the right to bury Mr. Ihediwa. This refusal
confirmed the conversations trending in this small town that the
children rejected and refused Mr. Ihediwa as their father. Jebose
Boulevard, Ngwa and the Nigerian community moved his body to the
Nigerians in the Research Triangle Park are infuriated about the sad
death and circumstances surrounding the tragedy. Family and close
members are theorising on what drove him to early death. A member of
his extended family, who chose to be anonymous, stated angrily, “Ihed
spent every month of the last ten years being taken to family court in
Wake County by his ex-wife for child support payment and arrears. He
paid about $1,400 in monthly child support to that lady. She dragged
him through the system. Ihed worked very hard and suffered to pay
child support. The ex-wife accused him of being a superstar, rich and
wealthy. This man had his talent and creativity that couldn’t fetch
him money because he was abused and stressed by the ex-wife. She took
him to the cleaners. He is dead now. What else would she claim?”
Court documents obtained confirmed several court cases filed by
plaintiff (Stella Ihediwa) against defendant (Philemon. N. Ihediwa)
with regards to various child support litigations (Case File:
06CV018338). The child support case was still ongoing until his death.
In a recent court case filed on April 2014, the court upheld an
earlier ruling of $859.00 order against Ihed as child support. Arrears
as of April 16th 2014 was $5,664.11.
Between 2007 and 2014, Ihed child support ranged from $1,300 to
$859.00, depending on his employment. He also filed few cases seeking
child support adjustment, as his employment status changed.
Ihediwa and Stella were married in 1996. The marriage was blessed with
three boys. Ten years after their marriage, the couple separated on
June 23, 2006. The state of North Carolina granted them certificate of
absolute divorce on June 18, 2010.