Dying could be the easiest part of the passage of Mrs. Ibidunni Ighodalo (nee Ajayi), former LUX beauty queen and wife of Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, the charismatic Senior Pastor of Trinity House Church, Ikoyi, Lagos. As you well know, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Elizabeth R, the highly acclaimed events-planning outfit, and Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation, which provides grants for women to pay for In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), passed away early last Sunday morning in her hotel room in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
It was indeed a black Sunday for the Trinity House family as her sudden death coincided with the burial of another prominent member of the church, Ayodeji Modupe-Johnson, the 24-year-old grandson of Lagos billionaire, Rasak Okoya. It was a day of tears, rivers of tears in Trinity House sanctuary.
Weeping for Ibidunni
But if the experience of this correspondent, talking with those she touched their lives while alive, those her organisation lifted up out of their dungeon of despair and sorrow, is anything to go by, then mourning her may turn out to be the hardest. Though young, to them she is their own Biblical Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43), their own Mother Theresa, not in terms of age, but in terms of piety, of kind-heartedness.
You are talking about her with someone. Suddenly she stops and stays calm for some minutes. To catch her breath! To stop herself from breaking up! You turn to another beneficiary. She too starts her own story. But halfway through, she becomes overwhelmed with emotion. Then she breaks into sobs. Another takes it a notch higher. She breaks into loud wailing.
Will these tears ever stop? Will they forever flow? You find yourself asking these questions over and over again as the scenario continues to replay itself, with every beneficiary that you spoke to. Whichever way you look at it, some people may not get over her death too soon. In fact, may never get over it at all!
A realtor and wife’s experience
Take the case of Mr. Chris Otunsieme, a realtor, for instance. His eight-year-old marriage to Patience, his wife, an aviation security agent, was characterised by series of inexplicable miscarriages until they met the woman through a seminar organised by her Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation that specialises in giving hope to hopeless couples through In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) therapy.
“We met her at the 2nd edition of her Parents In Waiting Conference (PIWC) in 2018,” he said, while still trying to pull himself together. “Her story was an encouraging one to us; how she had many failed IVFs and, afterward, resolved to be helping others who may not have the financial capacity to try it.
“We got to the venue early and were asked to pick numbers which was meant for an IVF grant draw. Our numbers were not called after the draw session but the Draw Anchor, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, decided to extend the grant number and called us from the crowd. It was like a dream to us cos at first we were not aware that there will be any draw of such kind; we only went to learn.
“After the event, we were asked to come to her office to sign some documents before we commence the IVF procedure. We went that fateful day and after signing the documents, she asked my wife her age. She discovered that she was above forty. With that, she immediately called one of the clinics and told them she was sending us to commence our procedure. We did the procedure at The Ark Clinic, Ikoyi, with Dr. Yemisi Bero. The procedure went through and my wife became pregnant. We later lost the pregnancy in the third month due to some complications.”
Still trying hard to stop himself from crying, he said: “Mrs. Ibidunni Ighodalo was a blessing to us and was used by God to change our mindset to see the possibility of trying other creative medical options instead of dealing with infertility problem with just prayers. Her heart of putting smiles on other people’s faces is something we should all covet. She lived a sacrificial life and did much within the space of time she was here. We pray for the Lord’s comfort on her husband, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, her two lovely children and the entire Trinity House Church.”
Arike and her twins Ibidun could not see
When the much restrained tears eventually arrived, eventually broke through the tear glands, they did so in torrents, not for Chris, but for Mrs. Adekunle Arike, a businesswoman that deals in children’s stuff. As it turned out, she was crying, not just that she lost a rare gem in the person of Ibidunni, but also for the fact that she could not wait, to hold, in her arms, the babies she helped her to get, before departing, unceremoniously, to the world beyond.
The conversation took place on the phone, from faraway United States, where she had gone to be delivered of the baby twins, a boy and a girl, recently. And, she sobbed throughout the interview so much that it affected you too, her interviewer. Her only regret, she continued to say, was that owing to COVID-19, Ibidunni did not wait long enough to hold those beautiful things in her arms as she had anticipated and hoped.
“I received a call from a friend of mine residing in England that she is dead,” she said on how the shocking news of her death blew her away. “I screamed and was asking questions. But there were no answers. We met her some years ago with my husband when all hope was lost. We were ushered into her beautiful decorated office by her P.A. We met her sitting on the floor. We explained our ordeal to her and she told us that we will be the first couple and so it was.
“She has a heart of gold. She was a rare gem, intelligent and humble in nature. She has empathy for couples who want to have children. She was also a prayer warrior, a courageous and passionate being, a woman of grace. She brought laughter and joy into homes of couples which I am privileged to be part. She was a priceless jewel. Her demise is a great loss to womanhood. I am so sad that I am talking about her in this form. I feel sorry for her husband. I pray to God to continue to uphold him. I feel for her children. I don’t want people to call them adopted. They are her children. It hurts me when people say that she’s always saying children are children and there is no mistake in children.
“I’m just lucky to have met her. She would get a good hospital for you. If she’s not satisfied, she would tell you not to go there. Yet, I did not contribute kobo to her organisation which bore all the financial burdens. She’s an angel, a priceless jewel. I had a set of twins in the United States and we are still there because of the coronavirus. I gave birth to a boy and a girl. She was so happy when she heard. I wanted her to hold the children in her arms.”
Then she broke off from the chat and started crying. “I don’t know why this has to happen now,” she said. “I asked questions without anybody answering me. We wanted to return to Nigeria on 24th of March but coronavirus held us back in the US. I’m just lucky to have met her. I’m above 50.”
She added, after she stopped crying: “She is a prayer warrior. The very first day we saw her, she prayed with us that day. She’s very gentle, very humble, very intelligent. When you say beauty with brain, she has it. She might be young but she has everything she needs and God is with her. Saying has it that a good tree does not last long in a forest. You should have seen how humble she was. I knelt down for her and she knelt down with me and said: ‘Mummy, don’t do that.’ I knelt down when she told me I was the first person she was going to take. I was so happy because I had spent a lot of money on IVF. My body is still shivering as I am talking to you.’
At this juncture, she again, broke off momentarily from the interview and began to address Ibidunni, as if she was seeing her right there. “You will forever live in my heart,” she said. “Angel of my time, sleep well.”
The local government worker’s story
Sleep well. Rest in Peace. That is the same prayer that Olugbuyiro Cecilia Toyin is praying for her. A local government staff based in Ekiti State, like Arike, she too was shocked by the news of her death. “Her death is just a rude shock to me because she’s just an angel in my life,” she said. “She did what no ordinary man can do in my life. Then I was in a state of confusion about my marriage. Another woman was warming up to replace me in my marriage because of infertility. I just saw a particular invitation on Facebook. I applied and I was one of the shortlisted persons. I was invited to Lagos and I was selected. I got married 18 years ago. It was as if she has known me for ages.
“I used to call her my Angel. She paid for my IVF and she followed up, asking me how I am faring. In fact, she sent five of her staff to come and check on me in Ado- Ekiti. I’m based in Ado. By the time I gave birth to the baby, the baby died 10 days later. In fact, I went into coma. Depression just set in. I almost lost my senses, but she came calling, telling me, ‘Madam, don’t worry, you are not in this alone. We are going to do another one and you will carry your baby.’ In fact, the words she spoke to me that night melted away my depression, melted away my fears because my home was at a point of being hijacked by a strange woman. But because she came into my life, I was able to hold myself. I’m one of her fans on Instagram. I read her words every day. The woman is just an angel.”
On how she got wind of the news of her death, she said: “When I opened my Facebook on Sunday 14th and read about her death, all my system just got paralysed. She’s an extra-ordinary woman. She’s very nice, generous. In fact, I lack words to use to qualify the woman. The day I gave birth, I saw her dancing in her office. She said a baby has been added to her life. From her attitude, she behaved as if I’m her sister. She was just dancing that I gave birth. I live in Ado and she lives in Lagos. In fact, I don’t know what to say.”
Then she started crying. You waited for her to gather herself together. “She’s everything to me,” she said, after she did so, momentarily. “I love her so much. I know God will console her husband. The baby that died is the first child in my life. She promised me another IVF but now she’s dead.”
Again, she broke down in tears. You instinctively joined, brought out handkerchief and began to wipe your eyes. “I work in Local government,” she said. “You know our salary is meagre and my husband has not been working for a long time. I explained all that to her and she said: ‘Madam, don’t worry. God will take care of everything.’ I used to call her my sent angel. (Lore mi) what pains me most is that the baby did not stay. But her words daily gave me hope and second chance to live. I read her post every day. She brought me out of confusion in life.”
A female pastor and teacher’s memories
Mrs. Deborah Okochu, a female minister of God, with the Redeemed Christian Church of God but whose husband, also a minister of God, works with Trinity House, confessed to experiencing similar care from Ibidunni.
At the start of the chat, she remained sober and quiet for sometime as if she was trying to observe a minute silence in her memory. Then she said: “She did so much for me. My husband and they have come a long way in Trinity House. Sometimes last year, she just picked interest in my matter and took it upon herself. She sponsored an IVF session for me. Though it failed, the thought of her wanting to make me happy in my marriage was what baffles me the most. We went through that session together. I had a medical procedure. She was there with me. I had the implant. She was there with me. When it failed, she still encouraged me and told me not to worry that we are going to do a repeat session of another cycle. After that, we met twice to discuss about my preparation for another cycle, then this news.” Then she relapsed into silence again and refused to talk further.
Abigail Idowu Salawu, a teacher-turned-businesswoman also seems dumbstruck by the news of Ibidun’s death. She likens her to the Biblical Dorcas. “I’m a pastor’s wife in one of the Redeemed Christian churches in Kogi State,” she said. “I came in contact with her in November 2018, during her annual programme for expectant family. I was one of the chosen for the IVF. She is compassionate and she is a listener. I can describe her as Dorcas in the Bible. May her gentle soul rest in peace.”
A digital media strategist’s account
Toyosi Ettim Effiong, a digital media strategist, said that while alive she was so much part of her life that she can never forget her. “I worship at Trinity House,” she said. “In 2011, when I moved back from England, my friend who worked with her introduced me to her and she became like an aburo (Big/Elder Sister) to me. I would go to her office; I would just be around her. I would see her after service in church. I would wait to greet her, and we would just talk. When I was getting married, I just knew she has to be part of my wedding. I took my husband to see her. I told my husband there’s no way we would get married without you meeting my Mama, because I call her Mama. When it was the time for the wedding, she not only handled the décor. She asked: did you have a dress? I said I’m just trying to sort out dress. She said she just launched a bridal atelier, a wedding place where she has different parts of dresses from different parts of the world. She said I should come and try the wedding dresses. Just like that!
This is me. I went in for decorations. And, my wedding dress was beautiful. It had crystals; she even gave me my second dress. Afterward, I asked her how much the dress is. She said, ‘don’t worry’. She brought out tiara. She brought out veils. And, she brought out earrings. Full accessories for the two dresses, she brought them out. I paid for only décor and she gave me wedding dresses and accessories. On my wedding day, I wasn’t expecting her. But she came herself. She said she wants to dress me. That was 2017. She dressed me up. There was a part I said to myself: is this auntie a human being? She saw a slight hair on my underarm. She sent somebody to go and buy a shaving stick. She raised my hand and shaved my armpit. Then, she asked: ‘where is your watch?’ I told her, I don’t have a watch. She took off her Rolex watch and gave me to wear. She said it complements my dress. We went to church. Then we went to reception hall. Things that I didn’t pay for were in that reception hall: fog machine, sparkling this ‘n’ that, disco light on the dance floor. I was amazed. I had the wedding of my dream because of that woman.”
A school proprietress’s perspective
Bolaji Osime, CEO, Global International Secondary & Sixth Form, said she touched more lives and in more ways than one can count on one’s fingers. And, she made a huge impact in people’s lives. “She was a wonderful lady,” she said. “She was very respectful, very, very supportive of Pastor Itua. They are very close. She’s much younger but at the same time she has a lot of wisdom. She was a very nice person. She loved people. Trinity House is a mix of different people. Pastor Ituah has a ministry and she was able to help him fulfill what the Lord has asked him to do. He’s called to minister and help people and he would give his last kobo to the poor. Ibidunni was that kind of person too. She was a wonderful person. She was able to support him in everything he was doing in the church. She has her foundation as well for IVF children. Even the children in the church, she loves them a lot. Every Children’s Day, she would host them. She was just a lovely person all through.
“She was beautiful outside and inside. She was there for the church. She was there for the people. And, she was there for Pastor Ituah. Of course, she’s a very hardworking businesswoman. She was very passionate about everything she did. She poured herself into everything. She loved to worship. She would prostrate on the floor worshipping. It’s a really sad loss for the church and for Pastor Ituah. We thank God, she lived an impactful life. She came into this life and she made impact. A lot of people will remember her for her good works. She really embodied what the Bible says in terms of looking after the poor, looking after people who have a need. She spent a huge amount of money on women on IVF. How many people would do that? She didn’t allow her own need to overwhelm her. She extended help to others.
“I believe she’s resting now. She’s with the Lord. She’s the first and only daughter of her mum. She’s too young to die. Her life is a lesson for all. It’s better to be about the Lord’s business. She was busy doing what God wanted her to do, trying to help government build centres for COVID-19 patients. You hardly see her in parties. She’s always focused on what she was called to do. As far as I am concerned, she had an assignment to do and she fulfilled it. She beautified Nigeria. She beautified Lagos.”