Circa 2007, the city of Lagos, at the time under the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola began to pursue a fresh makeover phase during the annual yuletide celebrations. Brightly decorated Christmas lights popped up in several strategic locations giving the city a much needed lift. Working with a brief from the state government, Ibidunni Ighodalo oversaw this creative remapping of the city. She provided strategy and direction, fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie and teamwork at Elizabeth R., the public relations and event management company she had founded a couple of years back. That spirit manfested as a yuletide celebration executed smoothly. They did it so well that Zenith Bank would seize on the initiative and take it supernova with the annual tourist-attracting extravaganza at the Ajose Adeogun roundabout in Victoria Island.
Ibidun Ighodalo passed away suddenly in a hotel room in Port Harcourt in the early hours of Sunday 14, June where she was working with the state governments of Rivers and Bayelsa to deploy COVID-19 isolation centres. She was about a month shy of turning 40.
“The Ighodalo and Olaleye Ajayi families are deeply saddened to announce the sudden loss of our beloved wife and daughter Mrs. Ibidunni Ituah-Ighodalo who passed away in the early hours of today.” Her family confirmed in a statement, pleading for privacy through this “difficult time.”
No cause of death was stated.
For 13 years, Ibidunni Ighodalo was married to Ituah, founder and senior pastor of the Trinity House church, Lekki. She eventually went public about her personal journey with infertility and became an advocate for reducing the associated stigma that kept Nigerian women from seeking medical alternatives. Tracing the origins of her condition to a complicated appendicectomy procedure many years back, Ighodalo described the harrowing process that took the couple through about 11 failed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) attempts before they decided to discontinue. The couple would eventually adopt two kids of their own, Keke and Zenan.
Even while going through dark patches of her own, Ibidun Ighodalo remained a source of inspiration and a shinning light to people around her. She built a successful business, one that easily became an industry leader, trusted to deliver top notch events for names like the Obasanjos, Babangidas and Alukos. Elizabeth R., headquartered on Awolowo Road, Lagos, has since become synonymous with attention to luxurious detail and impeccable service.
Some of Ighodalo’s work also includes the premiere of the Mildred Okwo directed 2012 comedy The Meeting and the #BBNaija eviction parties. As the COVID-19 pandemic sent world economies into a tailspin and government mandated lock downs put a halt to communal gatherings, Elizabeth R. kept up with the times, with Ighodalo repurposing the company to design isolation centres in Lagos, Rivers and Bayelsa. Her final days were spent doing exactly this.
Even though Ighodalo was always juggling multiple projects, she made the time to talk to people, to see them and to be with them at times of need. She stayed at her husband’s side, taking on the responsibilities of mothering his teeming flock. Many of the tributes pouring in have spoken about her generosity of spirit. In a private message which she sent to celebrity photographer TY Bello, Ighodalo made it clear that in lieu of a party, her birthday wish was to reach out to 40 couples who were struggling with infertility issues.
“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,” Governor Jide Sanwo-Olu said while visiting pastor Ighodalo at home.
When it was time to start out a foundation, it made sense that Ighodalo would be inspired by the single most defining diagnosis of her life. The Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation (IIF), a pioneering non-profit organization was created to raise awareness on issues pertaining to infertility and to provide financial assistance for couples needing fertility treatments. At a time when issues around infertility were still shrouded in secrecy, Ighodalo leaned into her privileged position as a person of faith to dispel myths and misconceptions.
Born on 19th July 1980 to the family of the late Olaleye Ajayi, a former student union leader, Ibidunni was raised in privilege. She went to school in the University of Lagos where she studied Microbiology even though her father would have preferred, naturally, that she study Medicine. While in school, Ibidunni entered for the inaugural Lux Beauty Pageant organized by Unilever Nigeria Plc (Lever Brothers Nigeria Plc at the time) in 1998. She emerged winner even though she was one of the youngest contestants and became one of the most popular women in the country. She would secure additional qualifications in Business Management from the Lagos Business school.
Ighodalo started Elizabeth R. in 2003 and steadfastly grew the business one client base at a time to become the industry gold standard. Speaking at the company’s fifteenth anniversary, Ighodalo recalled “I was in my 20s when we started this company. I knew what I wanted, but I could not guess we would come this far and make such an impact in the industry and in the lives of many people. I am very happy to see the number of people who used to work here but have since moved on to do their own thing. That, undoubtedly, is our greatest achievement in 15 years. Add the fact that we still keep a warm relationship with all of them. We are like a family. We plan on being here for a long time.”
The business soon diversified into an exclusive bridal wear and accessories firm, Avant Garde as well as ‘The Dorchester’, a 3000-capacity event hall in Oniru, Victoria Island.
In 2007, the Ighodalo’s caused a minor scandal when they went public with their relationship. Pastor Ituah who at the time was a star pastor at one of the Redeemed Christian Church of God branches in Lagos was forced to leave the church because marrying Ibidunni meant divorcing his first wife, a position the church did not abide with. The couple tied the knot anyway and Ighodalo moved to start the now successful Trinity House.
Her time on earth may have been brief but Ibidunni Ighodalo was active enough to live several lives in one. She was many things to several people and in whatever she chose to do or fell into, she gave her all. Beauty queen, businesswoman, events planner, wife, mother and woman of faith, she lived a life in service of people.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.