Ituah Ighodalo: An Exemplary Life @ 62
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
Senior Pastor of the Trinity House Church, Ituah Ighodalo, clocked 62 recently. The third in the Nigeria Leadership Colloquium series was held in his honour in Lagos.
This years edition, took a cursory look at leadership issues in the country and the need for a united Nigeria.
Known for his passion for good leadership as well as leadership development in Africa, Allure chatted with him on the leadership situation in Nigeria, life at 62 and life without his late wife, Ibidun.
Congratulations on turning 62. How does it feel?
Well, I think I feel 35. I dont feel 62 at all. I am still moving around, doing what I used to do even at age 35. God has given us grace, he has given us reasonably good health.
What are you most grateful for?
I am grateful for good health. I am grateful for the children that my late wife left behind for me. I am grateful for my family; a very strong family. My immediate family, my sister, my fantastic people, and my sister-in-law. I would say Im thankful for good in-laws too. My mother-in-law, my two brothers-in-law and the other related people in the family. My step brothers and sister in-law; everyone in my life. I
I am grateful for the church that God has given me to manage. He has given me quite a good set of people who have been of tremendous help, support and understanding. I am also grateful for my practice. We have very good, mature partners just like a brotherhood who work well together. We have been able to, together, build an institution that will outlive all three of us. So, I am grateful for all that God has done.
It is a painful thing losing my wife, there is no doubt about it. God and I are still talking; but I am thankful that he did not put us to shame. I am thankful that she left an exceptional legacy. Everywhere I go, I hear good comments about what she did, about who she helped and so on. It is not about saying good things about the departed; it is a question of people genuinely being positively influenced by this great lady. So, I am grateful.
My only source of anxiety, like anybody elsepersonally, I can do with a bit more financial resourcesbut my concern is Nigeria and by extension, Africa, and people of black skin. I am also worried about the world.
Let me deal with Nigeria first and hope that somewhere or the other, God will help us to have very good, great and outstanding leadership in Nigeria. If only that could emerge, then I will know that I have done my best.
Talking about leadership, Nigeria is currently dealing with a lot of issues; security, cash crunch, tribal and ethno-religious crises, the issue of election credibility amongst others; with all these, would you say leadership in Nigeria has failed?
Leadership in Nigeria is near failure; let me be honest with you. A lot of people dont understand how Nigeria is still surviving with the kind of things it has been through; but I think it is the grace of God. We could have done a lot better if we had had very single-minded, very honest, very ethical, very compassionate leadership that cares about Nigeria and the average Nigerian.
I would categorize the problem of Nigeria into four. Number one, we are not quite a nation; people do not quite feel that they are Nigerians. They feel that they are of a certain tribe. We have not been able to weave ourselves together into a nation. We first of all think tribal, and that tribal thinking separates us a little bit.
The second problem with Nigeria is the foundation that the British laid. The British colonial masters deliberately did not want to live behind a strong Nigeria or a strong Africa. They wanted an Africa that they will continue to control and influence. Since we didnt want them to be our colonial masters anymore, they did the next best thing in their interest, by giving us a leadership that is not capable, leadership they could manipulate, the leadership they could blackmail, the leadership they could threaten and leadership that was corrupt. They are still using that corruption to continue to exploit our resources.
The third problem with Nigeria is the selfishness, greed, and the ignorance of the average Nigerian. Apart from our creativity and our hard work, the average man and woman just wants things for themselves. So that culture of not thinking for everybody, allows us to rule badly when we have the opportunity to rule. We come into leadership to sort ourselves out before we deal with the people.
The fourth problem in Nigeria is that a few ethical people, who know right from wrong, are abroad in the Diaspora and those who are around are not bold enough to face the leadership that has emerged. They get weary and go back to their tent. So corrupt leadership has held the nation hostage, what you call state capture and they continue to reign.
So how do we heal from these issues?
The solution is, first of all, prayer to God, asking God to help us; because God can. He can take a David out of the wilderness and put him into leadership as He did for Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew. He can take Solomon, Elisha or a Moses in the case of Nigeria. Apart from God, the next solution is that those who know better should come together, unite and fight for the soul of Nigeria.
As a shepherd, what is the role of religious leaders in all of these?
Religious leaders should, first of all, be true to themselves. Some of them got into ministry for personal aggrandizement. Are they truly serving God and helping the people or are they helping themselves? Those who are true to themselves should then have a process of speaking the truth. They should invest in training their disciples and followers according to the ways of Christ, and exposing them to leadership and if possible, power.
They should unite, and look for how to help, bring about competent leadership in Nigeria, by being a sincere pressure group, and evaluating what other leaders do; leaders like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu they speak, so that people know that we cant behave anyhow. We need in Nigeria people of truth. People that can speak truth to power like Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses.
Number two we need them to come together to select leaders, and if someone not credible wants to run for government, they have a right to say, no, where are you coming from? What is your background? They should collectively talk, and choose people who are capable.
…but we have leaders in political parties now, one or two leaders that select candidates for positions; lets take Lagos State for example, and people do not exactly like that?
Well, lets be realistic, leaders breed other leaders, and nobody lives forever. David brought Solomon, Moses brought Joshua and so forth. Godfatherism, whether you like it or not, is there. The problem with the godfatherism we are having today is the quality of the godfather himself and the overbearing influence of the godfather. A godfather needs to know when to back off and say, let us not have two kings at the same time. David installed Solomon and backed off. That is the role of a godfather; a moral conscience and not an overbearing influence.
What do you have to say to the incoming government?
They should please work in the best interest of the average Nigerian; get the best brains to do the best for Nigeria. They should be selfless and not go there to make money or share the cake. They should be bold enough to restructure our nation and our economy and stop us from being dependent on oil alone.
At 62, what lessons have you learned in life?
The first lesson that I learned in life is that you cannot trust anyone. When I was about 10-year-old, I ran for elections in my primary school. I campaigned so well that I began to act as though I was already a school prefect, because I felt I was quite qualified to do the job. I was ready to serve so I became a bit strict; I was acting like I was the winner already. When the election came, I lost woefully. Those who had promised to vote for me, none of them did. So the first lesson I learned is that you cannot trust man.
The second lesson I learned from my parents was that truth never fails. When you are truthful, you will not fail and you will have no fear.
What in your upbringing inspired your lifestyle today that encourages others to seek God?
My parents disciplined us even though we were, if you like, privileged children, comparatively in Nigeria those days. Both my parents were highly educated and had very good jobs. They provided for us what was available, but they made us very humble. We went to the farm because my mother said she was a farmers daughter, and her children must learn to farm. Each one of us had a house chore we were doing every morning. We made our beds, and washed our clothes. I learned to cook at the age of eight or nine. We were self-taught, self-sustained, very disciplined and told to be humble like normal children. I will never forget that we were also told to fear God. We were also told to do our best for mankind and to pursue our dreams. So my parents brought us up with a mixture of discipline and confidence and the ability to make your own decisions and not be fatigued, cowed or pressured by anybody.
They never made decisions concerning the house without consulting us. I started driving at the age of 14, my parents encouraged me, and I started taking responsibility from that age. We were taught to be independent-minded, bold, and confident, not to fear anybody, but to be respectful and humble to all.
You apparently have a good sense of style. Where did that come from?
That is how I grew up, in the most enlightened society, I grew up with a father who dresses very well, and an environment where they taught us proper dressing and looking the part. You mustnt overdress but you also must dress for the occasion and dress respectfully, so we try to miss and match. God has helped us, just to look decent, to look nice and to be able to deliver the message that we have been sent.
Looking at your life generally, if you were editing anything out, what will that be?
I have no regrets in life, but sometimes, I wish I knew God earlier and got born again earlier; but then, when I was playing the field, I played it very well also. I lived a good life, partied, drove cars, chased girls, and did all those things. Is it regret? Sometimes, but then, the experiences that I learned, the relationships that I cultivated, the people that I knew, a lot of them attended the Colloquium. I knew them from even my partying days and we are friends today. Maybe I hurt one or two people, it is regrettable, but a lot of them are still my friends. Some of them, I have apologised to them and I have helped some of them become born-again Christians. So, while that lifestyle is regrettable, the benefits of the experience and the outcomes, I am not regretting.
It was painful to lose my wife but, but I have come to learn compassion for other people who go through that kind of pain.
What will the Nigeria of your dream be?
A Nigeria where there is peace, harmony, tolerance, security and opportunity for every Nigerian to succeed according to merit.