The Pastor of Trinity House Church, Ituah Ighodalo, in this interview speaks about the Project40at40 initiative of the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation, just as he pledged to further his late wife's last wish to enable vulnerable couples struggling to have babies. Excerpts:
What is it that makes the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation (IIF) stand out from other Foundations?
I do not know of any other foundation anywhere in the world that actually focuses on In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) like the IIF. I know some foundations do motherless babies and some do mother and child counseling while some do scholarships, but I don't know any that has focused on assisted reproduction. The thinking is it is only for the rich and if you can do it, go and do it and sort yourself out. But my wife, because of her passion and love for people and because of her love for the down trodden said to herself that nobody should be denied the opportunity of good health facility just because because they cannot afford it. Even in abroad, they will not give you insurance for IVF. So, for this to be done by a Nigerian in Nigeria is an extremely good thing.
You have displayed a great level of strength since the passing on of your wife. How is that possible?
The first thing I can say is that God gave understanding. The day I received the news was in the middle of the night so I had enough time to have conversations with God. The next thing was that I asked God for direction and instruction. What do I do because it was not about me or my pains and sorrows; it was about my wife, and God and other people. So, I switched the narrative and I said what will God have me do? And I obeyed God's instruction to the letter as to what he will have me do. So, I didn't think about myself at that point in time or about my loss and about my pain. I didn't focus on them. I focused on how I should react appropriately according to the will of God to this particular situation. I focused on what is God saying and expecting from this situation. And that gave me calm and peace and what I think was apparently the right reaction. I will not say that there were not flashes sometimes when I will say how did it happen? But by God's grace they were not long lived because I rested in God.
As the chairman of the board, what has been you level of involvement in the IIF and what will it be this time around?
Before now I was really chairman and my wife will come to tell me what she wanted to do and her plans for my advice. I would give her advice and support and she used a lot of my contact base for most of the things she did both in the foundation and her business and I will make myself available to support her whenever she needed. She did most of the thinking, most of the strategies and planning while mine is to approve and tick the boxes and sometime to raise the money. But now that she is no more my involvement has to be much more in that I need to do a lot of the thinking, a lot of the strategy, a lot of the management even to some extent the day to day management until the foundation is stabilised and have proper structure in place. Then I can retire a little bit more to my usual role of just being the chairman of the board.
What are the modalities for the selection process and the level of transparency to be expected from it?
The selection process will take us two months and the application process is online from any part of the country. You don't need to know anybody in IIF to apply for this grant. Again, we are going to use our online process to weed out those who are not qualified and our criteria are very well spelt out. Number one, you must be legally married. At the moment we are not reaching the single parents as we are not going that way yet. We may go there maybe later. Number two, you must have been married for at least five years with an evidence of childlessness, which includes your medical history. So, there will be medical examination to determine the applicant's medical history. Three, our preference is for the less privileged couples in the lower echelon of the society who cannot afford it the treatment on their own. However, they must be able to look after the baby when it comes. Those earning more than N5 million per annum are probably not those we are looking for. Couples earning combine income of N10 million per annum, can, if they struggle, save enough money within a year or two on their own. But we will give you this grant if you are earning N4 million or less in a year. Even then we expect that you too will contribute a small sum to your own treatment. English people say that 'you must have a scheme in the game.' And then you must have enough resources to look after the child within even though you may not be able to afford the IVF procedure on your own. Then, they must be responsible and not drunkards, prostitutes or on drugs. The computer will automatically weed those that don't qualify because we know all sorts of people will apply. Some will even tell you untruth. Again the wife must be below 50 years for medical and psychological reasons.
We will have an online interview or a face-to-face interview with those selected by the computer to further assess and this will prune down the number to 100 people. Then, they will be subjected to physical medical examinations to ascertain if they have fibroid, blocked tube or issues that can even affect them or the health of the baby when they got pregnant. It may be diabetes, high blood pressure etc., to help us further weed out those who are not fit. It will also help us, where necessary, to anticipate and prepare for treatments of other ailments when pregnant occurs. That means that if we take someone who is hypertensive we also have to get a doctor to manage those identified with hypertension and get the couples to sign a form that we are not liable in case of any eventuality. We will not like liability when trying to help people. We don't want any embarrassment. People must sign form that we are not liable of any unfavourable outcome though we are not praying for it. The final 60 will be subjected to a ballot to choose the final 40.
How has COVID-19 impacted on the activities of the foundation?
I cannot say that COVID-19 has affected our activities. By God's grace we have been raising money and you know that people are still managing themselves and are still prospering even under COVID-19. People are not going to roll over and die because of it. Our medical support team is still ready to support us in spite of COVID-19. You need to know that my wife died in active service for COVID-19 where she was setting up centres for the care of COVID-19 patients all over the country though she was never infected with the disease. She was just providing succor and help to those that had the disease. It was a risky thing for her but that was my wife for you.
How many couples have benefitted from IIF?
I know that many have benefitted but I cannot give you the exact figure right away because she has been doing this informally until she set up the foundation to make it formal. She was also involved in helping couples to adopt babies. She also has passion for a lot of women on the street. She sometimes goes out in the night to pick these women on the streets, dress them up and brings them to the church to hear the gospel and adopted them to become her friends. Another thing she does is that every Christmas she will celebrate the season with babies and can buy gifts and toys for as many as 1000 babies at a time. She would also take me to visit children born in hospitals and sometimes we found out that some babies have been "arrested" because their parents could not pay the hospital bills and we will start writing cheques. That was Ibidunni for you. Anywhere she saw people who needed help she would stop to provide succor to them. Sometimes she would cook and went to street to start feeding beggars. So, I cannot give you the exact numbers and figures.
How do you intend to fund the nearly N150 million it may cost to achieve the project 40at40 target?
We are people of faith and we believe in the Almighty, knowing that God will provide. We live it in the hands of almighty God. God provided for a lot of things we have done in the past. I will not say that we are people of exceptional grace but my wife and me we work extremely hard and there may be a little money somewhere that I can make available to make this possible. But not only that, lot of people been offering their helping hands, and I will not want to mention names, men that are responsible and in high places that I heard about this project and started sending money. Even as at today monies are coming in into the foundation's account every day because Nigerians can be generous if you appeal to them in the right way. So, God will provide. God is providing. We have gotten 30 to 40 per cent of the money through friends, associates and family members and are looking for 60 to 70 per cent. Moreover we want it to be sustainable so that after doing 40at40 this year we will be able to do something next year. Maybe we will do 60 next year because that will be my 60th birthday. But at least we will not do less that 40 every year as long as God gives us life the foundation will continue to be sustainable. One of the reasons for this interview and the press conference I held in the morning is to appeal to well-meaning Nigerians to come to Macedonia and help us to do this thing. And we are putting up proper structures in place for accountability and compliance. This foundation is established solely to give hope to others and provide them with strong counseling for their emotional and spiritual needs. Because a lot of people needs counseling to take away the stigma and anxieties that goes with struggling to have a child. We are hoping for people to join us and be part of this project.
Can a couple have the privilege of double opportunities?
That is a good question. What we want to do is to give people one opportunity, again one opportunity to carry their bundle of joy. If they really want a second child and God has not provided I will recommend adoption. There are a lot of babies out there looking for homes and there are many homes looking for babies. So, I will recommend adoption in that area. I also run a foundation that teaches mentors and supports adoption, which is the heritage foundation. So, at this moment we will not support couples seeking a second child. It is not be our priority. Our priority is to support couples who have never had their own baby.