Edith Chikaodili, a senior pastor at the Soul Winning Chapel, sister to Bishop Mike Okonkwo is the wife of fire brand clergyman and sports administrator, Reverend Moses Iloh.
For 42 years, this former teacher has remained loyal and faithful to a husband whose in-laws once rejected and banned from their home.
In this explosive interview with Saturday Vanguard, she expresses herself as her husband does. Like wife like husband youâ€™d say? You canâ€™t be further from the truth. Enjoy.
How was it growing up?
My name is Edith Chikaodili Iloh (Nee Okonkwo). I was born 69 years ago to the family of Chief Robert and Josephine Okonkwo in Anambra State.
They had seven of us- three girls and four boys but Iam the eldest. I thank God for that because itâ€™s not easy to be the eldest child in the family.
My parents had a solid Anglican background and they imbibed same in us. They were focused in the Lord and so they lived a good life. They loved each other and taught us how to love one another. So, we all are very close.
Bishop Mike Okonkwo is my younger brother. Heâ€™s the third child in the house. We are all doing well except my two other brothers who are still struggling to stand firm.
I went to a teachersâ€™ training college, what was known as pivotal teaching, where you go to schools to train as a teacher. Then, you must have a solid teaching background, not what you have today which I call fire brigade teachers.
You were trained to enjoy teaching as a profession. There was time for physical education (PE)because we had enough time and the field to exercise with. And it was compulsory for all teachers to appear in their sports wears and on the field too whenever we had PE. We had very smart teachers because we were not fat then. I played netball (basket ball) because that was the most popular sport for women.
I was a teacher but I used to feel that it was too boring for me. So, I decided to leave teaching and join Red Cross. That was where I met my husband.
I left the East and came back to Lagos to tell my parents that I didnâ€™t like teaching. Not only were they not paying, it was just too boring for me. I taught at Ijeru Baptist School, Apapa and Reagan Memorial School but I wasnâ€™t enjoying it anymore. So, I had to leave.
Did you teach Physical Education only?
No, I taught all the subjects. Then, my husband was always going to schools to recruit people to teach First Aid because it was mandatary for each school to have First Aid equipment. And that was how I was selected from Ijeru Baptist School. That was also how I went into Red Cross. So, we met at the Red Cross Training Centre, Makoko.
I was so shy when he approached me for marriage and I wasnâ€™t interested because there were plenty women around. You know I was from the village too. I was so shy and wasnâ€™t prepared to compete with anybody. I didnâ€™t want to start running around any man. I just wanted to be on my own. It took a while because he needed to show some kind of seriousness. It was only after that I started being interested until we got married. (laughing)
In your husbandâ€™s 80th birthday brochure, you saidÂ your parents didnâ€™t allow you to marry him….
(Laughing) Yes, they didnâ€™t allow it at all because traditionally, the ada (first girls in Igboland) were not allowed to marry outside their own locality. It happens like that both in Anambra and Imo States. Your parents didnâ€™t care whether the man is Igbo speaking or not.
It was really tough. Everybody intervened on my behalf but my parents wouldnâ€™t listen. But I knew what I wanted and I had to fight for it. Though, I was very close to my parents and it was so painful, I had to leave them. I kept crying and lamenting but that was it. My parents even had to put an embargo that nobody should visit me, except for Bishop Okonkwo who would sneak out to come and visit me. Though, three of my other siblings were not around, I couldnâ€™t tell if they too would have visited me.
Bishop was my only solace and my husband was there for me too. My husband played a very important role. He showed me so much love. He didnâ€™t allow me to feel the loneliness because he knew how close we were in my house.
It continued until during the war when my parents left Lagos to Enugu where we have a family house and we left to my husbandâ€™s village which is Udo in Mbaise, Imo State. From there, we were going to work at Umuahia. Then the Nigerian troop invaded our area (Ogbunike, Enugu) and it became very dangerous for my parents to remain there.
So, my husband had to go and bring them down to Mbaise, and that was how the matter was settled. (Still laughing).
They didnâ€™t reject him again?
Mbanu (No), they couldnâ€™t (still laughing). My father then realised that God can use anybody to redeem you from trouble. He surrendered to my husband and pleaded for forgiveness.
How many children had you then?
I had just my first daughter.
How is it living with Rev. Iloh?
My God, sometimes, I need to use magnet, rope, chain, everything to hold him. Heâ€™s so active that sometimes Iâ€™d call him and say â€œcome here, do you remember that youâ€™re so, so ageâ€? slow down. Honestly, I love him because he loves what heâ€™s doing and I give him all the support. I found out that heâ€™s a man on the move. A kind man, he wants to help people all the time. Heâ€™s a man to be with, very loving and appreciative. He also transferred all that to the children. I love him and will continue to love him.
How long have you been married?
Our union turned 42 years last February.
Based on your experience with your parents, whatâ€™s your advice to young people?
They should forget praying for their parents to calm down because they may never. Fight and take what is yours. You know why I say so? The Anglican Bishop then even had to talk to my parents and they still refused. So many top people in the government intervened but no way. Well, I donâ€™t want to go into all that now. If God decides to put people together, it doesnâ€™t matter where they come from. Iâ€™ll only advise that they donâ€™t marry unbelievers.
Whatâ€™s your take on the Osu cast system of the Igbo?
The first question I ask is what or who exactly is an Osu? If you look at the background of how Osu originated, youâ€™ll find out that they were the most beautiful, handsome, intelligent and hardworking people. It was out of jealousy that these people were sacrificed to the gods. It wasnâ€™t their making.
If they were allowed to choose their path, they wonâ€™t go there. These same people who claim to be free born are the ones that put them there. How can we still be talking about Osu today?
Okay, what has it got to do with individualâ€™s life, or even the marriage? How has the osu thing affected the couples you call osu? I think itâ€™s the most wicked and vicious thing in Igboland. Let these people go because God did not condemn them.
When God set you free, youâ€™re free. The same blood of Jesus that washed you also washed them. Once theyâ€™re in the Lord, theyâ€™re no more osu or whatever it is.
In heaven, God will not ask if youâ€™re an osu or not. The criteria for selection will be what type of life did you live for him on earth? which is what counts.
osu go to school. Theyâ€™re intelligent, pretty, hardworking. What is it that the other man has got which the osu hasnâ€™t got? I think its self defeatism for one to see self as osu.Â If you are rejected in your village, go to wherever you like and live your life for God accepts you there.
What about the occultic men, are they better than the osu? I feel very sorry for some of our people because theyâ€™re not focused. They believe itâ€™s only when a man has money that they can marry their children. These parents are not thinking. They donâ€™t know that these young boys sometimes use their daughters for sacrifices to replenish their pockets.
After a lavish wedding, the next thing is for the young wife to die during pregnancy or childbirth. And these parents donâ€™t ask questions. We in these ministry work know because we see and hear a lot. We feel very sorry for them because even when they begin to seek for deliverance, they contract pastors that will take their money, fake pastors. Oh, itâ€™s really a pity.
Is it difficult to build a Christian family?
You see, when someone finds the Lord out of difficulty, then loving and serving him becomes hard work and a routine. And when you love and serve him as a routine, then building up a Christian family becomes a routine. The result is that your children will be so bored with that routine, so much that they branch off at any little space they can get. When they get out, they feel so free. Oh thank God, mummy is not here. Oh, this everyday prayer; oh God, we donâ€™t want it.
Oh Jesus, so somebody can stay for sometime without even singing praises, thank you father. This is exactly what you get when you choose God as a routine.
I thank God for the way we related God to our children. As a family, you must have time to sit down and discuss yourselves, become friends. Give your children the opportunity to criticise what you do. Let them have an input, because thereâ€™s always something to learn from one another. Donâ€™t just place your children on unnecessary routine because it will get to a point when you canâ€™t catch up with them anymore. My husband will always advise parents to do whatever they have to do fast because thereâ€™ll be a time that your strength will fail you.
When you stand to shout, the child will be towering above you and will almost put you down if no one is watching. Discuss with your children, tell them what you donâ€™t like and allow them to tell you what they donâ€™t. Find out what God thinks about it. By so doing, theyâ€™ll come to know the truth.
Loving God will not be difficult at that point and this is what Christianity is all about.
Let them be free to love and serve God the way they understand him, and not your own way. Your ways may be too tight for them. But make sure it does not affect the word of God negatively. Allow them to follow it and watch where it leads them.
Next Sunday, weâ€™ll be having our family day, where we allow families (husbands, wives and children) to share their experiences so that everybody can learn from each other and enjoy their homes. So many people are just enduring their marriages because Christianity says donâ€™t divorce. They just stay there without enjoying anything from January to December, year in year out. It becomes so dry that some people want to run away.
My three girls are married and before they got married, I told them they must make friends with their husbands. From being friends, you will be able to know whether you can love yourselves and live together because marriage is not a touch and go institution. If God had permitted divorce, nearly everybody will divorce their marriages (laughing). That is why we must look very well before we leap.
Shine your eyes very well so that you can see very well. I strongly disagree with pastors who donâ€™t allow courtship. I say there must be courtship but we must teach them how to court. You canâ€™t marry somebody you have just known for two months, no.
What do you know about him/her? How can you join them together as husband and wife? I call that suicide squad and when it backfires, they wonâ€™t even know theyâ€™re the cause. It starts from inside. By the time it blows up, Oh God. Iâ€™ve seen people leave their wives/husbands in the church and run away.
Heâ€™ll come visiting you, well dressed, with wrist watch, shoes, perfume, everything intact. But you donâ€™t know where he keeps those things when he leaves you. So, itâ€™s important you visit him to know where he throws those shoes, shirts and trousers and that is part of courtship.
I recommend courting without sexual intercourse, which is very possible. You can visit with your relations or friends, play games, read the Bible and watch films together. Within that period, you can help him to arrange those shoes and clothes, and even teach him how to keep them clean. Some men are so badly trained because their parents did not teach them anything . You leave your home well tailored and go out to face junk. I taught all my children how to do things together.
I didnâ€™t separate the boys from the girls. One of my sons (son-in-law) called me one day to thank me for bringing up my daughter very well.
He said thereâ€™s nothing she does not teach him, and we learn from each other.
Do you know so many people donâ€™t brush their tongue? All they talk about is designer this and that. Have you taken time to look at the armpits of some men? Oh Jesus, donâ€™t these pretty girls who run after them smell anything? Expensive perfumes do not hide dirt. These are some of the things that break marriages, which people do not even talk about.
Little things like cleaning the ear, nose, washing the underneath of your breast and bras.
When I had my first baby, I used to wake up and wash before the doctor goes round. How can a doctor see me with blood stain? No way! What will he think about me? Iâ€™m happy I passed the same training to my children and theyâ€™re building their homes with it.
How did you come into the ministry?
Like I said earlier, I had a good Christian background. I used to be a choir mistress in my church and I sing very well. I didnâ€™t know that I had this leadership quality. I think I got it from my mother but I never knew it would take me this far. It was when I gave my life to Christ that I discovered this talent of leadership.
During the war, we were attending this white garment church and we didnâ€™t know the difference. We just felt it was something different from the Anglican Church that we needed to explore until we discovered they were practising occultism and ran away.
Then, we joined TREM and thatâ€™s where I got my calling. I led the women. I was a choir director, Sunday school teacher and a deaconess.
Later, my husband got his own calling and we left TREM.
That was how we established this Soul Winning Chapel about 20 years ago. We started with Bible teaching until it became a full blown Church. We have just this one in Ebute Metta with branches in Ojo, Lagos and Abuja. The wahala is just too much.
How have you been able to handle this ministry?
Itâ€™s not been easy because itâ€™s difficult to have people whoâ€™re loyal and committed in the service of God.
In this Church, we have few full time pastors and others who have jobs and combining it with the work of God. Most of them are looking at the salary theyâ€™ll earn and we canâ€™t tell them to leave their jobs because we canâ€™t pay them. Maybe, theyâ€™re not called too because you wonâ€™t be looking at salary if youâ€™re really called.
I remember when we first started, the offering money used to be like N15 (laughing), but we were not discouraged though we felt sorry for the children. I thank them for having endured because there were times we didnâ€™t have food on the table.
I remember one of the kids asking me (Mummy, when will all these suffering stop)? And I said, anytime it pleased God. It took a while though but God saw us through. Before we started this Church, I and my husband were intoÂ business but everything collapsed when we ventured into the Ministry.
We later discovered that it was part of the test we had to go through.
At that point, how did you cope with the childrenâ€™s school fees?
My husband sold his cars and every other thing he could sell, our relatives were also helping. Before we started the church, my husband had seen one of my brothers through the medical school so when we were down, he came to our rescue. My sister was sending clothes from abroad so we didnâ€™t lack clothes.
How do you cope with Church affairs and the home front?
That one is even small. I have the home, Church women ministry, women evangelistic fellowship international, I also belong to other bodies. I preach in some churches outside my church. Last Sunday, I preached in one TREM branch. Itâ€™s only the grace of God that can help you organise people anywhere and still have your home intact.