Born in Ikirun, Osun State, to the respectable but humble and popular family of Chief Oladosu, Dr. Mrs. Lydia Olukemi Odedeji attended St Paul’s Primary School, Odo-Ona and African Church Grammar School, both in Ibadan, Oyo-State, for her primary and secondary education respectively.
Her passion for the suffering and needy people around her made her embrace the nursing profession early in life. She trained to become a Registered Nurse/Midwife and a member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria.
She later bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Health Education from the famous Lagos State University, Ojo. Still not satisfied, she went ahead to do Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in the same field from the prestigious University of Lagos.
Now a Nurse Educator at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, Mrs. Odedeji, by virtue of her marriage to Bishop Odedeji is the president of the Diocese of Lagos West Women and Girls’ Organization. She is a multi-tasking woman of many parts with rare managerial skills and an unquenchable knack for success. Also a regular facilitator of professional nursing seminars and training at both secular and religious gatherings.
Mama Lagos West as she is fondly called has over time earned for herself a great deal of respect and admiration from many people who benefit from her rare insight into issues. She and her husband are graciously blessed in their marital union with godly children that attract praise to God.
She spoke with Church Times’ Gbenga Osinaike about her ten-year experience in the diocese as the leader of the women in the Diocese of Lagos West of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.
Find below excerpts from the interview
What does it mean to be the wife of a Bishop in the Anglican Church?
The office of the Bishop’s wife is multidimensional; wife of the bishop, leader of the women and Girls’ Organizations, a professional in her chosen career, a mother and many others rolled into one. It is actually demanding and not so easy to cope with, but we thank God for grace.
Unfortunately, people look at the paraphernalia and perhaps the privileges of the office, and not the responsibilities attached. Generally, a woman is expected to play her role as a multi-dimensional person: wife, mother, sister-in-law and daughter of her parents, irrespective of her status or that of her husband.
But then, we can now narrow it to specifics in terms of the kind of role one plays as the wife of a bishop. The way I look at it is that who you are in terms of outlook, attitude and commitment to responsibilities as the wife of a priest or a layperson will reflect in how you play your role if your husband becomes a bishop or has a higher responsibility.
What I can say is that as the wife of the bishop, you have some added responsibilities, enriched and enlarged job functions, as may be described in the secular job definition. It also means being more intentional because now, you are not just representing yourself or your father’s name, you are representing God, the church and the image of your husband, the Bishop.
Women are looking up to you. Your work ethics, church ethics and home ethics have to be unique. The way you package your life has to represent Christ and give glory to God’s name. I am a believer in high moral and ethical standards and I always preach, that every woman should imbibe and live it out, irrespective of her status or that of her husband.
What kind of pressure has being the wife of a bishop put on you?
In the beginning, it was a bit strenuous for me. And it is not far from the fact that my husband and I were just assuming a new role. I think this is normal for everybody. If you are changing jobs, for instance, you have to adjust to the expectations of that job in terms of your disposition. I think that is what happened. But over time, I have learnt to adjust. You learn on the job and adapt; you learn from your mistakes and improve. Usually what we do is to evaluate ourselves from time to time.
Now you can cope with people better?
I think it has to do with being able to cope with the demands of the office. Usually in the Anglican setting, there are statutory programmes you must run. I can’t just decide that I won’t do the women’s conference. It has to be done. And because you are a wife and mother, and also go to work, you have to put in your best.
It’s amazing that you are still in paid employment. One would have thought being the wife of a bishop is mouthful. How do you cope?
Yes, I still work; maybe because age is still on my side. But then, I believe that work is part of life.
But you have so much work to do already as the wife of the Bishop.
I believe it is good to work like every other person so as to appreciate what others go through to survive and feel their pulse. It helps in a better assessment and appreciation of the people that God has put in your care. That is how I see it. And it does not mean that wives of Bishops that are full-time with their husbands are not doing it right.
I think it is more about the individuals. Some may not work in paid employment, but they get so busy with other concerns that expose them to people and make them more productive in leading the women. I think the important thing is not to stay indoors and stay idle.
Staying in paid employment or engaging in some business concerns helps you to understand people and make you a good example to the wives of priests under you. We encourage priests’ wives to work so that they will be able to support their husbands. I believe, as a person, I am to work and contribute my quota financially to the ministry.
How do you now cope with domestic concerns and still put in your best at work?
We organize and plan. When it comes to the office of the Bishop, you have to understand that it is a high-management office. All the principles of management have to be put in place. Planning, organising, staffing, coordinating, supervising etc. are key.
As the wife of the bishop, you know that people can come to your house at any time, so you must always prepare to entertain them. It is a high degree of planning, organising, and envisaging. Initially, it was taxing and quite tough. But I have learnt to cope with God on my side.
Did it at any time affect your mental health?
It did affect me at the initial stage. But with the grace of God, Bible reading, and prayer, I have been able to cope and find it a great delight.
You have been leading the women in the diocese for 10 years now. What will you consider the main issue confronting women? And how have you been able to lead them aright?
I think the main challenge for many women is our inability to understand some basic life issues. And we don’t even know that we lack understanding of those issues. That is what I have observed. We can’t hide our feelings. But I have been able to work around these peculiarities. Generally, I believe that if you don’t ask for too much from people and you don’t put undue pressure on them, you will get the best of them.
That is how I have been relating to them. The Bible says let your moderation be known to all men, the Lord is at hand. When you are not excessive, you will get along. I won’t for instance ask them to pay money unduly, I won’t fix programmes that will squeeze their necks, and I won’t bring them out for a programme and keep them forever. I believe when we are moderate or when we use moderation techniques, we get the best out of them. So I have not had any issues with women.
I am particularly enthralled by the Valentine school outreach you had in 2022. What informed it?
We found out that many of the questions young people ask border on relationships. They want to know when to have a boyfriend and all sorts. We discovered that we needed to do more work in the area of relationships. So we decided that apart from bringing them together on a periodic basis, we needed to do more.
We also found out that many of the young people have gone through a lot; some have been abused. With that consciousness, we decided to go to nearby schools on Valentine’s Day and motivate and educate them.
We deliberately set out to make them know their worth and to impress on them that they are beautiful, are handsome, and are not specie for experimentation by unscrupulous people. What we discovered after the programme was something we can’t really talk about in the public space. What we have done is build a theme around some of the things we discovered so we can help them to handle some of the sexual pressures they go through. We have also been able to counsel many parents in that regard.
There is this nagging problem of infertility among married people. I gathered your Ph.D. thesis at the University of Lagos was on issues about infertility. What do you have to say about this?
I believe in the power of prayers and divine intervention when it comes to fertility and procreation. But I also recognize the place of technology. It is God who gave people the wisdom to bring about the technological innovation that allows women to conceive. About 30 years ago we never had a mobile phone in this country, but today, everybody has a phone. I think we should catch up with the time. So if there are scientific helps for procreation why not embrace it?
There are many couples that are taking advantage of technology to assist in their procreation. Apart from adoption, there are many other options left for couples that can help in procreation. There are five other options available for women. Some of these options are cost-effective. I believe women can take advantage of these options and trust God to perfect them. I believe God has a way of raising help for people when they set their minds on it.
But usually, the inner will to even pursue is not there for many women waiting for the fruit of the womb. Some will try once and get discouraged. My counsel is that couples should not be afraid to take advantage of technology to assist them if they are having issues with conception and childbearing. God is the one that gave the wisdom of technological innovation to people.
How will you react to the case of the CNN lady that got pregnant without having intercourse with a man, using technology?
As a Christian, I won’t subscribe to that. Every child must have a father figure. In fact, there is a video clip we watched at a recent seminar. In the clip, we were told that the easiest way to destroy the world is to destroy the family system because the family unit is the basic unit of every society.
There are efforts by some to remove the God factor from life issues. They say you don’t need to pray in school, at home, or in the office. They tell you that you are very strong, very knowledgeable and that you can achieve things by yourself. Many people now sell themselves cheaply.
We now have single mothers as the in-thing. The implication is that there is no parental cover for the child. And society is gradually being destroyed. Until we align with God again and work along the plan of God, we will remain confused as a people. The woman is designed to have a man on top of her. The Man is designed to have God on top of him. The mother will be under the father, the children will be under the mother. That is how society will work.
How have you been able to handle the issue of single mothers and those waiting for the fruit of the womb among women in the diocese?
The World Health Organisation tells us that 10 per cent of married people are infertile. But the case of Africa is peculiar, we have about 13 per cent infertility rate. Incidentally, our fertility rate is 6.7 in Nigeria. In Africa, it is 5.5. Some people have many children while others don’t have any at all. That is why the care for the infertile is individualised. In fact, we are having a population explosion. So those who should be concerned about infertility are not. Even at that, we believe children are gifts from God. In his own time, he makes all things beautiful. It is beyond human ability to make a child. What we do is encourage those waiting on the Lord to continue to trust God. We also encourage them to employ available technological assistance in their quest for children.
For singles, we tell them to look up to God for their spouses. It is God who chooses for the unmarried. What I have discovered about life is that life is not a straight line, it has its curves and scatter-grams. We can’t explain some of the things that happen to us as humans.
While some are complaining they have too many children, some are agonising they don’t have at all. There are people that have been written off that they will never have children, yet they have. And there you see some people who had lived their lives committed to God and have preserved themselves from pollution yet they don’t have children after marriage. Look at the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth. There was no justification from a human standpoint for them not to have children at the normal time. But they had to wait till their old age before God answered them.