Ten years ago, Philemon Ihediwa wrote, starred, directed and produced his first movie in the United States. He was one of few Nigerians in the Diaspora that ventured into Hollywood. His movie, CONGO BOY IN THE CITY, featured Nollywood movie stars like Kanayo. O. Kanayo and Madam Gee. Through the years, Philemon struggled to release the epic movie, but was constantly disturbed by the challenges of his divorce and child support payments. He became heartbroken, reclusive and rejected by his children. Ihed, as he was widely known in the US, was chased by the agonies and trauma of child support harassment, allegedly fuelled by his ex- wife’s several court cases against him, in concert with the North Carolina Child support enforcement.
He changed jobs occasionally, as he struggled to pay whopping child support monthly bills. In 2013, Ihed lost everything. He was near homeless, barely living in his storage: he hid his pains and troubles from those close to him until a family member mistakenly found out he was hanging onto life where he stored his little possessions. The family member offered him a place to start life anew. Sometimes in the spring of 2015, Ihed moved to this small road town, Smithfield. He wanted to be far from years of sad memories from his marriage: he began recovery from rejection by his children. He relocated to a small town of Smithfield, North Carolina. On Saturday evening, police found his bloated body in his apartment. He fell on the floor in his bathroom, hitting his head against the bathtub.
Monday evening, Ihed, during a telephone conversation with his female friend, Louise Gorsham, who lived “across town”, hinted that he was not feeling well and would retire to bed early. Ms. Gorsham pleaded with him to call her when he woke up at sunrise. He agreed and they both wished each other goodnight.
“The next day, I called several times throughout the day but he did not respond to my call. I sent text messages. No response. I waited till Wednesday to repeat calls and text messages. I did not hear from him. I was also at work. By Saturday afternoon, after I closed from work, I pleaded with a coworker to drive me to Ihed’s apartment in Smithfield, a thirty minutes ride from Raleigh. I was mad at him. I thought he was ignoring my calls on purpose, might be he had found another lady. But when I got to his apartment, I noticed his car was in his parking space. I began to smell stench coming from his door. I knew something wasn’t right.
“Immediately, I called the Smithfield Police department and requested a welfare check on my friend. The police arrived few minutes later, broke into his apartment and found him dead on the floor, bloated and oozing. My friend died lonely from a broken heart and years of pains from being denied relationships with his children. He loved those kids. Ihed told me many times that his wife had, through the years, barred his children from visiting him. She set them up against their dad while she was busy collecting heavy child support. That man was a very great man. All he wanted was to be a good father to his children. But his ex wife was in the way. Now he is gone.”
Smithfield medical examiner’s office determined that the causes of death were seizure and possible heart attack. It was recorded that “his body was bloated and near decomposition when he was found in his bathroom. The heat in the apartment accelerated decomposition process.” The medical Examiner also concluded that Ihed might have died five days earlier.
Unconfirmed sources say Smithfield police tried several times to reach his ex-wife but she did not return calls placed to her cell phone. His body was deposited in the morgue pending notification of his next of kin, his children, especially the first son.
The Nigerian community in RTP in association with Ngwa Association, on Monday attempted to move his remains to a funeral home to prepare him for burial. But the funeral home indicated that it would only honour the wishes of the family and not community members; to protect itself from any legal fallout. The ex-wife and their first son refused to participate in the burial of their father. On Wednesday afternoon, after several pleas from members of the community to the ex-wife to encourage his 19-year-old first son, sign a release form allowing the community to be responsible for Ihed’s funeral, the ex-wife and first son, George Uche, met Jebose Boulevard at a funeral home to relinquish their rights for the final disposition of their late father.
Jebose Boulevard assumed the right to bury Mr. Ihediwa. This refusal confirmed the conversations trending in this small town that the children rejected and refused Mr. Ihediwa as their father. Jebose Boulevard, Ngwa and the Nigerian community moved his body to the funeral home.
Nigerians in the Research Triangle Park are infuriated about the sad death and circumstances surrounding the tragedy. Family and close members are theorising on what drove him to early death. A member of his extended family, who chose to be anonymous, stated angrily, “Ihed spent every month of the last ten years being taken to family court in Wake County by his ex-wife for child support payment and arrears. He paid about $1,400 in monthly child support to that lady. She dragged him through the system. Ihed worked very hard and suffered to pay child support. The ex-wife accused him of being a superstar, rich and wealthy. This man had his talent and creativity that couldn’t fetch him money because he was abused and stressed by the ex-wife. She took him to the cleaners. He is dead now. What else would she claim?”
What was a bedroom whisper, gossip and innuendo had within few days of his death, become a trending conversation in most Africa’s community melting pots here, grocery stores, or social gatherings, reiterating the heavy child support monthly payments to his wife.
Court documents obtained confirmed several court cases filed by plaintiff (Stella Ihediwa) against defendant (Philemon. N. Ihediwa) with regards to various child support litigations (Case File: 06CV018338). The child support case was still ongoing until his death. In a recent court case filed on April 2014, the court upheld an earlier ruling of $859.00 order against Ihed as child support. Arrears as of April 16th 2014 was $5,664.11.
Between 2007 and 2014, Ihed child support ranged from $1,300 to $859.00, depending on his employment. He also filed few cases seeking child support adjustment, as his employment status changed.
Ihediwa and Stella were married in 1996. The marriage was blessed with three boys. Ten years after their marriage, the couple separated on June 23, 2006. The state of North Carolina granted them certificate of absolute divorce on June 18, 2010.
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