The odd world of Mr Ibu
Before he became who he is today, John Okafor aka Mr. Ibu was once a butcher, hairdresser, factory worker, photographer and electrician.
He did all these odd jobs so he could pay his fees in school since he lost his father early. Today, the father of four children is happy and doing comfortably well in life. He shares his grass-to-grace story with Showtime. As usual, he's witty, comic and entertaining. Enjoy it.
How are you this morning, I hope you slept very well last night?
Yes. I slept very well because in the area where I stay, we enjoy cool breeze and so if there's no light, we can still sleep well.
Can you take us through your background?
Oh! I have a very poor background. I'm from a poor family of nine children of which four “don die already” remaining five. My father “don travel too” (my father is late) while my mother is still alive, but today, we are fine. I attended the Local Community Central School Eziokwe in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. After my primary school, the struggle to survive in life continued as there was no time for schooling again because I lost my father immediately.
In the process, I didn't even allow my elder brother who was taking care of me then to know I was going to school because I didn't want to bother him as he already had enough trouble to cater for.
After my secondary education, I felt I needed to find something doing so in the process, I became a hair-dresser both for male and female. In those days, there was a particular style in vogue that was called Californian curl. We used biro to roll it and I was among the first people that started it.
I also worked in a crate manufacturing industry when crate of mineral was made from wood; we assemble the wood, then make holes inside where the bottles can be fixed from where I almost lost my hand. But the wounds are all gone now because no condition in life is permanent. Even when you think you are at the top, before you know it, you could be down again so in whatever position you find yourself, try to be friendly with people.
While I was doing all this job, I was saving so that I could further my education because I love education. At a point, I was able to secure a part-time admission in (IMT) Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu. It was hectic and I was taking it gradually. A friend of mine in Auchi Polytechnic then offered me a full-time admission and I rejected it. If I accept it, who will be paying my fees? I had to work and school together.
What did you study in IMT?
Mass Communication. To an extent, I had to quit schooling then because I had nobody to cry for me when I needed the tears. I was doing all the thinking and working to pay my fees alone. Even though some relations gave me words of encouragement, it was not just enough to see me through. So at a point when my mother was almost dying, I had to quit school and continued in my struggle. I became a photographer and also a butcher to see if I could make ends meet.
Back in IMT, was it a diploma course you were doing?
No, I wrote JAMB so I had to quit later. I love reading so much that I read anything I see. It's a pity that in this country today, the reading culture is gone, what we now have is entertainment culture “everybody wants to sing and dance.” Presently, I'm making plans to go and study International Relations, in the course of time, I want to learn some languages like French, Dutch and Italian.
Will you also learn Japanese language?
No, I don't think I want to, because for me, their language is like incantation.
At what point in life did you start your acting career?
By God's grace, I've been a good actor from childhood. I started entertaining people from when I was seven years. Sometimes I will be rolling my eyes and turning my tummy for several minutes and people will be laughing at what I was doing, I never thought that's what will later be feeding me.
After all the odd jobs and quitting school, what were you doing before you ventured into acting?
When I left all those odd jobs, I became an electrician because I attended a technical school (secondary). I can be very creative as I can turn an ordinary box to a cooler, repair air conditioners and refrigerators. Little did I know that I was coming into the world of creativity itself which is acting.
How did you get into acting?
There was an audition for a soap opera in Onitsha which was my first official encounter with the camera. I registered and attended the audition and surprisingly, I was given a lead role.
Which soap opera was that?
It was titled Okpuru Anyanwu. The producers of that soap brought me up and from there, I entered another play group called Squirrel Killers by Emeka Okonkwo. After that, I decided to really mix up with people in the industry to see how far I could go because I felt I should move forward. After that soap opera, I was not really acting, I worked behind the camera as a continuity person and as a production manager.
Can you mention any of the movies you worked on as a continuity and production manager?
Yes. I did that in Gabbage, Return of the Prince and a lot of others. But I became a hit with the producers because each time somebody in the cast was not present, I'd be asked to take up his role and when I'm through, the owner will request that I play in the movie.
I started having numerous fans and I knew that God was on my side. From there, I moved on and wrote a script titled Rolling Stone which became my first commercial movie. I was just rolling from one stage to another until I came to Lagos.
How do you feel when people call you stage names, like Mr Ibu?
Ibu is not a stage name, it is my grandfather's name. Somebody wrote a script on me and titled it as Mr John Ibu, but I said 'No' Ibu can go but remove John so that's how Mr Ibu came about. When people call me stage names, I feel happy. In some movies, my name was Idiot and my fans call me Idiot, I answer them comfortably.
Outside comedy, what other roles can you play?
I can play any role because as far as I'm concerned, acting is my job so I will take any part I'm given to play.
Can you recall the number of movies you've acted in?
I have starred in more than two hundred movies and I can't recall their names.
Which of these movies made you famous?
There are lines of production that made me popular namely Agony, Jealousy, Vougha, Mr Ibu amongst others, and they all came accordingly.
Is there any relationship between John Okafor and Nkem Owoh?
He is a very good friend and I must admit that he is our father in the industry. He brought limelight to the industry before other stupid people began to imitate him from all corners. Today, I make bold to say we have enough idiots in the industry. I can say he is the father of all idiots, we respect him.
Personally, I doff my hat for him because we look up to him even now. He is a very good artist and knows the game very well. He has the techniques and creativity and a lot more.
Is there any difference between you and him?
The difference is that he is Nkem Owoh and I'm John Okafor. In the comedy world, he is in his own world and I'm in mine.
There was a time you ventured into music, what has happened to the project?
Even at that “I no be musician.” It was just a musicomedy which tells the story of how women exploit men. I'm working on another one that will be out soon but it's all comedy.
What advice do you have for upcoming comedians?
My advice for them is that they should be patient because some of them think that when you rush into it, you begin to make money but it's not so. Some of them who just rush in, end up rushing out almost immediately.
They have to be reasonable, respectful, make the name and understand that people were there before they came in and if these people did not lay and maintain the platform, they would not have had anything to start with.
Have you had any bad experience in the comedy world?
Yes. There was a movie we went to shoot at Asaba and my role was that of a deaf and dumb beggar, but because the producer kept the camera in a very far place, people didn't understand that it was acting so I was beaten up. People were passing and giving me small small money until the person acting with us came and gave me N500 and I said thank you. He asked me “what did you say and I said it was a miracle.” The script said he should beat me up and he tried to do that when some area boys joined him and demolished me before they understood we were shooting a movie.
Any other encounter you will want to share with us?
Yes. This one is with my fans, sometimes when they see me, they try to play with me, putting their hands in my pocket, pressing my body, scattering my car. It's not like I'm complaining but sometimes area boys follow them to do same and in the process, steal my things. When they begin to steal my things, that's not good enough, people should understand that stealing is bad.
So what do you have to say to your fans now?
I'm not asking them to stop pressing my body when they see me because the press press dey sweet me sometimes but make dem dey press me for dark corner where I go fit press dem back, so make e be say na press me, I press you.
Are you married or in any serious relationship?
I'm married with three boys and one girl and I'm happy.
How do they feel when people make jest and call them your stage names in their various schools?
Nothing, they are happy. They answer Ibu in their schools and they're happy because their father is happy with what he is doing.