‘Homosexualism is the biggest virus in Nollywood’......John Okafor...
When http://nollywoodgists.com asked for an interview from John Okafor, unarguably one of the most- sought-after actors in Nollywood, he happily obliged. But on the day of the appointment, Okafor who is fondly called Mr. Ibu (the name he bore in a succesful comedy movie he appeared in) fixed the meeting point at a Mr. Biggs Restaurant located at Aguda, Surulere.
The Source arrived first; but we didn't have to wait for too long that afternoon before he walked in with his manager and costumier. Remarkably, heads started turning upon his entrance and within minutes, everyone became aware of the presence of a celebrity in their midst. A few actually came over to say “hi” to him, just as they kept chorusing “Mr Ibu! Mr Ibu!, Mr. Ibu!”.
Okafor, who was wearing a net-like top, ash-coloured jeans and a fez cap to match, never for once ignored any voice as he kept looking their way and waving in appreciation.
We later got down to the business of the day as he easily recalled how he fell in love with acting in the old Bendel State when he went to pay his elder brother a visit. It was, he said, on the set of the now rested popular soap, Hotel de Jordan. Okafor recalled that as he was watching the film, the director called on him to feature as an extra, a.k.a Wakapass. From that point on, however, his love for the profession grew. But he didn't become an actor immediately because he had to finish his education. He was at the time a Mass Communication student at the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu. Throughout his schooling, Okafor engaged in various menial jobs,” like butchering, hairdressing, repairing air conditioners and gas cookers. “I studied under pain because there was no money. I had to do all these jobs he told The Source. When he left school, Okafor took his first real steps in acting by featuring in a few drama sketches in the old Anambra Television and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), before he proceeded to Lagos.
Today, he has featured in “uncountable” Nigerian movies which includes the very popular “Mr Ibu”. Okafor has been rewarded at various times with awards. In 2005, for instance, he won the first National Comedy Award. A year after, in 2006, he grabbed the award for the best comedy actor and was also adjudged the Best Igbo Actor that same year. A film he appeared in, entitled Brain Wash, won in the Best Comedy Film category.
Okafor is also a movie producer having produced about 12 movies which includes Naomi, F*ck up, Inheritance and Bora among others.
This Nkanu West indigene from Enugu State was originally from a family of 11, but as he told The Source, he has lost his father, two sisters and two brothers. His mother who he adores is still very alive and strong.
As you read further, you'll learn more about Okafor's marital life and why he had to part ways with his wife. You'll also learn why he wants to get married again and most especially, why he revealed the shocking tale of homosexualism in the Nigerian home video industry.
We hope you'll enjoy this exciting exclusive. Happy reading.
A lot of people consider you more of a top comedian than a serious actor. How do you achieve being funny?
The issue is that I have it in-built and I major in entertainment. I majored in it because I stayed close to my grandfather who was a great comedian. It was fantastic staying with him. I am not even half as good as he was. You only needed to stay with him once to know what I mean but unfortunately he is late.
Why did you go to stay with your grandfather?
He demanded for me really because I took after him: I almost behave like him. He loved me and I loved him too. He was my maternal grandfather.
Do you look like him?
No. Physically, he was a very handsome man and unfortunately, I am very ugly (laughs).
Who told you that?
I don't need a native doctor to tell me this fact because if I stand before the mirror I often ask myself 'who be this?' My mother is a very beautiful woman and my dad was a very handsome man. Madam please, let's tell ourselves the truth. Me wey I get this face know wetin I get. I remember that I often went to ask my mother if she was really the one who gave birth to me.
If you believe that you are not good- looking why did you then opt for television?
Acting does not look for beauty but creativity. The question is: Can you do it? Would the crowd appreciate your efforts? So, that was how I saw it when I decided to go into this profession. I didn't allow how I look to discourage me.
So how did you get into acting?
I liked watching people act, so one day I was called to join in. I didn't even know what I was supposed to do because they only just called me to stand there. At the end of the day, I was so proud of myself believing that now, I can measure up with the actors. This was in 1978 and it took place in Benin. I had gone to see my brother in Akpakpava and saw the cast of Hotel de Jordan. It was while I was watching them that I was called to do that part.
Did you end up being a member of that once popular production?
No, I wasn't. I was just standing and was called to do that scene and right after, I left.
Ok, so it was like a waka-pass scene?
No, no be “like,” na waka-pass. After that, I left immediately to my base in Sapele.
How then did you come into Nollywood?
Actually, ever since that experience, I began to develop deep interest in acting. So, I went to Anambra and got involved in some play houses. While with them I proved myself because I played lead in one of them and the other, I was a major. So, I noticed that each time I played a character on TV, I made more friends and fans. Then, I came to Lagos in 1993 and got involved in a play entitled Don't Cry for Me. It was all about this “abiku” thing. I played the role of a lecturer. Then people saw the material in me and I was given more roles. People kept asking for me to come and do one thing or the other. In 1996, I became a member of the Actors Guild of Nigeria and started appearing more in home videos.
Tell me the movie that shot you into limelight?
It was the movie Agony produced in 1997. Pete Edochie was also in it. In the movie, I acted as an imbecile and if you have seen it, you'll be convinced without doubt that I am actually an imbecile.
How were you able to achieve such character flawlessly?
That's one gift I have. I can mimic any character.
Do you feel comfortable almost always acting as an imbecile because some people may start seeing you as one?
I am comfortable as an entertainer. I can do anything, I don't reject roles. I only reject stories that I feel are not good.
What do you mean by “stories that are not good”?
I hate plastic stories. Stories you know people must have seen before in another movie, you now want me to do a similar thing. I mean, what magic is the producer looking for? I like a story filled with suspense, one that will challenge me and allow me do something different.
What if the money involved is enticing; would you give such a production a second thought?
I have been given a job of five million naira outside this country but I rejected it because the story was bad.
What was it about?
Well, it was all about drugs and similar things we've seen before. But what really put me off was the fact that my character was going to smoke. I don't smoke, have never done it and will never do it.
But you could have just pretended as if you were smoking it. Some artistes do it.
I don't do it. I take my acting skills seriously. It is because of this side of me that I do not take on roles that involve smoking. I don't do it.
Is it because of some health worries?
I will probably faint right there if I tried it. All I do is that I do my job to the best of my ability, with 100 per cent concentration and then leave the set with the same mentality to another set.
But I don't think I have ever seen you do any “serious” role or have you?
I have done some. They were not comedy though.
Do you believe that being paired together with some actors can bring the best out of you?
Yes, I strongly do and that is why I do not feel comfortable working with some people. I can't mention them, but that doesn't mean I can't have my reservations about them. I like them as fellow actors but sometimes their reactions, characters, et cetera. just put me off. It's not as if I am a saint but I tell you, I do not live badly. I am a man and a human being but really, I do not go over the hedge.
A lot of people kind of wonder why you are not married. Are you still searching?
(Smiles) I am (was) married with four children. Three boys and a girl. But for now I am not. We had a problem that put us apart. Problem caused by my father-in-law. There was a misunderstanding between my parents-in-law. What happened was that my mother-in-law had no male issue and… (silence) please, I don't want to discuss it any further.
Please, just this one more question. How did their own problem affect your marriage?
We were being attacked spiritually and if we had not parted, one of us would have died. So in other to make peace reign and stay alive we had to go our separate ways. This happened last year.
I am so sorry. Away from that, how come any movie you appear in is always a success?
It is God's doing because people love me so much and I like doing things that makes people laugh and while at this, people at home learn from my stupidity and learn from my mistakes.
Do you atimes dictate a comedian you need to be paired with in a production?
Sometimes I do it if is not a story which requires the two of us. It's either I go or the person goes. But in most cases they prefer me staying. But one person I love working with is Nkem Owoh because whenever we are paired, the movie is always a bomb, anyday anytime.
I heard that you are well paid and that you are one of the highest paid comedians in the movie industry; how true is this and how expensive are you?
Well paid? I am not expensive actually. It all depends on how you bargain. I can't say how much I have received and the least I've been paid.
Tell me about your schooling?
I had my secondary school in Sapele, then went to the Institute of Management Technology, (IMT) in Enugu. And during all this my struggle to better myself, I had no other person beside me but my elder brother who tried his best to help me. I did all sorts of jobs to train myself. I was a photographer, a butcher and an hair-dresser. In fact I was one of the best known hair stylists in Sapele. I introduced different hairstyles and then women always came to me to make their hair. It was in the 80's. I touched a lot of hair, treated them well and had more customers.
Are you still in contact with your wife?
No, no, no, we are not.
What about your children?
My children are intact. While the older ones are with me, the younger ones are with her.
Would you describe yourself as a rich man?
I am not rich neither am I poor. But I am not hungry.
A few weeks ago, you were rumoured to be involved with some women including a white woman. Do you like women that much?
No not like you may mean. I have women as friends but if there is need for us to take it a little bit further, so be it. But if not I don't go beyond my boundary.
What informs your dress sense?
I like casuals. I have always been big from birth, so I love putting on clothes that makes me look smart.
Do you have any future plans, say for the next five years?
Five years is too much. I have given myself just two years to achieve a lot that when I look back I would be very happy for what I have got. I will even be getting married very soon.
What? I don't understand, do you have someone already?
I have said it that I like making friends but I do not go too deeply. I have lots of friends–men, women who come to me but that is where it ends.
It's like you really love that institution called marriage?
It's very beautiful. When you come back home you'll see someone who'll say 'darling, you are welcome.' Someone who will be as a mother, best friend, lover and even a wife. Marriage is a good thing.
How old are you?
I am 47 plus. I was born in 1960. I will be 48 very soon. On October 17 to be precise.
What is your candid opinion about Nollywood?
I don't believe that till now, we would still be having this much problem. I am just begging God to come help us because a lot of things are wrong. One is piracy and two is sexual harassment.
But many women in Nollywood claim that there is no such thing in the industry?
The harassment I am talking about is between men.
You mean homesexualism has found its way into the industry?
Yes. That is the biggest virus in Nollywood now. I have had experiences, but I would prefer not to mention names at this moment but to let sleeping dogs lie. if you are one, as I always say, and you don't want to let go of that act, keep doing it but God is watching because the industry is getting spoilt. We are not happy. It's not in our culture, just like nudity because it's not acceptable here. It is foreign. We should be able to learn from our mistakes. Well, right now, I am just pleading for divine intervention. Look at our films these days. You go to the market, you'll see them being sold like Gala (sausage roll). Some don't even get to the market because of the sexual appetite of some of the people who shot the movie. The evil spirit operating in them will not allow it make progress or go far. It is sad I tell you.
Are you religious?
Yes, I am. I love my God so much. I am very comfortable with my relationship with God because He answers my prayers.
Apart from money what is that thing that will make you accept a role in a movie?
If I go through the script and find that there is a lot of suspense I go for it. If there is none, then there is no point wasting my time with it.
Why did you accept to do the movie- Mr Ibu?
Well, as the producer, Andy Chukwu was writing the script, he told me that he was doing something about me. So I was preparing myself for it. He is my friend so he often puts me through some tests and my reaction would make him have more materials to write about. Not many people know that the name Ibu is actually my grandfather's. People even call me Ibu but it was Chukwu who added the “Mr”.
I once heard that you would have married a Yoruba woman. How true is this?
It is very true. Her father even named me Olawale. I answer the name till today. Unfortunately, I didn't marry her because one sister of hers said she shouldn't marry an Igbo man.
Do you still see her?
Yes and we are friends but not that kind of friends you might just be thinking of.
Is she now married, if not, would you still want to go back to her now that you are searching?
She is not married. If you were me, would you go back?
If I still love the person, I will.
Well, the love was there but it's gone now. She stopped the love so abruptly that I had to pick up the pieces and re-adjusted myself till I was able to get someone else.
How do you manage stardom?
It's not easy but I have no choice but to dance to the tune of my fans. Anytime they see me, they want me to do things for them, like hug them, shake them, take pictures with them, et cetera. In some cases, if I make the mistake of wearing white, it will surely turn into another colour before I leave there. They kiss and kiss me.
You must be enjoying it, don't you?
If na you you no go enjoy am? I can peck them back and talk to them. Some of them may be rude and just call me to come and pay homage to them, but I am not stupid even though I am a stupid man by profession (laughs).
Why do you see what you do as being stupid?
If you don't act stupidly, you are not a comedian. It's those stupid things in you that make people laugh. The fans of some of my glamorous colleagues cannot challenge my own fans just because of the way I act in movies. I enjoy favours from all corners. It's like an open dividend. Doors are open to me and I enjoy every bit of it.
In an earlier interview, Victor Osuagwu claimed that you two are best friends. Is your relationship still that close?
Yes, it's because we are co-idiots and because we are like that, we know where we get our food. Okay seriously, he is my very good friend. We met in the industry. He met me there. I also have other good friends but the reason I singled Victor out is because he is like me: he doesn't smoke and drink alcohol. The rest scare me away but Victor is very different.