John Ikechukwu Okafor, a.k.a. Mr Ibu, is unquestionably one of Nigeria's most talented comic characters. Okafor in recent times is best known for his humourous acting which is often characterised by stupidity, hilarious imbecility and a sharp disconnection from reality.
I was born into a humble family in Ankanu Local Government Area of Enugu State. I attended Community Central School, Eziokpo. During my elementary school days, I was so fortunate; whenever I committed an offence that warrants severe punishment, my teacher would ask me to do something to make the class laugh. It may be to create effects with my stomach or to shake my buttocks in a comic style. So, whenever I did as requested, I'd gain my freedom inmmediately.
The whole class would reel in laughter and that remained my saving grace till the end of my early school years. I grew up under the tutelage of my grandfather, who was my source of inspiration in what I have become today.
While I was growing up in Benin, there used to be a popular TV comedy programme called Hotel de Jordan. We used to go and see the actors and crew members during shootinng. So, on this fateful day, it happened that as we watched them do their thing, one of the artistes asked me to come on set and play the role of a farmer in one of the episodes. That was how I became an actor and made my first appearance before the television camera. From that point anytime I heard anything that had to do with drama, I would jump at it.
Later on, I found myself in Onitsha where I got myself acquainted with the major entertainers in town. These people were always kind and willing to assist me.
When the Anambra State Broadcasting Service (ABS) came on board, I was involved in some productions until 1994 when I did what I consider my first paid acting job. The title of the film was Rolling Stone produced by Solomon Eze and directed by the late Kenneth Egbuna. I was paid N5,000 for the job.
This is Lagos
After I moved over to Lagos, I discovered that many jobs were available and that once you are able to prove yourself, you would not lack jobs. My first job in Lagos was Don't Cry for Me. After that I did Banana Girls. I came down to Lagos not to go into acting per se, but to be behind the scene. However, each time anyone billed to play a lead role in a movie failed to show up, I would be asked to stand in for him. Before I knew it, people began to take notice of me and I felt, well, if you people want me to come to the front seat ,why not. So from that point I was invited to act in other movies.
I discovered Jim Iyke
During the shooting of Woman in Jos, Georgina Onuoha was discovered on my set. I thank God that she still pays me homage till date. After returning from Jos and we were preparing for the shooting of Vuga, Jim Iyke walked up to me and showed interest and commitment in becoming a seasoned actor. I put him through and he acted in about eleven scenes in Vuga and he proved himself. I have played motivational roles to many up and coming artistes in this business and most often many of them see me as someone who is approachable.
My most outstanding movie
I consider Uncle Wayward as my best movie so far. However, I am not supposed to rate myself. I think Mr Ibu is more popular in the market even outside the country. Many Nigerian families have copies of Mr Ibu in their collection and most people call me Mr Ibu anywhere they see me. And well before the movie came, people already knew me as Ibu. It is a name I inherit from my grandfather.
Getting into character
When I am given a very good script with a fantastic story line and other good artistes playing alongside or supporting me, I tend to come into character quickly. But in a situation where probably due to lack of funds on the part of the producer, I see myself playing the major role and the script is also poor, all I do in such circumstance is to come up with an attitude that is unique. That was what I did in School Boy. I read the script and I found out that it was rubbish. But because I was broke at that time, I decided to act as a stammerer in School Boy.
How I make people laugh
I love playing serious roles than the comic ones. But, the irony of it all today is that even when I play the role of a serious medical doctor with all the instruments of the profession, nobody takes me seriously. Many will say 'ah Ibu is going to kill somebody today'. I am comfortable playing any role but since my fans have decided that for now what they want from me is comedy, I have no option than to satisfy them. Even when I am given a serious role, I still do everything possible to chip some humour to sustain my audience's attention. I have attained a level in this profession that even my cries make people laugh.
I am not interested in being a stock character. I like being flexibile on set. However, I' ve observed that the audience likes seeing me acting certain roles.
The marketers have a big problem in the sense that they simply wait for a new style to emerge whether in scripting or playing. You will see all of them wanting you to do for them exactly what you did for someone else in a previous production, this is not in anyway helping the industry. Whenever producers want to typecast me, I won't say a word but I will simply recall what I played in an earlier production and then create the departure point between the two roles.
Learning on the job
I learn by mingling with the elite because the more you expose yourself to people, the more you are likely to learn from them. But if you are an ITK (I Too Know), people are likely to keep away from you and at the end, you would discover that you don't know anything.
It is going to be a misplacement of fact for anyone to feel that I must be stupid in real life as I portray in some of the movies. There is a huge difference between John Ikechukwu Okafor and Mr Ibu. Ibu may be a stupid character, Uncle Wayward may be wayward , but I am far from being a stupid person, not to talk of being an imbecile.
Clash of marketers and mega stars
This crisis is very unfortunate. There is something we must believe in in this industry, the fact that the movie industry is making waves today is to the credit of the pioneering marketers who took the risk of putting their money into the business. They gave us jobs and as we worked we were being paid and with the money we earn, we are able to look good, put food on the table and take care of our other needs.
We should see ourselves as two elements that need to be balanced, because without the marketers, we would not have made it this big and without us the actors, the marketers too would not have made it so stupendously. So, there is the need for us to appreciate the role we are all playing towards the growth of the industry.
Quacks in Nollywood
We need to address the presence of too many quacks in this industry especially in the areas of continuity person and directing. We have so many people that knew next to nothing in this business but if they are so passionate to belong to this industry, I propose they go back to the classroom to acquire some knowledge.
International market yet
We are not ready yet for the international market , it is impossible for us to market our movies in the international market because of the many loopholes that exist out there for which the average Nigeria marketer may find too dynamic to understand. I am proposing a situation whereby our movies are sold to the outside marketing agents at least two months before its eventual release to the market. By so doing, we shall get whatever is our dues and still have the full right to market same movies locally.
All the various guilds must go back to the drawing table and put their houses in order.
Censors Board and the industry
The Censorship Board should be an organ within the Film Corporation. Instead of that, it is an independent body that creates more pains to us than joy. A marketer reserves the right to decide if he wants to hire out his works or not, but the board has arrogated the power of doing so to itself. I don't really know what they are censoring.
Road map for the industry
If I were the Culture and Tourism minister, my road map for this industry will take the following shape; first, I would implore all the guilds to go and get organised properly, all the parastatals that are involved in the industry will be harmonized for better productivity, I will then insist on drawing up a memoranda of understanding to guide the operations of all the Agencies and Guilds in the industry. I will put a stop to the present overlapping of power and wrong use of power, there is so much bickering in the various guilds, all these must stop for progress to be attained.
Last December, I went to a town to see a football match just like every other human being. But to my shock, when the crowd saw me, they left the football match and started running after me to the point that even the referee had to stop the match to also catch a glimpse of me the way the crowd was surging towards me. I had no option than to escape to my car before some of my friends rescued me. They were trying to show their love but it was too dangerous to stay back.
My fans have been so kind to me, I have received so much gifts from even people that I have never met; many of them even call me up to offer me all sorts of gifts, especially one man in London that has been so kind. I am looking forward to a great time ahead with my dedicated fans.