John Okafor, popularly known as Mr. Ibu is very popular in the movie industry. Having acted in numerous movies, his style of hilarious acting has endeared him to many having started behind the camera as a continuity manager. Not many know that he was once a hairdresser and boxer. In this chat with SAMUE ABULUDEL, the native of Enugu State who started his acting career decades ago, shares his pains and gains as an actor and as a fat.
Are you lively at home?
My children are even funnier. We play a lot like kids. The boy and small girl always ask me questions, while my wife too is funny.
How would you describe your success story?
I never believed I would be anything in life, but God has been there for me. I always advise people to be patient. If you are fasting and praying, and there is nothing to show for it, do not panic or rush to a native doctor. Everyone has a destination, but we have to be patient. My being here was prepared by God, though I went through a lot in my life too. I once trekked from Ajao Estate to Festac in Lagos. Do you know that there was a time I had prepared to kill myself? I wanted to jump inside the well, because of the situations around me. Three days before then, I had not eaten and there was no hope of getting food for the next one week. I was just drinking water and I hate it when I bother people. In Lagos, I had lived under a truck. I cleaned up the place neatly, used carton as my bed. Those people who were my close friends were not bothered about my situation. I left that spot when over 30 dogs were barking on a particular night. Nobody could sleep in that area and I had to run for my life. Later a friend, Frank, who was staying at 125 Adetola Street in Surulere at a time, called me to come stay in his house. He was travelling to Germany. He told me that I should leave anywhere I was staying in Lagos and come over to his house.
I first declined the offer, telling him that I might serve as an inconvenience to him. I did not want to give him the impression that I was desperate, even though I needed where to stay. I went to bring my property from where I kept it outside; I told him I planned to travel before he called me. I was just telling lies. He later gave me a room in his flat.
Despite your funny look, you’ve made a name in the industry. What works for you?
It depends on the department you are working. When it comes to comedy, your look does not really count. All you need is to be able to interpret the character given to you. I have been stereotyped into comedy and everyone knows this, though it does not mean I cannot do other things. But how do my fans react to it if I play other roles? So, all I do now is acting comedy, talking comedy and singing comedy.
Would you agree that your music career is dead?
I am still doing music, but I lost a friend, Dede One Day. We were doing music together but he died at a programme he was hosting. Since I started my music life with him, it is just right to give him that respect. I have decided to take a year break to honour him.
At what point did you become a hairdresser?
That was before I came to Lagos. I used to be a boxer too when I was in Sapele in Delta State. I stopped fighting after I was seriously beaten in the ring. Being the heavyweight champion in my club, I confronted another heavyweight champion. You need to see how he dealt with me as if he was sent to kill me. Even though I was begging him, he did not stop and we were not fighting for any prize. I had to jump out of the ring, when I could not bear the beating the anymore.
What pushed you into boxing since there was no money in it?
It was just for the fun of it. I liked boxing then. I did all sorts of menial jobs. I was also a photographer at a time, they called us ‘wait and get.’ When I applied to work in a saloon, they gave me opportunities. Since I had learnt how to make hair before, it was easy for me to introduce different styles. California coil just came out then but I improved on it in that saloon. I introduced rough coil and a lot of other styles. I still create styles for my wife and she goes to the saloon to make them.
Why have you not opened a beauty business since you know about it?
Beauty business! Do I look good? I am now married and my wife can go into it. I opened that for her but when I moved out of Satellite Town to my house in Lekki, Lagos, she stopped. She will continue the same business.
How have you been able to move on easily considering that you lost your father and five members of your family almost at the same time to poison and you also lost a son 6 years ago?
The most painful one was my son’s death. When my wife, two of my in-laws and my son were kidnapped in Enugu, they stayed 10 days in the bush. They were later released after I settled the kidnappers. But there was this acute pneumonia that struck my son and gave him liver inflammation. I took him to the hospital, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) but the carelessness of the people at the Department of Pediatrics was a major reason he died. They needed blood and luckily for me one of my boys could donate. They said I was under tension, so they could not take from me. They collected two pints of blood even though they needed one. Before they could use the blood on him, they said they needed to do a screening and they started given different excuses until it became late. They told me there was no light and they needed to get approval from the head of department, among others. A nurse later advised me to have the screening done outside before it was too late. I still needed to write application to that same department, which I did. He took the application upstairs but as we were coming down after all sorts of delay, I saw that the head nurse’s face had changed. I asked what the matter was and she told me I should not run around again. She said if the blood had come in 5 minutes ago, we would have saved him. My biggest problem was how to console my wife and what to tell her. I left LUTH without her and asked them to bring her to Villa Park at FESTAC, Lagos. When she saw me, she was furious and kept asking about her son. I tried to hide the news. I tried to hold myself together as a man, but tears dropped. That was enough for her and she was flat on the ground. It took the help of people around to hold her down before she inflicted more injuries on herself.
Was there an apology at the hospital after the unfortunate incidence?
When we went to LUTH to collect his body the next morning, the head, Pediatrics, called me. Apparently he had been looking for me since the day my son died and he wanted a favour. He told me that they needed my son’s body to teach other young doctors. I looked around and I saw that there was no one. I told him that if he had told me this yesterday (the day he died), he would have regretted the day he was born. I just concluded that they cared less because they wanted the body for studies. I deliberately left the body there that day too and gave a word that if there was any cut on my son, I would burn the hospital and kill myself.
How did you console your wife?
I told her to always look at my face. I tried to laugh even when situation was tough for me. I reminded her of how beautiful she was and that she could still have plenty children. She believed me, she actually made four children but two died.
Why do you always put your wife on social media?
My mother told me a lot of things and it was an orientation that I got from her. She told me that women should be respected. I am one who respects women so much. It is a sin to beat women and I have never tried it. There is this connectivity between a man and woman; they are connected to us spiritually. When you beat a woman, you beat your joy, peace, success and business. You should always praise your wife; buy things to make her happy, because her happiness grows your business.
How did you meet your wife?
The situation we found ourselves in brought us together. She had a boyfriend and I knew, but they had an issue. There was a message the guy sent to her and she cried for two days. It stated, “Never you ever call my number or come close to me either outside or in my home. If you try it, I would leave a mark on you.” When she showed me the message, I told her that I would replace him and do even better. We then met somewhere in Port Harcourt; she knew I was coming and wanted to see me. Since it was late, she could not go home; she had to spend the night with me. Do you know that they do not leave yam and goat in a place? That was how she got pregnant.
How do you deal with temptation from other women?
The issue of replacement is impossible, because my wife is still there. I can always be friends with women, but I am mature enough to know where to draw