John Okafor is one of Nollywood`s foremost film actors. He has starred in over 300 films and won major international awards. Okafor is popularly known as Mr. Ibu, a name he got from one of his most popular films. He recently breezed into Freetown for a movie tentatively titled: ‘ Ibu in Sierra Leone.
‘I think I have a particle of stupidity in my brain…’
– John Okafor
SaloneJamboree`s Murtala Mohamed Kamara had a chat with him. Read through for the revealing details…
Hello Mr. Ibu, and welcome to Freetown.
Is this your first time in Sierra Leone?
Yes, this is my first time visiting your country.
So, what did you know about my country before you arrive here?
Not much. I heard there is peace and that propelled my mind to come and I am here. I see peace everywhere.
How has it been so far for you?
I realized since I came that Sierra Leoneans are very friendly. They are very accommodating, very hospitable people.
Tell me Mr. Ibu, Why are you in S/Leone?
I am here with my manager, Collins Archie Pearce, a Sierra Leonean who is resident in London. He proposed to shoot a movie in London but few days to the set, he changed his mind and told me he wanted to do this film in Sierra Leone. He argued that the movie industry in Sierra Leone is not yet there as compared to other countries in Africa. He said he wanted to contribute to the emerging industry to put Sierra Leone on the map in terms of movie making. I applauded the idea and suggested that he informed government about this project for assistance. It would have been Ibu in Scotland or Ibu in London, but I am here for Ibu in Sierra Leone.So that’s why I am here.
Is this your first time collaborating in a Sierra Leonean movie?
Yes, this is my first time to shoot a Sierra Leonean/Nigerian collaboration and I am excited about it.
So Ibu, talk us through your role in this upcoming film?
Well, well, well…I want to leave it for the premier day, so people can come out and see what we have in store for them. So far, I enjoyed shooting in Sierra Leone, but I find it challenging. They dragged me up the hills.
So, Mr. Okafor, how did this whole Mr. Ibu thing started for you. Give us a background?
My brother, it is not a child’s play oh. It started in a soap opera, over three decades ago on December 3, 1978… The rest they say is history.
So can you remember how many films you have done till date?
(Laugh) Ar nor dae count am oh! I think is around 300 now or more.
What’s your best film among the three hundred or more?
They are all good, they are all best. I don’t know how to pick one against the other oh. Apart from the fact that Mr. Ibu became a breakthrough, the others are also good films. I also did ‘Vuga’, with Gentle Jack and Regina Askia and another one is ‘Uncle Wayward’ and ‘Jealousy’- they are all good movies, just that Mr. Ibu is what I became known for.
What’s the difference between John Okafor and Mr. Ibu?
I like being happy ever since I was growing up with my grandfather, a very happy man. My grandfather spent most of his lifetime making people happy. He spent 99.9 % being happy and making people laugh. I like been happy. It makes a man live longer and I think I copy that from my grandfather. He died at over 90-something years. I would not say I would die at 90-something, but somebody said I would go as far as 130 years. Maybe, I would ask God to make it 150.
When you are not on set what do you do with your free time?
I like watching football; I am a very big soccer fan. I have football clubs I support all over the world.
Would you mind to give us a list of some of the football clubs you support around the world?
Yes, in Nigeria, I support Rangers International. I am not supporting them because they are from Enugu, Abbia state, my hometown, but because Rangers won my heart. Beyond Nigeria, in Italy, I support Inter Millan. In Spain, I support Real Madrid. If you leave there and cross over to Germany, I support Shakter. Let me leave Germany and cross over to England. In England, I support, Chelsea, the blues. I love Chelsea to the extent that I have to name my daughter Chelsea.
So apart from just been a spectator, do you play the popular sport?
Oh yes, I do, but is nothing serious. I grow up loving this game and I have coached other major football teams and won major tournaments. I love football so much.
Apart from acting and football, what else do you do?
Well, movie is not a small thing and that is my major constituency. All other things are secondary. I work and try to keep food on the table. Acting is my main constituency.
We have seen you doing music recently. So what about that?
I am not really a musician, but I do it to make people laugh. I just feel I can combine the talking and dancing to make people laugh.
Do you have a list of favorite Nollywood actors you like to work with?
Many of them. I love to work with Osita Iheame, Oka Bakasi, and Nkem Owoh aka Ukwa. Ukwa redefines comedy. I tell people that; give honor to whom honor is due. Ukwa is my master and I love him so much.
Do you have any word of advice to upcoming comedians?
My advice is for the general entertainment industry not just comedians. It is not by doing this for money. It is not by forcefully holding it. Be flexible and ask questions where necessary. Learn and work your way through the system. Do not look at money now, don’t do this because of fame, do it because your heart tells you to do it. The result will come after. Also do not force people to laugh, if you force them to laugh, they will force to keep quiet. Try to be natural…leave the laughing for your audience, is not your business. If you can make 75 people to laugh, out of 100, it is a pass mark.
So in other words, to be a good comedian you have to be natural?
Yes, it has to come from your tummy. Do not manage anything, just do it from your heart.
What is the secret to your success Ibu?
I honestly don’t know but I have realized that I have a particle of stupidity in my brain. So most time when people watch my films, they discover that I have this stupidity particle and they laugh. It means they have caught it from me.
How do you want to be remembered Mr. Ibu?
To have a better tomorrow, you have to plan it today. If you cannot plan your tomorrow, today, you are not guaranteed of a better tomorrow. Take for instance when you are building, you still lay a foundation on another story to make the building stronger. So as you are building up the foundation and the structure gets stronger. Africa is a big continent and countries have not benefitted from entertainment that much. There are so many areas that don’t have film markets. I challenged him (Collins Archie Pearce) to set up a good market here because that is the only way out. If you have a formidable market here, Ghanaians will come, Nigerians will come. That is how it works for the Ghanaians.
It has really nice talking to you Mr. Ibu. I hope this will not be your first and last visit to Sierra Leone.
Please, God forbid Ar go die? I will go and come back. I will be here for the premier of this film. I am also supposed to be here on the 17th of May, for another program. We are begging God to give us good health. We are not paying for it oh my brother. Take for instance, if God is asking us to pay Le200, 000 for life per day. You bring Le1, 000,000 to buy five days but you didn’t pay for Saturday. On Saturday, you go to God and start begging: ‘God nar weekend oh, and tomorrow is not a working day too. Make you bear us oh! Then God say, this is business, any day you nor pay, you are going. You will see people looting just to pay. And for those with 5 children or more, they will go and market them. Imagine how that would be. So we have to be grateful for life, submissive and always thank him. God is good.
Thank you Mr. Ibu.