Most Nigerians who have seen popular comic actor, John Okafor, aka Mr. Ibu, in action will agree that he is a talented comedian and one of a few Nollywood practitioners that are naturally cut out for the roles that they play in the movies.
Okafor has, so far, been able to prove to his fans that he does not only live by making other people to laugh away their sorrows; he is also humour personified.
But the actor, in an interview with our correspondent, also reveals that despite his commitment to making people to laugh, he has had cause to be unhappy, even bitter, on some occasions.
On one of such, Okafor had an axe to grind with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba. He was so bitter that he almost instituted a court action against the management of the hospital.
Recounting what happened, he says, “The matter was actually between the Paediatric Department of the hospital and me. It was in 2011. My wife and our two-year-old son had been kidnapped. After I paid the ransom demanded and they were released by the kidnappers, I returned to Lagos from Enugu.
“Then on January 18, 2011, my son fell ill. He was diagnosed with inflammation of the liver. The hospital suggested that he should be scanned. At the same time, I was informed that I could take my son out of the hospital to get the scan done elsewhere. But the same people later declined, saying that everything had to be done in the hospital because he was too weak to be taken outside.
“After a while, I was told that there was no electricity in the hospital. When I asked if there was no standby generator, they said there was no fuel in it. I offered to pay for fuel only to be told that the man that operated the generator was not around. When I left the place and got back later, the man still had not returned. Then I was advised to write an application and to submit to the admin department.”
After writing the application, Okafor found that there was nobody to receive and treat it. While he was waiting, he was told that his son’s condition required blood transfusion. The actor did everything possible to ensure that the ailing boy was given treatment at the hospital, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, the little boy gave up the ghost.
“That was how my son died. Later, one of the doctors came to me and, without even sympathising with me, asked if I could release my boy’s corpse to him so that they could cut it open and use it to teach other medical students. In that moment, I felt like committing murder for the first time in my life.
“When I told my lawyer what happened at the hospital, he was shocked. He said it was actionable. I told him that I was ready to take the hospital management to court and sue it for $100 million in damages because my son’s death was caused by the carelessness of the professionals whose duty was to save his life. But my lawyer advised me to let go”.
Reflecting on his career, Okafor says he has been publicly embarrassed by fans at different times and in several places. “I quickly forgive them because I was the one that looked for trouble in the first place. On one occasion, somebody came to me and said, ‘Ibu, because of what your jokes have done to me and my family, I promised God that anywhere I meet you, I would slap your face.’ I told him them to go ahead. Then he slapped me so hard that I couldn’t see clearly for two hours,” he says.
Mr. Ibu obviously relishes his status as a popular and relatively comfortable Nollywood actor. It is doubtful that, given a choice, he would have given up acting for any other career. Going down memory lane, the actor reveals that he used to be a boxer and a Karate practitioner. Admitting that only a few people are aware of this aspect of his personal history, he says, “I practised Shotokan Karate for 16 years and I was a member of the Karate Federation of Nigeria. I happen to be the first instructor that was teaching Karate in federal government colleges in Nigeria.”
The actor, no doubt, cuts the picture of a man enjoying a blissful marriage. But, asked if he ever had a girlfriend before he got married, he replied, “I had problems with my relationships with women. Each time I had a new girlfriend, other men would always take her from me. Whenever I fell in love with a girl, somebody would snatch her from me. But I don’t fear any sense of loss because I married the best woman on earth. My wife is a former beauty queen. She was the winner of the 2004 Face of Imo beauty pageant.”
But Okafor says that even now that he is happily married, women have not stopped coming to him for a date. “I don’t woo them, though. They are the ones chasing me. That is part of the price I have to pay for being popular.”