Entertainment – Whether in Still Pictures or Video Clips, Mr Ibu Lives On

By: Favour Bamijoko 

According to Susan Lee Sontag, photographs, and by extension, videos, in whatever form, confer on the object of the picture or video immortality — or a sense of it. And so it shall be with Mr. John Okafor, or, more conventionally, Mr. Ibu, whose endless tapes and video clips will continue to fill us with laughter for many more years until all forms of media fade away. The impact of his theatrics is overwhelming. Whether you, in the mid-2000s, were sneaking to your next-door neighbor’s parlor with his cathode-ray tube TV to see A Fool at 40, where Mr. Ibu is being fooled by Osuofia (Nkem Owoh) into paying his (Osuofia’s), debt for the umpteenth time without any hopes of getting his money back from his pauperized friend. Or you are locked in your room in 2020, scrolling through Twitter and someone posts a snippet from Nicodemus Part II (where Mr. Ibu, the electrician, is chasing PawPaw for attempting to take over his shop, money, and lover). Seventeen years after its release, the consequence is the same — you’re doubled over on both occasions, laughing so hard at the risk of cracking your ribs. If you haven’t seen either, take a minute to see them and break a rib or two from sheer laughter.

John Okafor, Nollywood’s veteran actor, was born in 1961. Mr. Ibu featured in his first major screen acting in the movie Rolling Stones in 1994, but he was shot to Nollywood stardom in 2004 when he starred in the movie Mr. Ibu, and there he derived the name “Mr. Ibu.”

However, it is worth pointing out that before his on-screen acting, Mr Ibu, in the plot of his own life, had directed himself to play multiple roles in different professions and jobs. For instance, due to poverty in his younger days, John Okafor took on menial jobs for subsistence before he went on to learn hairstyling and photography. Although his fame came from acting, Mr Ibu was equally a boxer, a football coach, a karateka, a songwriter, and a singer, with songs like Dis Girl (2005) and Do You Know to his credit.

Mr Ibu, the 2004 movie, opens with a rather comical scene laced with metaphorical analogies. This scene rings a striking bell in the mind of any viewer who has once heard the legendary Ebenezer Obey’s classical song, The Horse, The Man and The Son (If you’re yet to listen to it, you stand guilty of a criminal offense). A worn-out middle-aged single father with his son, Muo (Osita Iheme), both of them commuting from one unknown location to another, they set out together with their belongings, mounted on an old bicycle. Before long, they run into a man who bemoans the burden with which both Father and Son have heaped upon the rickety bicycle. Ibu gets down and lets Muo (PawPaw) pedal the bicycle. Of course, any viewer will laugh at this point, seeing Pawpaw, whose legs do not reach the pedal, attempt to cycle the bicycle. Again, they are accosted by another onlooker, who rebukes Muo for sitting on the bicycle while his Father trudges on foot by his side. You can guess the duo’s next move already, especially if you are familiar with Ebenezer’s eternal tune.

Before long, they are accosted by two characters who chide Mr. Ibu for slaving away his son. Confused, Mr Ibu and Pawpaw exchange bewildered glances — you’re cracking up at this point. Picture a bewildered look on the faces of John Okafor and Pawpaw, and you might never recover from laughing any time soon. Having been unable to satisfy their onlookers with their previous attempts, they push the bicycle while walking jointly. But this decision ends up in the mouth of ridicule from yet another character, leaving them both to abandon the ancient bicycle. This scene takes only four minutes from the movie’s screen time. Yet, merely four minutes into Mr Ibu, you’re cackling wildly. Such was the seminal height of Mr. Ibu’s performances.

Whether you’re seeing Mr. Ibu, Issakaba, or Mr Ibu in Sierra Leone, the result is one—a heavy dose of laughter. Throughout the noughties, households upon households all over not just Nigeria but Africa stuck with their household Cathode-ray tube TV as they let Mr Ibu, in his celestial comic elements, thrill them to bits. But while John Okafor worked effortlessly on the screen to keep us united in cheerful spirits, his life plot behind the screen was constantly fraying and breaking apart in harrowing shards. According to an article by Naomi China in the Punch, Mr John Okafor had married five times, “most of which ended in divorce.” More so, his adopted daughter and one of his sons were once rounded up for stealing and breaching privacy, according to several sources. So, while Ibu united millions of families through quality acting and comedy, his personal life was seemingly apart.

But even more harrowing was the fact of his ailing health condition, which eventually precipitated his demise. In 2023, due to a medical condition, one of his legs had to be amputated. Although the amputation was to alleviate his illness, it deteriorated. Sadly, on the 2nd of March, 2024, Mr Ibu departed from the stage of life as he died of a cardiac arrest.

In the movie, Mr. Ibu, John Okafor, in response to Muo’s (his son in the film) bewilderment about people’s endless complaints about whatever they did, said that ‘until one’s death, people will keep talking about another’ (paraphrased). However, for John Okafor, not even death will scuttle the talks and songs of praise about his brilliant performances that brought to his fans and viewers contagious joy. John Okafor, in his still images and recorded performances will continue to live forever — so long as his fans live, and so long the mass media immortalize him.

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