By Deji Aroloye
Popular Nigerian comic cum actor, John Okafor aka Mr. Ibu, over the years has carved a niche for himself as one of Nigeria’s top comedians as far as Nollywood is concerned. The accomplished thespian recently was a member of Emeka Ike’s entourage when the AGN team paid a courtesy visit to The Sun corporate headquarters in Lagos. Mr. Ibu spoke with TSWeekend about his career and the issues currently rocking AGN and Nollywood among other issues.
What role are you playing in the Actors Guild of Nigeria?
I was appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees, and that is okay for me. In this capacity I can do anything for the organisation because I have an agenda for Nollywood.
What is your agenda?
I want us to have Nollywood villages built in each state of the federation. Beyond canvassing for the building of film cities, I also want some practices to be eliminated in Nollywood. These acts can mar the industry in a short period of time. Producers are collecting money from innocent wannabes before they get roles. Instead of getting money from the roles they act, they are now the ones paying to feature in productions. A producer is supposed to pay them even though the pay might be meagre. This alone spells hopelessness especially for our youngsters studying Theatre Arts in our Universities. We want to stop this practice and sanitise the industry.
But building film villages will be a huge project, have you considered that?
The most important thing is for each state government to allocate land to us. We will go out to look for sponsors. Rather than use hotels for locations, we should be using film villages for our productions.
But the films are not yielding profits due to piracy. Are you not going to address that first?
You are correct. The day I visited the hometown of former Senate President, David Mark, in Benue State, I addressed some governors and senators. I told them that they should stop giving cash to AGN. Instead of giving us cash they should give us land to build film villages. If they give us cash, we don’t know how to expend it because some people just embezzle the money. On the other hand, having an agency like NAFDAC or EFCC would sanitise the industry is not a bad idea because setting up such an anti-piracy board will help to save the entertainment industry in Nigeria. For instance, if you don’t protect your films very well, you will see it being hawked on the streets of Lagos like Gala. And someone once asked me ‘who do you think can manage the board?’ And I replied, ‘We have someone like the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Onovo. The man is ready to help us. Remember those popular paperbacks those days called Pacesetters? Nobody writes them anymore because of the fear of pirates. All these problems can be resolved by an anti-piracy board.
You were at Ibinabo Fibersima’s wedding while you were fighting each other at AGN. Does that mean you still maintain your friendship despite your differences?
I didn’t have any issues with Ibinabo before now. She has been a friend but maybe, along the line, somebody told her that I said something against her and she started behaving funny towards me though she later realised that there was nothing like that and came to apologise. She told me about her wedding. I went and even conducted the cutting of the cake. I was the only actor that sprayed her money on that day.
Have you made any peace move with the actors supporting Ibinabo Fiberesima?
Yes, I keep calling them.
How about settling the rift between Emeka Ike and Ibinabo Fiberesima?
The reason why I don’t want to do it is because Emeka Ike has been authorised legitimately by a court of law to take over the reins of AGN but Ibinabo does not want to listen. In AGN, they don’t even trust themselves. In Lagos State, they have two chairmen. If a president is actually working, he should reconcile the two of them or call for fresh elections. I was present at the first peace meeting we had at popular celebrity hang out, O’Jez, located in Surulere, but it didn’t yield any results because they (participants) came to show-off their ability to speak grammar (laughter).
What projects are you working on now?
I have two personal films I am working on right now. One is Ibu Runs Mad in America. I have shot the American part already.
Please, I no run mad o (laughter). The other one is Ozuzueke, which is all about culture.
You always play comic roles; do people take you serious in real life?
I am a tactical person and disciplinarian but in real life, people tend not to take me serious even when I mean what I am saying. For instance, when I am asked to pray in public and I say ‘let us pray,’ people always think that I am joking.
Are you Mr. Ibu at home or John Okafor?
I mix both because I want to make my wife and children happy.
Who are the actors that took part in the film?
I have only two Nigerians, Harry B from Enugu State and another young actor. I am going to feature a lot of Nigerian actors in the Nigerian part.
What will you say about sex for role in Nollywood?
It is not sex-for-role that is in vogue now but money-for-role. People are paying to be part of productions. It is rubbish and I will keep criticising the practice and I tell you, I will get to the root of this matter.
When are you going to release your films?
I don’t want to give dates but they will be out soon. I will not release the films to marketers directly. We will release them by going to the big screens and doing premieres.
What is your word for up-and-coming actors and actresses?
The only thing I want to tell them is ‘to take am easy.’ Why should they use their hard earned money to buy roles? They should calm down. If you go for an audition and fail, go home. Today might be someone else but tomorrow, it could be you. If there is any reason to be in any production, it should be by merit. Whatever you don’t know, ask questions.