Nigeria: Obituary – Mr Ibu: Much-Loved Nollywood Actor Bows Out

With a career that included some of the most iconic films of the ‘2000s and beyond, Mr Ibu’s legacy and achievement would no doubt outlive him and inspire generations of comic actors.

John Okafor, aka Mr Ibu, is remembered as one of Nigeria’s most effortlessly funny and beloved comic actors of all time.

From his beginnings as a boxer, football coach, hairstylist, photographer and karate practitioner to making a name as a slapstick comedian whose acting is often characterised by stupidity, it was clear from the get-go that Mr Ibu was unlike any of his contemporaries.

But that long legacy of creativity ended Saturday evening when Mr Ibu, 62, died after suffering a cardiac arrest. A statement from the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas, confirmed.

When the news of his death filtered in on Saturday evening, many waved it aside because it was just impossible for someone who brought joy to many homes to die.

He was that loved!

In the months that preceded his death, Mr Ibu faced daunting challenges, health-wise and personally.

His film career stalled, and on the homefront, it wasn’t any better–in February 2023, he told The Punch that his fifth marriage to Stella Marris, whom he married in 2015, was the worst.

Meanwhile, in the last quarter of 2023, Mr Ibu was also reeling from a diagnosis of clotting of blood in his leg stemming from diseased blood vessels. He also said he battled strange illnesses for months.

On 6 November 2023, he underwent seven successful surgeries, but to keep him alive and increase his chances of recovery, doctors amputated one of his legs.

The reality stunned and overwhelmed the once-lovely comedian and his loved ones. Even more crushing at the time was the possibility that Mr Ibu might never return to the job he loved the most-acting.

Mr Ibu had an outstanding portfolio of acting roles that will always be remembered. He captivated audiences in an array of films, from Mr Ibu (2004) and Police Recruit (2003) to Keziah (2007).

Those last three showcased Mr Ibu as a spontaneous comedic genius who, like Nkem Owoh, appeared to act without a script.

Little Beginnings

Born in October 1961 in Enugu State, Nigeria, Mr Ibu’s journey to stardom was marked by perseverance and a natural flair for entertainment.

The actor grew up with his family in Umunekwu Village in Eziokwe, Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State.

After elementary school and his father’s death in 1974, Mr Ibu moved to Sapele to stay with his brother.

In Sapele, he did menial jobs to send himself to school and support his family. He then worked as a hairstylist, ventured into photography, and worked in a company that produced crates.

After secondary school, he was admitted to the College of Education, Yola, but dropped out due to financial difficulties. He later enrolled in the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu.

However, Mr Ibu started his career in Lagos, where he squatted with his friend in a one-room apartment in the 1990s.

During one of his testaments on YouTube, he narrated how he was stranded and homeless with only N20 on him when his friend threw him out of the house and left. He described how he also contemplated suicide.

In the depth of life’s frustration and amid suicidal thoughts, Mr Ibu said that he was inspired by Micheal Bolton’s song, ‘When I am Back on My Feet.’

From the frustration of homelessness, he ran into a movie audition, where he met Pete Edochie, and the rest, they say, is history.

Career

Mr Ibu is celebrated for his unique comedic style, characterised by exaggerated facial expressions, body language, and impeccable timing. His ability to evoke laughter with his natural wit and charm made him a fan favourite.

Colleagues and industry insiders remember Mr Ibu for his on-screen brilliance, warmth, and camaraderie behind the scenes. Fellow actors, directors, and producers recounted his humility, generosity, ability to lighten the mood on set, and unwavering dedication to his craft.

The comic actor became a household name in 2004 after starring in”Mr Ibu” alongside another famous actor, Osita Iheme, but went on to star in over 300 movies.

Mr Ibu had a stint in music and released his songs “This Girl and “Do You Know” in October 2020.

Beyond acting and singing, Mr Ibu also enjoyed playing harmonicas, which he performed in movies and public appearances.

Health Crisis

The actor went public with his health challenge in 2022, when he told PREMIUM TIMES that his ‘Village People‘ attempted to kill him twice through poison.

Contrary to reports that the much-loved comic actor was poisoned at an entertainment event in Abuja, Mr Ibu said he was poisoned during his numerous trips to his country home in Nkanu West, Enugu State.

He said the effects weighed him down when he returned to his base in Abuja.

Two years earlier, Mr Ibu raised the alarm about how his relatives paid his domestic staff to poison him because of his successful career. In an interview with Nigezitv, Mr Ibu recounted how he was kidnapped and poisoned at an event in Nnewi.

He also noted that his protruding stomach was a result of the poison.

However, in October 2023, Mr Ibu’s health became a primary concern for fans and the entire nation when he shared a video from his hospital room, marking his 62nd birthday. Clad in a hospital gown and visibly distressed with a swollen left leg, the actor celebrated with his family, who sang a birthday song.

Just a day after his birthday celebration, on 18 October 2023, another video surfaced in which Mr Ibu, alongside his family, appealed for financial assistance to address mounting medical bills.

The actor revealed he had been unwell for weeks, and doctors were contemplating the amputation of his leg to preserve his life. Distressed by the thought, he pleaded, “If they cut off my leg, where will I go to? I don’t want my leg to be cut off.” The family sought financial aid for him to seek better treatment abroad, considering his prolonged health struggles.

Several people donated for the ailing actor, including the Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) Foundation, which paid all of Mr Ibu’s medical expenses.

In late October, Mr Ibu’s family shared some cheering news, announcing that the actor had undergone five successful surgeries, thanks to substantial public support. They expressed optimism about his stability, anticipating the possibility of flying abroad for further treatment.

On 6 November 2023, the family delivered the devastating news that doctors had amputated one of Mr Ibu’s legs after two additional surgeries, a decision made in a desperate attempt to save his life. Fans who had hoped for a different outcome received the news with profound sadness.

However, the family issued a final official update, dispelling rumours and clarifying that Mr Ibu’s health challenges were primarily due to “constant clotting of the blood in his leg (diseased blood vessels)” and other unspecified issues, not diabetes.

Despite initial plans, Mr Ibu was not flown out of the country as doctors deemed him unfit to travel.

There were no updates for over two months, except for a video shared by his colleague, Ken Erics, who paid him a visit in January and confirmed that the actor was in good condition. In the video, Mr Ibu sat in the living room wearing a burnt orange Jalabiya (A flowing robe-like Islamic attire) and chatting with his junior colleague.

Curtain call

As his health deteriorated, so did the relationship between his wife and adopted daughter, Jasmine. And it had to do with the treatment funds the public contributed. Jasmine accused the actor’s wife of intending to lavish the money on acquiring an iPhone 15 and undergoing body enhancement surgery.

The crisis took a different dimension when the police arrested his son, Daniel Okafor and Jasmine on suspicion of hacking into his phone and taking $60,700 for themselves.

Sadly, the much-loved actor died.

Mr Ibu’s death drew expressions of shock and sympathy from across the country as his colleagues paid glowing tributes to one of their own.

Even the Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Hanatu Musawa, commiserated with the movie industry, family and friends of the late Nollywood comic actor, describing the loss as ‘one death, too many”.

With a career that included some of the most iconic films of the ‘2000s and beyond, Mr Ibu’s legacy and achievement would no doubt outlive him and inspire generations of comic actors.

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