• Monday, April 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Mr Ibu: The everyman entertainer who made Nigerians Laugh

John Okafor, better known to generations of Nigerians as Mr Ibu, is dead. The news, confirmed on Saturday March 2, 2024, has sent a ripple of grief through the nation, a testament to the indelible mark the comic actor left on the country’s cinematic landscape.

Okafor was said to have died while receiving treatment at the Evercare Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.

In October 2023, the veteran actor was reported ill and appealed to his fans and the public for prayers and financial assistance to cover his medical bills. He also shared a video of himself lying in a hospital bed, expressing his fear of losing his leg.

The Abubakar Bukola Saraki Foundation paid for Okafor’s entire medical expenses as of 18 October 2023. The foundation also stated that Okafor still required a lot of financial assistance to sustain him in the hospital and for his travel abroad for further treatment.

In November 2023, Okafor’s family confirmed that one of his legs had been surgically amputated to keep him alive.

Mr Ibu, was born on October 17, 1961, in Umunekwu, Nigeria. He faced various challenges throughout his life, shaping the man who would become a national treasure.

After his father’s passing in 1974, he moved to Sapele to live with his brother. There, he juggled various jobs, including hairstyling, photography, and even working in a crate-producing company, to support himself and his family.

Despite financial constraints that forced him to withdraw from the College of Education, Yola, his determination led him to enroll later at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) in Enugu.

Ibu became a prominent Nollywood actor in the early 2000s and Nigerians, from bustling cities to remote villages, found solace and joy in his performances. His on-screen antics were a comic symphony, a blend of humor and relatability that transcended age and background.

In living rooms across the nation, families gathered to watch his films, sharing in the communal experience of laughter he so effortlessly provided.

In movies such as Mr. Ibu (2004), Mr. Ibu 2 (2005), Mr. Ibu and His Son, Coffin Producers, Husband Suppliers, International Players, Mr. Ibu in London (2005), Police Recruit (2003), 9 Wives (2005), Ibu in Prison (2006) and Keziah (2007), he made Nigerians laugh, yes, but he also made the people think, his humor laced with a subtle social commentary that resonated deeply.

He wasn’t a polished product, emerging from a background far removed from the silver screen. His comedic timing in his films was impeccable, his characters relatable, often embodying the struggles and triumphs of the ordinary Nigerian.

One only needs to browse the outpouring of online tributes to understand the depth of Mr Ibu’s impact. “Thank you for making my childhood so fun,” writes one post on X, echoing countless others. “You were a legend, Mr Ibu. Rest in Peace.”

Celebrities and politicians alike expressed gratitude for the indelible mark he left on their memories, crediting him with shaping the landscape of Nigerian comedy. These messages, simple and heartfelt, capture the essence of Mr Ibu’s appeal.

Mr Ibu’s battle with illness, culminating in the heartbreaking decision to amputate his leg, was a stark reminder of the man behind the larger-than-life persona. Yet, even in the face of adversity, he remained a source of strength and inspiration, his indomitable spirit shining through.

Today, Nigeria mourns the loss of a comedic genius, a cultural icon, and, for many, a cherished part of their childhood memories. Mr Ibu, thank you for the laughter, the lessons, and the enduring legacy you leave behind. You will be deeply missed.

The curtains may have fallen on his physical presence, but the echoes of his laughter will resonate eternally in the hearts of those who cherished him.