He’s amusing and witty. He’ll make you laugh your heart out: John Okafor, aka Mr Ibu, a household name in Nigeria’s thriving movie industry tells TONI UFOH about his sporting life
an you tell us about yourself?
My name is John Okafor aka Mr Ibu and let me tell you, I am not okay as I speak to you.
What was your childhood like?
I attended Eziokwe Primary School in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. For my secondary school, I attended Okotie Eboh in Sapele, Delta State.
During your school days, which sports did you engage in?
My brother, as usual, it was football at that time. We played without knowing which wing we played but we were always playing football. In fact, if you came near me on the field, you and your legs were in trouble. We enjoyed ourselves those days when we played football. It was without fear and our parents took care of our wounds, even the ones we tried to hide. ‘Monkey post’ was one of our favourite games in football. So, in that kind of game there were no referees or linesmen. Nothing concerned us, we just played as children and enjoyed ourselves.
Growing up, who was your favourite sportsperson?
There was this boxer then, though he’s dead. I don’t want to talk about it or reveal his name because whenever I remember him, I always want to cry.
Do you support any NPFL team?
I’m a strong supporter of Enugu Rangers. I am from Enugu and I love our Flying Antelopes. If you are not in love with Rangers, we are definitely going to fight. It’s a Holy Spirit club and you have to be in the spirit of Rangers because God loves Rangers.
So, do you watch NPFL games?
I do but I prefer being there live. This is the problem that we have in Nigeria as it pertains to our clubs. I would want to take my children to watch games, but sometimes, I think of the violence at match venues, then I go alone. Another thing, why should our club officials charge children money to enter the stadium and watch matches? It is not good. The authorities should know that we are not happy about these things. These children would have loved our league now and you are charging them money to watch games. So, don’t blame them when they watch EPL, LaLiga, Bundesliga.
Which European club do you support?
It’s Chelsea FC in England and the reason why I love the club is because all the people who play for the club and the coaches are not well like me. I do travel from Nigeria to London to watch them play. If you are a Chelsea fan, then you are not well like me. Look at the club now, even in the face of difficulties, they always get something. It takes someone who is not well to do such things that Chelsea FC do.
Between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s your favourite player?
You see that boy they call Messi, he’s good but I don’t just like him because he played mainly for Barcelona before moving to PSG now. But my man, Ronaldo is the best. He played in England, went to Spain, Italy and after, he’s back to England. That’s a footballer for you. And, all the places he went to, he was very good, he proved himself. Ronaldo is the man for me, strong guy.
In the Super Eagles, who’s your favourite player?
I’ll talk about the present Super Eagles players because the likes of (Austin) Okocha and (Nwankwo) Kanu were a class apart. If I should talk about those ones, my brain, which is already like vegetable, will just burst. We have many good players like Ahmed Musa, Francis Uzoho, Paul Onuachu. In fact, they are all good, but what I want is that they should make sure that we qualify for the World Cup in Qatar because I want to cheer them.
What are the chances of the Eagles at the AFCON in Cameroon next year and the World Cup, if we qualify?
Eagles must not disappoint us in Cameroon because we supported them all the way with our sweat and blood during the qualification series. We want to win World Cup? We must work very hard for that. It can only be possible when things are right in the football structure of our country. The World Cup is not an all-comers affair. We must prepare hard for it. Why am I even talking? Let’s qualify first, then we will know if we can do something with our chances.
I used to like boxing until one idiot almost removed all my teeth. That was when I told myself the gospel truth that if I remained as a boxer, I may not have teeth to eat meat again. That’s why I ran from boxing or would you love it if I smiled and there’s no teeth in my mouth?
Is any of your kids involved in sports?
My son likes football and he plays it with his friends, just like during my time, on the streets. One of my girls like athletics too. But one thing for sure is I will not allow them join any club until they complete their education.