BY BENJAMIN NJOKU
United States based Nigerian supermodel, two-time heavy weight champion and consummate actor, Ngoli Onyeka Okafor popularly called Ngo currently returned to Nigeria. He is the most downloaded black male model on the internet . His homecoming is necessitated by the need to set up a Foundation where he hopes to groom male molds in the country. Here, he recounts the story of his rise from grass to grace.
I’m a United States based Nigerian supermodel, heavyweight champion and an actor par excellence. My names are Ngoli Onyeka Okafor. My accomplishments are even more impressive when I consider my background. I hail from Anambra State, the second child of a Harvard academic and teacher.
I was born in Massachusetts while my dad was getting his PhD. I grew up in Enugu.
My dad always wanted his kids to grow up in Nigeria, learn the culture, the language, and get close to his family. So, when he was done, we moved back home. I was probably less than two years, when we returned to the country, and I lived in Nigeria till I was 18. That’s about half of my life.
In my family, sports were frowned upon while brains were always valued over brawn. My Dad used to say athletes are like jesters in a king’s court. I ‘ve always appreciated the value of a good education but him(Dad) saying that used to piss me off, because I felt like I could combine both. I travelled to America at the age of 18 to further my education.
While in the United States, I studied Computer Science at the University of Connecticut. After my graduation, I landed a job with the Connecticut Department of Transportation where I taught engineers and architects how to draw using computers.
I ‘ve always loved computers and there’s a part of me that will always be a bit of a nerd. But I also knew that I was naturally an athlete and I wanted to see where that side of me will take me to. Shortly, I got hired by an IT Specialist company, which brought me to New York . When the economy was going up and down, I got laid off from my job as an IT Specialist.
That was a turning point in my life because it got me thinking and I realized that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world. I felt like I wanted to try something new. The arts were really always at the back of my mind, but growing up in Nigeria, it was always about science, science, science. There was this photographer who had always said he wanted to work with me, but I ignored him because I felt I had a comfortable job then, and I didn’t need to venture out. “So after I lost my job, I asked him to take me some hot shots. We took the pictures to modeling agencies and they really liked the images and agreed to work with me, as they started sending out me for jobs. I was really lucky that I started working right away.
I started with TV commercials and later, I veered into acting after the director of the TV commercials advised me to go and study acting because he was convinced I got some potentials in the area of acting. That was how I started my acting career. I starred in a couple of soaps and TV series. I have also done a couple of modelling jobs internationally.
I started boxing laterly, at the age of 31. I started it as a simple work-out routine before it later grew into an all-consuming passion for me. I wanted to be one of the best who ever did it. Boxing was a way for me to live my childhood dream.
The reason I’m involved in so many things is because I have the opportunity to do so. What I’m trying to promote is the idea that you can do anything if you work hard and remain focused. I started out with Computer Science, which I studied in the college, and was successful at it. And I also went into modeling, putting my energy into it and recording a huge success thereafter. I got into acting and later boxing.
My home-coming is to see how I can assist in the area of grooming Nigerian male molds for the international stage. This, I want to accomplish through the Foundation I want to set up in the country, where I will train local coaches who will in turn train the male molds. I’m partnering with Deluxe Media Plus, a media relation outfit to achieve this dream.
I went into boxing because I have always wanted to be a boxer, but I never really had the opportunity of actualising that dream early in life. That’s why I want to give the Nigerian child the opportunity to start an early career in boxing. If I had started boxing early enough, who knows where I would have been today. I remember that, while I was growing up, I was always in and out of the hospital until I was 13 years. I struggled to become what I am today. In fact, in everything I do, I have always wanted to be the best. I never see failure as an obstacle to success.
In my project, I want to get the government involved particularly, Lagos State government. Boxing requires discipline, hard work and commitment. While I started boxing later in life, if we can give our young ones the opportunity to discover their talents in the area of boxing, it will give this country an edge over other countries of teh world.
I’m in the country to help revive the boxing profession. I’m very passionate about Nigeria because it’s my home, and this is where I belong.
I don’t know much about the modelling business and the film industry. But there is always a room for improvement. I hope to meet with various stakeholders of the industry with the hope of seeing how I can contribute towards the development of these professions. Particularly, I’m open to star in Nollywood movies. That’s why I’m here. I want to be involved in film productions, that have great stories and parade great cast. I’m also currently working on my full-length documentary “Triumph of the Will”which chronicles my journey from Nigeria to the top of the boxing world. I really want the film to inspire people to dream big and work hard.
I still live in New York, but I will be visiting home more often than not now. I’m not married, but I long to get married soon, when the right woman comes into my life.