Veteran broadcaster, Julie Coker, was the voice and face Nigerian television viewers always looked forward to hearing and seeing in the 80s. At the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, she presented a programme with Taiwo Obileye and it really stirred up memories of how it used to be. For a long time she was away in England, but returned to the country in November. Recently she spoke with Sunday Sun about her sojourn there and shared her impressions about today’s broadcasters. And much more…
You have been away for so long. You said you have relocated to the United Kingdom. Would you like to talk about that?
My son, Richard Enahoro, died 14 years ago. He was a sickler and had contacted a disease from the blood transfusion that was given to him. So I had to spend a lot of time with him. I took one year sabbatical to be with him. He recovered for a while and for seven years he was in remission. He was really a prolific sickler but he was a very hard working prolific Nigerian. I went to stay beside him. I was the chairman of his company. I had him in England; he went to Corona School in Nigeria and at the age of eight he went back to school in England. There you get good medical facilities.
This is where people say sickle cell is rampant but in England, the treatment and management is more than what we do here in Nigeria. It made sense to me to let him stay there. A lot of members of my family were helping me along the way. I was able to relate to my other adopted children who had children over there; I had to help them so that they could imbibe some of our culture and not get lost in England. You have to show love in the process of correcting them if not they might go and call the police. I wanted them to understand our ways. I was already in England in 2000. I came back a year before the millennium.
I marked my 60th birthday in Nigeria but prior to that time I was in England. But now I sort of come and go because I have an indefinite stay. I have gone through the whole process and my application for citizenship has also been sorted out. I can afford to spend more time in Nigeria because I still love Nigeria more than any other country in the world.
What do you miss when you are in England?
You would be amazed that the people in the Diaspora still maintain the kind of lifestyle they have here. There’s no weekend that I’m not attending a christening or a wedding, or thanksgiving in somebody’s church or international day somewhere. Nigerians and their quest for fun and enjoyment is un-relented in that regard.
You can’t put them down anywhere. Even when their English or foreign friends come along, they still can’t believe the kind of lifestyle that we live in England. When there is a wedding there is no difference, even on the streets people know areas where you find Nigerians having fun. There was a day we went to a party. We lost our invitation card and when we got to a point, somebody asked, “Are you going to a Nigerian party?” If you don’t find it at the next street go to the police station they will tell you. When we got to the police station, we found somebody else and because of the way we were dressed, they asked if we are looking for a Nigerian party? When you see people with a long robe, all our men in white agbada, we didn’t ask for the address again. We could hear the music from one of the halls. That’s how Nigerians operate and I’m sure that’s why they find it difficult in South Africa and other countries because the English people are very accommodating. There was a time when they used to arrest people just for you speaking in loud voices outside your own gate but now they take it in their strides. They have known that is the way the people are.
You must be in your late 60s now…
Hmmm, add another 10. My next birthday I will be 78 years.
You don’t look it, what do you do, you are still beautiful?
I used to be trimmer before now. Maybe as I have been staying at home receiving guests since I lost my first child about two months and a half ago. I’m more or less home bound. I hold on greatly to my faith and that is my guiding principle. Children are God’s gift, praise be to the Lord. Job said in the bible, “Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Praise be to the name of the Lord.” He was my first son. He was 59. The one that passed on in London died at 32.
He would have been 46 this year but his friends are keeping his memory alive. Recently, we had another memorial celebration; his birthday was also in April. The world is a large place we don’t know how God moves, we don’t know which date he has for anyone; we just have to accept it. I had cried and cried but after that, there should be a time for healing and you move on. Everybody has a cross to bear.
It’s the way you carry your cross that sets you apart from other people. If you are able to carry your cross well, you cry a bit, clean your eyes; God will help you to clean the tears. It’s only God that can wipe people’s tears. Now my son, Michael, is resting in peace. My own contribution is to give back to society. That was how I grew up; people also helped me because I came from a deprived background; that was how I was able to achieve what I achieved today. My child suffered from sickle cell anemia. As a mother, I have blood group and I can’t help my own child. I felt guilty at a time but then I think God was teaching me a lesson and also to other people that they should check their blood type so that they know the blood group they belong to. We worked hand in hand with the genotype foundation. We create awareness not to endanger their children to be saddled with that kind of ailment.
It’s incurable for now. My own child had the best treatment and management in England. Sicklers are treated like royalty. It’s a special ward. When you are going to their own department, there is red carpet there; they want them to feel like they are very special people. But in Nigeria they shout at that them in the hospital, why are you sick every minute? It’s not the child’s fault. How would a child want to be a sickler when they are in pains?
My first son Michael suffered malaria for hours. Maybe the malaria drug wasn’t the type compatible with the type of drug he was taking.
By the time they put him on drip the following day, we didn’t know what was injected into the drip. He came home and had a meal and said he was going to take a walk then he collapsed on the way. By the time we reached the hospital, he was gone.
What has life taught you as a person?
In every situation, just believe in God, put your faith up and try not to let people put you down. Just be yourself. People think that being cantankerous in Nigeria is a norm, and to shout at people and make them so small. I believe in being humble and charitable. We should have hope that Nigeria will be a better country and everybody has to pay their own dues and play their own roles positively instead of run everybody down. People must be contented with what they have.
The little you have you can share with people. Be free to share with other people the little that you have or the gift that you have. One must have a forgiving spirit. The world will be a better place if we adhere to these rules.
How would you have assess today’s newscasters?
You saw when Bimbo Oloyede took over for a week during the 40th anniversary of NTA in March? That is the kind of standard we should be aiming at. They should bring the veterans occasionally, once in a while. Their mode of dressing is even very appalling. You see some newscasters with big bows on their chest.
If you are going to show your face as a newscaster and one big bow is showing there, the bow is attracting people’s attention and taking the limelight away from you who is the subject of attraction people should be looking at. How is she performing? Is she reading the news well but it is the bow reading the news for us. Being able to dress moderately without many attractions.
Most of the newscasters look like a joker on screen, like masquerades. Look at the day Abike Dabiri came up to read news on Easter Sunday. She was very calm and collected. She wore one clean dress, no embellishment anywhere and she delivered smoothly, effortlessly. The up and coming newscasters feel they look better when they wear three-tone colour in one outfit; it is so distracting. They speak false accents. They should speak naturally. We were well groomed. I didn’t have to go to any finishing school or university. It was after we started that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) picked a handful of us and sent us for a course and later on, I went to ASCON (Administrative and Staff College of Nigeria). I also lectured at the NTA School. Anytime I’m called upon to take a lecture I’m delighted to do it. It’s a service to the country.
If you had stayed back in the country as a retiree what would you have done?
I would have set up my own school, maybe television production or with my former husband, Michael Enahoro, set up a TV or radio station because we were working towards that. I’m still helping people to set up different production companies as old as I am (laughs). A colleague and I three years ago went to some university to give a lecture on TV production techniques.