Julie Coker has lived all her life in England but came home recently to launch her third book titled: Nigeria Ere Yon. She told FLORA ONWUDIWE that the book is a reference point for up-and-coming presenters. She also spoke about her struggles, limelight and retirement. Excerpts…
What issues are you addressing in the newly launched book, Nigeria Ere Yon?
Ere is the same word in Yoruba and Itsekiri. The song is, “We have heard that the song is sweet, it is part of a story. I did not coin the word; it is part of the story. We heard that the song is sweet, so we took the song out and made it a title of my record, done 40 years ago. We felt that, even though people feel that life in Nigeria is not so exciting as it is in other countries, if you take a very good look at life in Nigeria you find that there are still so many good things about the country. So those were the things, I wanted to highlight. That in the midst of all the tides and rumbles, you can also pick out beautiful things about Nigeria. Also, I wanted to celebrate 60 years of television in Nigeria; it’s there at the corner of the book (she pointed at the cover of the book), which coincided with when I was celebrating my birthday. In other parts of the world they don’t look down on Nigeria because we have many natural and human resources. I was trying to say in the book that in spite of the travails I have gone through in life that I am still alive and some people still recognise my record in some parts of the world. I didn’t have a good copy to show them in Nigeria, because we have moved from my place in Victoria to somewhere else, so I wondered where they got a copy of my song from. In Paris, somebody had a clean copy of Ere Yon music, they called me from Paris after two years, that they have a clean copy. Why would anybody be running after you, if it wasn’t a good song, why would they want to listen to it, if it were not good? So these were some of the points that I want to bring out in the book.
When you conceived the idea of the book, who were your target audience?
Oh well, Nigerian woman, Nigerian child, anyone who loves reading and broadcasters because I have a few tapes. If people want to know how I was able to succeed in being a broadcaster, if they read the book, they will be able to learn more about how you move from one part to another; how you can progress. In our own days not as a kind of glamour business as it is abroad and you can earn a lot as a civil servant. You move from one grade level to another, if you are patient enough, if you are hardworking enough, you will move and get up there. So, this is a kind of lesson or reference book for them, for young girls who want to go into broadcasting. If you read the book, you will be able to know how you can grow in the business or how you will be a successful broadcaster and how you can be a failure too if you don’t apply yourselves well at the job. If you read the book you will be able to learn how you can actually make it in broadcasting in Nigeria.
You said the book coincided with your birth, when Nigeria was 60,why do we have the book now that you are 80?
My first 30 years on television I wrote a book, was supposed to be about the same objectives. Whether any Nigerian read it at the time, I do not know. But I launched it about the same way at the National Theatre with all the glamour with an audience of God knows how many people. Even the late MKO Abiola with his wife Doyin and a lot of prominent Nigerians came; that was about 30 years ago in broadcasting, 60 years of television in Nigeria now, we have also celebrated 50 years of television. So people don’t have time to read in Nigeria, they want to see the part where you criticize someone or say something bad about other persons. Even those in the social media now, they don’t care what the standards are. The thing is that you have to have your head properly tuned and you have know exactly what the subject matter is, you have to be properly trained and I had undergone all the training that one needed to undergo in other to achieve and rise in broadcasting.
You lay emphasis on training and re-training broadcasters?
We were brought up by the Colonial masters and they had set a standard that we should try to attain at a time; and if you were not good enough, you could just be thrown out of the job. A lot of the channels are good, the new ones are doing very well. If you want to read the news you ought to deliver it the way it ought to be with good diction and good pronunciation. My main objective is not t o run anybody down it’s to encourage people to do the right thing. And to make sure they pronounce words properly. When Abike Dabiri was delivering the keynote address at the book launch, she heard a broadcaster pronounce Joe Biden to be Joe Bidden on television… In our days that person will not come back to do the same job. Our set of presentation, you have to sit down monitoring. Apart from the book we had Daniel Jones, which was bible book for all broadcasters at that time; those were the things that formed the standards that we were taught.
We saw you on a video celebrating your 80th birthday with other Nigerians in the diaspora at the frontage of the Nigerian British High Commission in London. Why?
My birthday happened purely by accident. I had planned to have a proper celebration in Nigeria. People have arranged to have the celebration at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre in Nigeria. Where people will sit down and celebrate my 80 years of life. I was one of those people who started celebrating their birthdays in Nigeria as children will come and celebrate with us in the studio. Segun Olushola (of blessed memory) designed the children’s birthday party on Television. For my 40th birthday, I had Ebenezer Obey coming to play at the party. My 45 birthday was celebrated in one of the best night clubs in Nigeria with just a handful of people. My 50 birthdays was celebrated in different countries, it was celebrated first in Nigeria with Shina Peters, in South of France and at the talk of the town in London. And I had ticket to fly 45 people to different places to celebrate in London. My 70th birthday was celebrated at the Westminster Cathedral; it is almost as big as the City Hall in Lagos. So I had done all the celebrations that anybody could think of. I never planned it that way; it always happened that I was having one big birthday celebration after another. The celebration you saw on July 25, 2020, was at the middle of the COVID-19. The celebration was planned in the normal Nigerian way, but it did not happen like that as there was no event place opened to anybody. I don’t know about Nigeria, I was in England, you cannot celebrate in your flat, though, we had a meal in my flat later on. About 12 of us came home to have a meal in my flat, to cut my birthday cake and pop one or two bottles of wine. That birthday was to celebrate my thanksgiving to God in London. I’m quite happy that my cousin who organised the drummers to join us did that but the spirit had actually worked in our favour, it was the spirit that led him to organise the drummers to come and celebrate with me. It’s like showing the whole world that I am now 80. So whether I am in Nigeria or England I want to give glory to God.
Do you feel fulfilled at 80 especially in your career?
Well, if one can still be relevant in whatever they do at 80, that says it all. If you want me to go and read the news, I could still read the news. I’m quite capable, I have no speech defects; I give glory to God for that. I still read in church in England, I can still read in church here if I’m giving the opportunity.
I have a regular place in my church in England, where I could still read using the same voice that God gave me. I am still in demand when it comes to that. And when it comes to doing voiceovers for commercials and other things, people still invite me to do that. So that is one area that I give thanks to God. The talent God has given me, He hasn’t taken it from me and I can still make use of it to the greater glory of God.
At 80, you can be struggling with young people to do presentation work. I’m just in a process now setting up a training school for young broadcasters in England and a branch here in Nigeria. We are working seriously towards that in music and speech training. We did all that on the same day at the launch of the book, and we managed to recruit a lot of people who are going to be assisting us in doing that.
When it’s going to take off properly you will know more about that. Your kind of music may not reach out to a wider audience in Nigeria, because the lyric is in Itsekiri? There is nothing in my music that is happening in Nigeria. Nigerians are not particularly interested in my music, maybe when I was making the music my target audience was Nigeria. when God created Mary and Jesus Christ, He did not say stay in Jerusalem. My Music is making waves in abroad. Oh it is a popular song, when I go home I sing along with my people.