Reminiscing on her days as one of Nigeria’s pioneer female broadcasters, ex-beauty queen, and television goddess, Julie Coker, on Friday went down memory lane to recall how sometime in 1977, former military head of state, and later civilian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, made her cry on their first meeting at the Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC 77.
Julie Coker, 81, who won the Miss Western Nigeria beauty pageant in 1957 at the age of 17, and began what was to be a glorious career in broadcasting at the age of 19 in 1959 when the Western Nigerian Television, WNTV was established, was guest on TV Continental, TVC’s all- female talk show, Your View.
The veteran broadcaster also spoke on her marriage to another ace broadcaster, Michael Enahoro, with whom she had three children, and her invitation to No. 10 Downing Street in May by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson on account of her sickle cell foundation in memory of her late son, Richard Enahoro.
Asked what the issue was with Obasanjo years back, Coker, fondly called Auntie Julie, shocked the crew when she narrated how she walked out on the then head of state at an event during the FESTAC 77 in Lagos.
Hear her: “First time I met President Olusegun Obasanjo was at FESTAC 77 and he made me cry. I was a member of the ceremonial committee under my great big sister Commander Koma Kentebe. She was a naval officer; she was a tough lot; and she had asked me to take care of VIP lounge where there were 14 heads of state. And then I was performing my duty as the chief hostess there, and then someone walked up…the president of course, because he was in uniform.
“He walked up to me and said are you Julie? I said yes Mr. President. ‘I like your outfit’. I said excuse me sir. ‘How much does it cost?’ I said I believe you have to ask Commander O.P Fingeson who is the main man of the FESTAC; the head of the whole FESTAC activities. And I went about doing my prescribed duty – to serve – Houphouet-Boigny (Felix, former president of Ivory Coast) and others.
When the anchor of the programme, Morayo Afolabi-Brown asked in amazement ‘You abandoned him?’, the visibly unapologetic Coker said defiantly “Yes, I did because I was doing my duty. I had nothing to do with how much is the price of …We were all in green and white and I believe that we all looked very glorious on that occasion. And that is the best festival Africa has ever put together; it has never happened again.
“One of the naval officers walked up to me and said excuse me, are you Miss Coker? I said yes. The president said you insulted him. I said no, I did no such thing. What I did was to say Good Morning, Mr. President, sir. Then Joe Garba walked up to me; he was a foreign minister in uniform looking as tall as Obama then … and he said you must have said something to the president that annoyed him. I said no, because I couldn’t relate to them what exactly the president had said to me. Perhaps he wanted to pay me compliments and that was his own way of doing it. He has his own way.
“He just said I know you; you must have said something nasty. I said never. You know me; I am a Catholic; I am a Catholic girl; I’m a nun from the convent school. I will never say anything out of order. (Re-enacting how she cried) So, I put down the trays and all, and walked out. And I saw the head of my committee coming down the staircase and said well, I’ve been wearing my uniform for almost 30 years; Julie, you are the one that will make me lose it because words had gone round that I had said something nasty, and I left and I never came back. That was the last time I saw him.
“The next time I saw him was with his late beautiful wife, Stella. We were taking her to his home in Abeokuta as the bride of the day. I was to be the leader. I was the Iya Eto of Lagos; that was my title of course. But then, I was playing that role. Little did I know that his first wife had been brought to the home a day before; and for some reasons, they couldn’t live it up together again. So, I went; I led her there, and we did all the things that we needed to do.
“In fact, it was as if we were the ones asking for the man’s hand in marriage (general laughter) because he was wearing his danshiki and hunter’s knickers like a farmer. And I said it’s this man we are going to give wife to? Pa Abebe (Late Stella’s father) had asked me, ‘Julie, you speak Yoruba very well; you have to represent us when we get there. The man did not actually come to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage’. She had had a child for him then, so, we went and did whatever we needed to do. We were the ones kneeling down for the man o when his family should have been doing that. But they did it much later.
“So, later on, I heard that his wife had written a book that I ruined her marriage. That I brought in Stella. I didn’t know when they met o. I was not there o. Jeje naim I dey waka o. I wasn’t really there when they met. But the marriage lasted so many years. And very sad that Stella passed. And Baba and I became very close after that. Before then, I even went with them to America and we made up for that time he tried to make me cry”.
Astonished that she didn’t divulge what transpired between her and Obasanjo and why, the octogenarian iconic broadcaster who was still the epitome of beauty, elegance, discipline, and dignity, explained to the ladies: “I didn’t mention it. No, I don’t do that you know. Holy Child College, we don’t do that. Sealed lips! When you see him, you bow. Don’t ever make reference to all those … I still do that because that is the only way you can have harmony; that is the only way you can have peace”.
Asked of her thoughts on the 2023 elections, and whether things would get better in Nigeria or worse, having seen it all even before independence, Coker, who recalled her failed attempt to go to the senate in 2003 in Delta State, posited “Only when you bring the women in. Bring them on board. That is the only way we can resolve all these issues that are going on. When Adam and Eve committed that offence in the Garden of Eden, the angel said to them, it is through a woman that salvation would come to the world. Salvation came to the world through Mary, mother of Jesus.
“In the Quaran, she is mentioned 38 times; and she is mentioned only 18 times in the Bible. Because it is a woman that God created to come and help Adam. But unfortunately, the devil came in. But if we can get the devil out; if we can crush the head of the devil, if a woman becomes the president of this country, this country will move forward”.
Recalling how she met Enahoro in the line of duty, and hit it off, she said though she was a student of Holy Child College at the same time Enahoro was at St. Gregory’s College, she never showed any interest in him even when other girls were “adoring” him being the captain of the cricket team, and footballer.
“I was just on my own. We were not on speaking term. One day, one French man from the embassy came and told him that he was in love with me. So he came to me and said this French man; I said me I don’t like oyinbo o. I prefer black man. So, he stayed over because he was embarrassed to go to the club to tell the man that I was not interested. We were supposed to have dinner. That’s how he stayed o. One thing led to the other….
“So, at the end of the day, everything went on. We had a son, Richard. Unfortunately, we lost him through sickle cell. That’s the work I’m doing now; trying to bring succor to those who are sicklers. Last Saturday, (April 23) we were celebrating Richard again after 18 years of his death; he was a film producer. He was like any Enahoro that you can think of; there are about 10 of them. They are all top in their various areas. Each of them was doing very well.
“And because of him, the present prime minister of England (Boris Johnson) came to speak to me at an event for sickle cell; he was then the Mayor of London. Now, he’s inviting us to come to 10, Downing Street in May. I will send you an invitation; you can come and join me”.
The legendary broadcaster was full of compliments for the ‘Your View’ crew, confessing that she had tried to find fault with the programme, but she had not been able to. “I doff my hat for you”, she said, to the excitement, applause, and appreciation of the ladies who extracted a promise from her to be their guest again as soon as she returns from the United Kingdom after her engagement with the prime minister.