By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
TelevisionÂ icon, Julie Coker who celebrated 50 years inÂ TV some years ago was recently honoured with Genesis Awards by none other than NTA itself.
In this encounter, she answers questions on the award given to her and why she is delaying from going into private television.
She also reveals sheâ€˜s networking with other veterans including ex-hubby Ted Mukoro on establishment ofÂ private TV. Excerpts.
You recently got the Genesis Award at Ibadan. What was it about?
It was for veterans of the TV industry, those who started from the very inception, 1959 and those who completed five years from 1959-1964.Â The award was for the pioneers of television broadcast in Nigeria. It was for those who started the first television broadcasting in Africa. It was just in appreciation for the meritorious contribution to TV broadcasting.
You know, some of us worked in TV for over 30 years. There were about four, five of us who got the awards. I can tell you, that award is equivalent to the Oscar of Hollywood.
Who organised the awards?
It was organised by the management of NTA and Network Centre Ibadan. You know the WN TV was launched on October 31, 1959. That was a pre-independence era. By the time Nigeria was independent, the station was about one year.
Even though other countries got their independence before us, in the area of television, we came first and broadcasting in Nigeria has been waxing very strong since then. That station has given birth to over a hundred and fifty stations in the whole federation. So, it was a joyous affair for generations of broadcastersÂ to give us support.
Did the award translate to anything materially?
It was just an honorary thing. It was not monetary because quite a number of us are pensioners. So, we still get our remuneration which is in appreciation of the service that we have rendered over the years.
Why didnâ€™t you go into private broadcasting after your retirement?
A lot of us actually regret not doing that. I remember that Ted Mukoro was one of those who got the awards at Ibadan. He started WNBS, the radio station. They came in a year after WNTV kicked off. We met and we agreed that some of us would have started our own TV stations.
You know, we were fully involved in every sphere of television: drama, commentary, outside broadcast. I was one of the first women to run commentaries during the First All African Games in Algiers. So, I was too busy to be thinking about myself and a lot of us feel bad about not going into private TV earlier . Itâ€™s a very expensive venture to delve into private TV.
Itâ€™s so capital intensive that we didnâ€™t even think of approaching any bank for any loan or going to any outside body to give us support which actually we would have done because of the kind of experience we have and the knowledge we imbibed.
Really, we need to pass on what we garnered over the years. There are reporters all over the place and some of them need to be retrained. We have a lot of talents in these reporters and I tell you Nigeria ranks very high in this area. We could have started something like what they have in Al Jazeera now, bringing all the specials, talented people together.
All we needed was a team of reporters who we can send out into the field. Reporters are all over the place collecting information. So, we ranked high in this area. What we need really are people who have the foresight. Broadcasters really are not money-minded people. Itâ€™s something we have thought about. You know, I have actually trained presenters.
I have been the chief presenter and that is the highest rank for presenters then. That is the headÂ for that arm of broadcasting. I have taught in the training school, the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation training school before it became FRCN. And then, from time to time, I was invited to TV College to lecture when they are training people in areas of production technique, not just presentation. So, all these are the ingredients that you need to kick-start your own station. You can set up your training arm on one side.
As ace broadcaster, if you donâ€™t open a private TV, you can have a training school or is it late?
I visited the TV College the other day to see the Rector and I looked around and I ran into some few people I know. Yes, setting up a training school would have been the ideal thing because that way, you will be able to have a hand in the training of professionals in TV presentation. Of course, when you are the head of TV presentation, you train people on the nitty-gritty of the job.
So, somebody like myself and Ikenna Ndaguba should own training schools because we trained a lot of TV and Radio presenters in the past.
Is it right for one to say some talents are wasting and many talents are still undiscovered.
So many. I met somebody at the office yesterday, he was running a games show and if we have somebody like that as a presenter, a lot of people would love to watch him. But I believe a lot of people already in the field need that training to perform better.
You know, some of us were trained by the colonial masters and our accent is distinct. If they must accept you, your accent has to be like theirs. But now, you have accents from different parts of Nigeria on TV and Radio presentations. There are actually a lot of talents out there.
In the present-day broadcasting, could somebody be able to say, I am a Julie Coker prodigy, she made me?
I went to Abuja the other day and I ran into someone who told me, you taught me in the training school. I didnâ€™t remember her but she did and came up to me.
There are so many others who come to me to say, you taught me TV presentation and Iâ€™m practising it. I was on NTA A.M Express the other day and one of the presenters said to me, I used to see you on TV and because of you, I wanted to be a TV presenter and you actually taught me and now, Iâ€™m the one interviewing you. It was a compliment. It gives joy when people appreciate what one is doing.
The other day, John Momoh of Channels TV did a wonderful thing. He invited me amongst other veteransÂ to read news on Channels TV and I did. People can still learn from that, maybe, Iâ€™ll do that once in a while.
And I still make myself available to the TV College and other training schools and I teach people there. Government invested so much on us veterans. And we should make ourselves available to teach others until we have funds for our own schools and really, Iâ€™d discussed that with Ted Mukoro that it would be very desirable for us to come together and form our training school.
Then the sky would be the limit for everybody. Somebody like Ted Mukoro, my former husband already has a licence but it was very difficult for him to raise funds to buy equipments. Maybe I should ask him to give me the licence so Iâ€™d use it to do something. You know, all you have done since this interview was challenge me to do something more.
Yeah, but you can get a private sponsorship?
Definitely. So many people are going to the same market to seek commercial participation: from banks, corporate bodies, multi-nationals. All one needs do is get the programme ideas together. It is the commercials that actually pay for the air-time. So, you come back to the same thing.
Once you can get your equipments, then, the station will fund itself. Once they know that you were the same person that came to them to get sponsorship, they would be very eager to see that you succeed.
There is so much fund lurking around the banks and I think government should mop them up and invest them in broadcasting. You can imagine that in fifty years: Silverbirds, CNN, Al-Jazeera, they can came and overtook us. We, WNTV was the first station in the whole world. We were even established before Australia, before TV came to the US, then Britain and Germany.
That means you can easily get a licence toÂ more.
(Laughs). Yes, Iâ€™m sure I will be able to do something. Iâ€™m picking this up as a challenge. What I donâ€™t want is having a TV station and not being able to pay salaries. Not beingÂ able to pay staff salaries is my greatest nightmare because a labourer deserves his wages. And I have realised that one or two of these private TV stations donâ€™t pay their staff.
That, I will not be able to do. My conscience cannot take that. Making people work for me and not being able to pay them well is terrible. That has not happened in any of the government stations. A lot of money that is being realised goes on salaries and other emoluments. So, one has to be able to provide good cars for the staff, provide accommodations for them.
Some of us presenters were given posh areas at Ikoyi to live and Victoria Island. I lived at Victoria Island for over 30 years because of my job and the station made it possible. Now, there are stations that could not pay salaries for months.
We hear these things around. If somebody offers you his service, you should be able to pay him his due. Even if you have to downsize to meet your challenges, I think it is turbulent for anyone to put a station on the air and not be able to pay salaries.
I will not want to get involved in any situation like that. I donâ€™t think my conscience will be able to bear that. Look at me, few years after I joined WNTV, we were all promoted and we were all given cars. I will not be happy if I employ someone and not be able to give him some of these.
My conscience will kill me. Even after they gave us houses, cars, our salaries were doubled, tripled, quadrupled over the years, maybe more than double what people of the same qualification in the civil service were getting. But things later got streamlined in the civil service.
Everybody on the same level, broadcasting or not now get the same pay and that has stagnated broadcasting. People left broadcasting for greener pastures. It was only those of us who were dedicated that stayed in the job. That is why getting the Genesis Awards means a lot to me. It is equivalent to national honours. Not many of us veterans have been nominated for national honours.
Itâ€™s only those in drama, who were not even staff of NTA that got nominated. But there were dedicated people who worked 24 hours and were doing different things. I read news, presented programmes, even childrenâ€™s programmes; was continuity announcer, commentator, producer, just name it. We were trained for all round broadcasting. We gave all our time, all our lives to broadcasting. But they recognised actors, not broadcasters.
It was only Segun Olusola that was given a national honour. He was the first person to be employed as a staff of NTA and he put in so many years. He was the creator of Village Headmaster and so, his getting the national honour was deserving.
But how come veterans like you didnâ€™t get the national honour?
Itâ€™s not even too late for that. But you find that those who ought to nominate others nominate themselves instead. They do trade by barter, â€˜okay, you nominate me, I nominate you.â€™ thatâ€™s how they do it. Then, they forget all those people who truly deserve the award.
All those who were given national awards, none of them has put in thirty years before they got the awards. So, at the Genesis Awards, I said to everybody, let us consider this as our own national awards. It was even given to us by a government organisation.
So, whether they are representing the government or not, they should let the government know that they have given us these awards and if they donâ€™t give us again, weâ€™re not really missing anything.
But really, I think the government should at least single out the first person to appear on TV, Abike Agbaje-Williams and say, okay, you come and collect the national honour. We have given so much of our lives to broadcasting here in Nigeria and abroad.
We have attended seminars, conferences abroad, our programmes are being sent to other countries. I wrote a book after 30 years in broadcasting. It was made a text-book for journalism students in East-Africa. It was being used in training schools so that they can learn how TV was being run.