Meet Julie Coker, Nigeria’s queen of beauty and broadcasting


In an era where physical attractiveness has been substantially divorced from competence, social commitment and hard work, the life of the ageless Julie Coker, Yeye Eto of Lagos, is a testimony to the happy coincidence of beauty and brains, as well as the determination to succeed.

Julie Coker, a former television journalist and broadcaster was a familiar face in television broadcasting in Nigeria during the early days of the industry.

Born in 1940 to Egba and Itsekiri parents, She grew up in Lagos with her mother and step-father and attended St Mary’s Convent primary school, founded by Catholic missionaries and managed by nuns of Our Lady of Apostles.

At school, Julie found interest in the choir and performance art, an interest that was nurtured by the nuns. She later gained admission into Holy Child College. When she was fourteen years old, her mother fell sick and went to her village to recuperate, Coker stayed with her step-father’s family who lived in a communal compound. But after a year, without a letter or note from her mother, she risked the waterways and strangers to go and search for her in the Sapele area of present Delta State. Coker spoke Yoruba and Itsekiri, the language of her maternal family When she landed in Sapele, she talked with strangers to describe what she knew about her mum’s village and by nightfall, someone was able to assist and get her to her grandmother’s place.

A few days later and after much apprehension, she was taken to see her mother who was quite ill. She stayed with her until she was fairly strong. When she was ready to return to school, her mother had expended her savings. Coker asked family members for school fees but she could obtain the full payment. It was at this point in her life, her great aunt’s tricked her into an early teenage marriage. She was briefly in the man’s house until she escaped with the help of her aunt to Lagos. In Lagos, she earned a scholarship to continue at Holy Child College.

In 1957, she represented her school in a festival of arts that was featured in the Daily Times Newspaper. After she left secondary studies, Coker began teaching at a convent in Warri, it was during this period she noticed as an advertisement for a Miss Western Nigeria competition. Coker entered and won the competition in 1958, that same year, she was a runner-up at the Miss Nigeria contest.

Coker’s uncle, Justice Ighodaro was well connected with many administrators in the Western region, when Coker wanted to work in broadcasting, he was able to get her an audience with a T.V. station manager.

In 1959, she became part of the team of WNTV, where she initially worked as a receptionist but when Anike Agbaje-Williams was pregnant and wanted to go on maternal leave Coker was brought in as a replacement and soon became one of the earliest well-known television broadcasters in Nigeria thus beginning a 30-year career that saw her become one of the best-known personalities in Nigeria.

Coker was the second female announcer but unlike Anike Agbaje-Williams who worked as producer and programme director, Coker had a long career as a familiar face seen on t.v. broadcasts working as a continuity announcer, producer and host of magazine shows and children’s programmes, programme coordinator for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), an instructor at the Television College in Jos, Ms Coker enjoyed one of the most comprehensive careers in broadcasting than any other Nigerian.

Her work in broadcasting and the arts did not dampen her commitment to social progress, however, inspired by the tragic death of her son Richard from sickle-cell anaemia, she established the Richard Coker Foundation in 2004 to help spread awareness of the disease and the options for its management.

Positioned as she was for decades at the nexus of beauty, fashion and broadcasting, Ms Coker’s influence on generations of young Nigerian women and girls cannot be underestimated. She has demonstrated that looks alone are not enough to achieve recognition in one’s chosen career; hard work and commitment are just as important.

These virtues are all the more important as the country’s beauty, fashion, broadcasting and film industries are set to expand exponentially in the near future. Those who are seeking careers in these fields must avoid the temptation to cut corners if they hope to reach the heights Ms Coker has attained.

Like her, they must be prepared to overcome life’s obstacles. Apart from the tragedy of losing a son, she has had to escape a forced marriage in order to continue her education. Her mother’s serious illness almost truncated her educational career. If she was able to overcome these difficulties, there is no reason why today’s broadcast hopefuls cannot do the same.

Ms Coker’s pioneering, path-breaking career has demonstrated that nothing is impossible if one is determined to achieve one’s goals in life. May she continue to inspire her compatriots for many more years to come.


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