By Umaru A. Pate
It is a great honour and privilege for me to address this gathering to commemorate the life and time of Chief Timawus Mathias, a quintessential model and one of the finest television producers and media managers in the country. He passed away on Friday, September 9, 2022 in Yola at the age of 74.
I thank the organisers, namely, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Adamawa State chapter for involving me and giving me the honour of being the Guest Speaker at this very important and heart touching gathering. It is a responsibility that I did not take for granted.
Like all mortals with frailties, Timawus Mathias popularly called Uncle Tim lived a glittering life with credible success, and; when his time came, he bowed in honour and took his eternal exit. In life, he was dutiful, thoughtful, insightful, faithful, prayerful, thankful and truthful.
Thus, writing about such a fellow can be a challenging task for someone like me. From where can I start talking about Uncle Tim, the media legend that excelled at home and abroad as a star broadcaster of outstanding talent and phenomenal versatility? He was an uncle to many, caring husband to Betty, beloved father to his children, a kind brother to countless people and a leader, mentor, and motivator to thousands.
Till his last breath, Chief Mathias remained a passionate broadcaster of integrity who believed in quality production, good taste and courageous and compassionate broadcasting. Through the media, he contributed enormously to disseminating knowledge and to helping Nigerians to know and to understand each other and to informing the rest of the world about Nigeria.
He was a multi-talented fellow who outpaced as a journalist, educator, guitarist, writer and an advocate.
Normal course of events, and interesting coincidences in my chosen career helped to give me greater than usual access to Chief Mathias and enabled me to understand and appreciate him better. Before meeting me, Uncle Tim knew my father who worked in Numan in the late1950s into the1960s while he grew up. They stayed in the same ward in Numan. The bond of the relationship and respect he had for my father was extended to me later in life. Such was the root of my linkage with Uncle Tim, thus, by the first time I met him at NTA Yola in 1982, it was easy for him to relate and accept me as a brother. He often spoke to me in his own brand of Fulfulde.
Therefore, it should be understandable, if I say that with his demise, I have lost a former manager, mentor, advisor and supporter who believed and trusted in my potential and capacity. At different stages of my life and career, he had remained a pillar of support till the end of his life. He was a charismatically refined fellow that had invested huge confidence in my professional promise much early in life. I am glad, I did not disappoint him till we parted.
Timawus Mathias was a born broadcaster who joined the Radio Television Kaduna (RTK) after a short stint at the Radio Voice of the Gospel in the late 1960s and 70s. He attended primary and secondary schools in Numan and Yola and received his professional trainings from the BBC Training School in London, Institute of Journalism in Budapest, Hungary and the Nigerian Television College, Jos, in addition to dozens of short term capacity enhancement exercises. With dint of hard work and passionate professional competence, he rose through the ranks from RTK through the NTA Network News Department to become the General Manager of NTA Yola and the acting Managing Director of NTA Zone E in Maiduguri.
He retired in 1991 to establish his media business which prospered satisfactorily with significant interest in production, publishing, training, media entrepreneurship and consultancy services and events management, among others. His services excelled with national visibility and international linkages. He gladly empowered many, in words, pictures and deeds. Today, his imprints on the media landscape of the country are many. They are easily distinguishable by the unique stamp of the Mathias quality and ethical orientation.
At each of the places he served, Timawus Mathias left a niche that uplifted his name. In the newsrooms, he stood out as an astute, skilful and impactful reporter. At Radio Television Kaduna in the 70s, he excelled as a producer of children’s programmes and news anchor. Later in the NTA Network Newsroom, he shined as a foreign correspondent who reported with confidence, candour and courage delivered in a gifted voice and commanding language that informed and excited Nigerians. Severally, he accompanied late President Shehu Shagari to major capitals of the world from where he reported to the admiration and appreciation of Nigerians. His peak at the NTA came with the Authority’s first 24 hour broadcast during the 1983 general elections christened Verdict 83. That outing brought out the best in late Mathias. His mastery of television broadcasting manifested as he thrilled Nigerians with reports on the election. Verdict 83 crowned his rise to stardom in Nigerian television broadcasting. Shortly after, he was posted to NTA Yola as the General Manager in late 1983.
His performance in NTA Yola over seven years were the golden years of the station. Little wonder that the station was named Timawus Mathias House before his death on the approval of Alhaji Yakubu Ibn Mohammed, the then DG. I can recall vividly the role Uncle Tim played in convincing the then Governor Bamanga Tukur of Gongola State to donate the current studios of the NTA to the Authority. Initially, the structure was constructed as the studios of the Gongola Television, now ATV by Governor Abubakar Barde. Equally, Chief Mathias played a significant role in the installation of the 10 Kilowatt Transmitter for the station along the Jimeta-Numan Road. That transmitter widened the coverage of the station to many Local Government Areas in the state and beyond.
At NTA Yola, he earned and accumulated trust for the station by being consistently truthful and contextually relevant to the host community. He led by example as a news and current affairs professional who edited and read the news, wrote scripts, produced and presented documentaries and actively involved himself in state and community affairs. His documentaries were always delightful to watch because of their quality, richness in information and style and manner of presentation. He was uniquely gifted in the art and science of documentary production and presentations. He was also lucky to have had an excellent crop of staff who were very creative, highly disciplined, exemplarily committed and visibly active. Under the leadership of Uncle Tim, the station won numerous national and international prizes and recognitions for various programmes. He often reminded us in the newsroom of what the War Correspondent of the BBC, Martin Bell could say: “it is better to be delayed and truthful than first and fastest and falsest with the news. You can take years to build a reputation for reliability and screw it up in just a couple of minutes”.
Yes, Uncle Tim led well, but, he also had some challenges with the labour unions in the late 80s when the NTA was in transition from full public to partially commercialized agency as prescribed in the privatization policy of the then government. That caused budgetary and systemic upsets for the Authority and resulted in staff restiveness and production recline. However, he had expertly and strategically navigated through the difficulties and settled many of the concerns of the workers without victimising the leaders or destabilising the system. Later when he retired, he still continued relating personally and professionally with most of the Unions leaders that gave him sleepless nights in the office. Indeed, you could say that he understood the dynamics of officialdom and essence of personal relationships in interpersonal interactions. Till the end, he had a cherished and esteemed friendship with most of them.
In those days, it was easy for the NTA to engage some of us as artists in the newsroom and programmes unit. As an A’Level student in the College of Preliminary Studies, Yola, I was lucky to be engaged in the newsroom as Fulfulde newscaster and an editorial assistant, occasionally engaged in the programmes unit. It was an exciting and rewarding experience that helped to shape my interest in journalism from the earlier days. In the course of time, I got admitted in the University of Maiduguri; yet, Uncle Tim allowed me to continue to work in the newsroom as an artist each time we were on holidays throughout my University days and even offered me employment after graduation.
Interestingly, too, he followed my progression in academic journalism and community engagements till four weeks to his death when we spoke last. He supported me as the Head of Mass Communication Department at the University of Maiduguri and when I served as the Dean of the Faculty of Communication in Bayero University, Kano, he came to deliver a Faculty lecture to the admiration of our students. Above all, he supported us as a Consultant to establish what is today Nigeria’s best Digital Campus Radio and Television stations in Bayero University, Kano. He played a very significant role in the history of the stations from conception to commissioning. Indeed, we shall remain eternally grateful for his priceless contribution in the process. He advised us well and ensured that we got value for the money invested.
It was easy for Uncle Tim to transit from the public to private services when he retired from the NTA in 1991. In his public service, he had built up tremendous goodwill and reputation in the public mind across the country as a shrewd and sharp professional with positive attitude in media work. He lived to reap from that investment in positive spirit while at the NTA in his business engagements through his two companies, Team Charade and Quest Media. His companies handled many important assignments for the defunct PTF, BPE, state governments, national and international agencies and institutions. Let me recall one or two projects he personally handled in Jigawa and Gombe States in which he involved me. In Jigawa State, the State Government under Governor Sule Lamido, on the recommendation of Uncle Tim, constituted a Committee of eminent broadcasters under Alhaji Ibrahim Mohammed (former DG of FRCN and NTA) with Professor Tonnie Iredia, Dr Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, Alh Adamu Kiyawa, Alh Ahmed Aminu and myself, among others, to supervise the construction of the current Jigawa Broadcasting complex as well as revitalise the management of the station. It was a very successful assignment that was expertly coordinated by Uncle Tim. Based on the Jigawa success, former Governor Dankwambo of Gombe State, invited Uncle Tim to invite us to study and advise the State on its broadcasting system. Again, we delivered as assigned.
He had produced more than 700 documentaries for many state governments and agencies including the NTA. For instance, even after retiring, the late DG of the NTA Patrick Ityohegh hired him to produce Dances of our Land and Voices and Visions of our cities. Again, his mastery of television production excelled in the episodes he produced. They appeared on the NTA for fairly a long time in the 1990s.
Uncle Tim was a great producer, an artist of no mean repute and a socialite of great sobriety and integrity. He was a man of moderation and tolerance that served as a bridge builder across boundaries: progressives and conservatives; elites and the down trodden; tradition and modernity; young and the elderly; north and south; Christianity and Islam; Bachama Federation and other ethnic nationalities; men and women; social groups and across disciplines and professions. You could find a trait of all in him. In addition to his native Bachama and English languages, Uncle Tim spoke French, Hausa and Fulfulde languages. He played music with ease; he entertained with melody and used music to advocate like a sage.
Uncle Tim’s dynamism in quickly imbibing the emerging information and communication technologies with his mastery of the computer and active use of the social media at his advanced age was indeed impressive. He did not resist the reality of the emerging technologies but perceptively saw the opportunities in the internet and trained himself to be at home with the computer; thus, he got vigorous on Whatsapp; active on Facebook; lively on twitter and always on point in his commentaries. He mainstreamed the new media technologies into his businesses and understood early enough that it was a situation of either you shape in or ship out. He opted to ship in. He developed a large followership of young people on various platforms and was never tired or angry for contrary views. Importantly, too, even though, he grew up as an accomplished broadcaster, his flexibility also showed in his ability to maintain weekly columns in the Daily Trust and Leadership newspapers for many years. That was no mean feat. It took interest, intellectual drive and committed passion and wisdom to maintain a lively weekly column in a newspaper especially for a busy businessman like him. He wrote with clarity, dexterity and wisdom that his columns became essential read for many of us.
In his community, Uncle Tim was honoured with a Chieftaincy title of Nzobyalata (Spokesperson) Hama Bachama by the Paramount Ruler of the Bachama Kingdom in Numan based on the recognition of his resourcefulness, helpfulness and goodness in the community. He worked hard to ensure the peace and prosperity of the Numan area as well as its positive relations with other ethnic groups. I can remember his personal efforts to reconcile the Numan people with some of their Fulani neighbours when they had episodic inter-ethnic conflicts few years ago. Today, there is peace in the area, courtesy of the intervention of elders like Chief Mathias. I pray that the peace is sustained as a worthy appreciation of that effort.
I am sure not many people may be aware of Uncle Tim’s philanthropic gestures. He did that quietly. I can confirm that he was a tireless kind-hearted man that epitomized compassion and championed fortitude. For instance, he had sponsored children and supported families of different religions and ethnicities, some were of his former staff, to schools and during periods of need. In fact, he gained University admissions for some of them through me.
I cannot end this presentation without mentioning that there are lessons to be learned from the life of Uncle Tim. In him, we could learn to be dutiful, thoughtful and tactful as well as helpful and useful in all our dealings. In moments of inevitable adversity like accidents and drawbacks, we should act with dignity and courage.
Finally, I wish to express my condolences to his immediate family, specifically, to Aunty Betty (his wife) and children, some of whom were my students and all his relatives. They have lost a dear husband, guardian and beloved father. They should be comforted that Chief Timawus Mathias lived and died in honour with many positive attributes attached to his name. His death is a collective loss for us. Surely, the broadcast industry and Nigeria will miss him. Farewell to a treasured professional, esteemed mentor and a charismatic gentleman. Adieu, Uncle Tim.
Pate is a professor of Media and Society. He is also the Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Kashare, Gombe State.