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Remembering Timawus Mathias

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By Professor Umaru Pate

Once again, the broadcast industry in Nigeria has lost a quintessential model and one of its finest television producers and media managers of his generation. I am talking about Chief Timawus Mathias who passed away on Friday, September 9, 2022, in Yola at the age of 74. His death is a collective loss for the media industry and indeed, Nigeria. 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

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, the Institute of Journalism in Budapest, Hungary and the Nigerian Television College in addition to dozens of short-term capacity enhancement exercises. With a dint of hard work and fervent professional competence that excited his audience, 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. Today, his imprints on the media landscape of the country are many. They are easily distinguishable by the unique stamp of Mathias’s quality and ethical orientation.

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At each of the places he served, Timawus Mathias left a niche that uplifted his name. At Radio Television Kaduna in the 70s, he excelled as a producer of children’s programmes and news anchor. Later in the NTA Network, 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 the viewers. Severally, he accompanied late President Shehu Shagari to major capitals of the world from where he reported to the admiration 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 was 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. 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. The station won numerous national and international prizes and recognitions for various programmes produced under his watch. 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”.

Some of us that got admitted to the Universities were allowed to continue to work as artists in the station with robust pays. Though, I started my engagement in the station before my admission in the University, Uncle Tim as we called him, allowed me to continue to work in the newsroom as an artist each time we were on holiday throughout my University days and even offered me employment after graduation. That experience helped to shape my interest in journalism from the earlier days till date. 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 our 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.

In his business engagements through his two companies, Team Charade and Quest Media, Chief Mathias handled many important assignments for the defunct PTF, BPE, state governments and national and international agencies and institutions. Let me recall one or two of his projects 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, too, 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 downtrodden; 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.

Uncle Tim’s dynamism in quickly imbibing the emerging information and communication technologies with his mastery of the computer and active use of social media at his advanced age was indeed impressive. He saw the opportunities on 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 developed large followership of young people on various platforms. He 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, truth, and wisdom that his columns became essential reads 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. He worked hard to ensure the peace and prosperity of his community as well as its positive relations with other ethnic groups. I can remember his personal efforts to reconcile the people of his community 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 are aware of Uncle Tim’s philanthropic gestures. I can confirm that 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.

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. They should be comforted that Chief Timawu Mathias lived and died in honour with many positive attributes attached to his name. His demise is a collective loss for us. Surely, the broadcast industry and Nigeria will miss him. Adieu, Uncle Tim.

Professor Umaru Pate is the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe.

Umaru A. Pate writes from Federal University, Kashere,Gombe

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