When I first set foot on Yola in 1980, the list of professional journalists in the town was very short; so short you could script all on the backside of a post office stamp. I joined the short list as a cub reporter for Nigeria’s lone news agency – NAN.
Towering above all of us even in physical height was a tall, huge, handsome man. He was a dapper dresser and loved sleek Honda cars. He was a bundle of talents. At a moment he was out there in the field as a reporter, at another, he was reading the news as a news caster at the local NTA station and then you also saw him play the guitar or some other musical instruments during the weekend entertainment segment of the station. Call him a role model if you care.
They called this man Timawus Mathias.
He was part of the team that set up the television station known as NTA Yola. At the time of my arrival in Yola, he was a principal officer, I think. Those of us just signing up then all wanted to be like him.
Gifted with unlimited humor, we often shared jokes at the Yola Club or he came down from his high horse to split drinks with us at the decrepit press centre in Jimeta, Yola. Personally, it was through him I had an inroad into the Bachama nation. We often drove down to Numan at weekends. At first it was fun. I found the Bachama to be one of the most free spirited, friendly, civilized and cosmopolitan group you can find anywhere in Nigeria. Timawus himself is a typical Bachama man. He believes in Christ but he has an endless chain of Muslim friends. Engage him in an argument about Islam and he will quote the Quran and Hadith for you. His wife is an Ibo lady.
As a free young man, I was soon no longer interested in following him to Numan again. All the young “available” girls in Numan called him “Uncle Tima”. As long as I was in his company, there was no deal. The way out was to avoid going to Numan with him, switch camp and join the “Uncle Tima” choir group; I called and still call him “Uncle
Tima”. I have been in good business in Numan since this new discovery.
In the days of Governor Abubakar Barde he was brought over from NTA to be the Director of Information for Gongola State. It did not last long. His talents soon saw him climbing to greater heights at the headquarters of the NTA in Lagos. Those of us who have followed his career can say that he was at his professional best at this point.
As the anchorman for the Verdict 83 political programme, his performance was simply excellent. Working with Patrick Ityohegh, Emeka Maduegbuna and Walter Ofonagoro, they pioneered the ‘on the spot live reporting’ that was later aped and popularized by the CNN. It was invented in Nigeria by Timawus and co at NTA. The CNN merely copied them.
Tragically, when the military came to power at the end of 1983, they disbanded the set up. Instead of encouraging the initiators of what was by all standards an excellent pace setter programme, some of the initiators were kicked out of the NTA. Timawus was already the General Manager of NTA Yola after the 1983 elections so he was saved the massive purge which caught up with his colleagues who were still in Lagos and subjects of scurrilous media and military onslaught.
He later retired voluntary. Since then, he has deployed his talents to news reporting, media consultancy and television programming. He played an immodest role in setting up the Jigawa State owned television station and a private radio station in Gombe. A professional broadcaster, his transition into the print media as a feature writer and columnist is amazingly seamless. And he is now giving the young generation a good run for their money with his inevitable daily contributions in the social media.
But his Biblical three score and ten years on earth have not been a life of roses as I have portrayed. Uncle Tima has been beset by a set of mishaps especially after retirement that could shatter anybody. First was the death of his first child – the lovely, intelligent and hardworking daughter – Altine. A graduate of ABU Zaria, she was married to a young man from the Plateau with one child. Suddenly and without warning, she died.
Uncle Tima picked the son and the duo became very close before he, just like the mother, without any serious sickness dropped dead one day. Next was the death of his immediate senior brother, Chief Mathias; the man we used to call “Abiola” in those days when he had so much money that we thought it was without limit. By the time we met after the brothers’ death, it was apparent that the serial misfortunes were taking their toll. There was every sign of a partial stroke on his face.
But a bigger disaster was waiting in the wings. In 2010, he was on his way back to Yola from Abuja when a reckless man, driving a truck loaded with cattle at a suicidal speed decided to use the Mercedes salon car in which Uncle Tima was travelling as a speed breaker. His driver was killed on the spot. Bibi, his last born who was also in the car escaped without a scratch. Anybody who sees the wreck of the Mercedes will not believe that somebody ever came out of it alive.
I was at Bima Orthopedic Hospital in Jos soon after the accident to see how he was coping with yet another tragedy. He was in bed with one broken arm and one broken leg. His broken leg was strapped to his bed and he was made to lie with his head pinned down and his legs raised; not a very comfortable position for a man of his size. But it was good news that I found my role model alive and kicking. Good old Uncle Tima had his humour intact even in that precarious and uncomfortable situation. He still maintained his weekly column with the Trust newspapers.
Timawus Mathias is a journalist who has contributed greatly to the development of his profession, his home state and the Nation. His Bachama ethnic group has recognized his contributions by naming him Nzobyalata, literary meaning he who speaks the Kings wish and commands.
At 70, he deserves better recognition from a country he has served very selflessly.