Chief Dr. Jerome Tilley-Gyado was born in June 22 1915 and hailed from Ihugh village, Vandekiya County, Benue State Nigeria.
Chief Tilley-Gyado was to business in the Middle Belt what Joseph S. Tarka was to politics . Both men individually and separately changed the faces of business and politics in the whole of the Middle Belt. Both men equally dominated the entire Middle Belt business and politics for the better half of the Twentieth Century.
Notably, however, Tilley-Gyado who lived the longest and had the widest presence throughout Northern Nigeria, was also the most loved and respected of the two. Though both men were prime movers in the life of the North, Tilley-Gyado was by far the least controversial. By the time of his transition at the age of ninety-one, Tilley-Gyado had literally and figuratively stamped his footprints on the major roads and cities of Northern Nigeria.
Chief Tilley-Gyado became a businessman after he returned from fighting in the Second World War. He left Tivland to settle in the Northern city of Zaria. Then he moved to Kaduna, capital of the erstwhile Northern Region, to become the most influential pioneer distributor of the new Nigerian Tobacco Company. Thereafter, Tilley-Gyado relocated to Jos, capital of the old Benue-Plateau State, where his sprawling business diversified into real estate acquisition, cement, breweries and road construction. The roads and streets of Northern state capital cities of Makurdi, Jos, and Katsina were mostly built by Tilley-Gyado construction companies. Tilley-Gyado companies also built many of the federal government schools and military barracks in Northern Nigeria.
Much later in his adventurously long life Tilley-Gyado left Jos to become a pioneer landowner and founding investor and real estate developer in Nigeria's new federal capital, Abuja - Africa's fastest growing urban city.
In fact, Chief Tilley-Gyado himself even at the advanced age of ninety-one had just finished revamping the Jos urban roads, and was actively working on the Katsina State roads when he took ill with the terminal cancer that led to his eventual demise. His companies had over two thousand employees, which included Nigerians and non-Nigerians.
As a leading financier of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party in the North, Tilley-Gyado was reputably the godfather of Middle Belt politics. He reportedly financed the elections of many of the parties' state governors, as well as federal and state parliamentarians across the Middle Belt and beyond. In a vastly bloodied Northern Nigeria perennially riled by ethnic and fundamentalist religious violence, and in an institutionally impoverished country where the life president's wife died on an alien table of liposuction, Tilley-Gyado was about the one consistently cheerful face of physical and structural reconstruction for upwards of sixty years. For his massive contributions to the development of business, education, and politics in Northern Nigeria, the University of Jos awarded a deserving honorary Doctor of Letters to Chief Tilley-Gyado in 1989. The federal government of Nigeria further honored Tilley-Gyado's philanthropic spirit with an award of the Office of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2002.
Tilley-Gyado's expansive accomplishments in the world of business have tended to elide his biological productivity. Chief Tilley-Gyado was married to three wives, the first two of whom were long deceased. He had twelve children, two sons and ten daughters. Jacob, son of Jerome and Princess Nyiwo Yough of Vandeikiya. Jacob, popularly called Jack is today at the head of the family business and was a Second Republic federal senator. Joseph is also in the family business .
In conservative Nigeria where affluent families often restrict inter-ethnic intimacies, Tilley-Gyado demonstrated his radical patriotism by giving his daughters into marriages across multi-ethnic lines. It is instructive that his two younger daughters, Monica and Patience, got married to Southeastern Nigerian Bekwarra (in Cross River State) and Igbo men respectively.
The life of the legendary "rich man" who always rode in the front of his own cars with his chauffeurs shall persist in public consciousness for his enviable philanthropy to his Tiv people, his unparalleled devotion to his surviving wife, children, and grandchildren, his patriotic commitment to the multi-ethnic idea of Nigeria, his legendary Christian humility, and especially his grand love of life and earthly transformation.
Chief Dr Jerome Tilley-Gyado passed on at the Jos University Teaching Hospital on the morning of Thursday, March 23, 2006.