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Unveiling Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari II

The book, ‘The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari’, written by Haruna Yahaya Poloma was unveiled last month at a colourful ceremony attended by former…

The book, ‘The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari’, written by Haruna Yahaya Poloma was unveiled last month at a colourful ceremony attended by former Heads of State, General Gowon and Obasanjo who were supported by a coterie of retired Generals who were contemporaries with Maimalari, as well as their civilian counterparts of that bygone era. To add poignancy to the occasion, it was reported that even those Generals that were visibly ailing could not stay away from paying their due respects to a beloved commander who was treacherously cut down at the prime of life 51 years ago, by officers whom he trained and mentored. At least one famous retired General was seen being helped into, and out of, the occasion.

The book which is a collection of interviews with officers who were in the army with Maimalari, as well as his civilian associates, documented and highlighted the human side of the military man. There were 45 interviews and all of them including the one with Captain Ben Gbulie who took active part in the conspiracy, extolled his virtues as a well-rounded and exceptional person. He was a model student both in Barewa College and as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst from where he was the first African (along with his colleague, Lawan Umar) to be granted the Queen’s Regular Combatant Commission as a Second-Lieutenant in 1953.

General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State, who chaired the occasion had memories of Maimalari as a mentor and motivator and had written in the forward of the book, “I first met the late Brigadier while I was a student at Barewa College in Zaria, 1950-53. He used to visit the school to talk to the students with the aim of encouraging them to join the Army as a career. His smart appearance, comportment, forthright manner, carriage and charisma were some of the lasting influences that motivated many of us to join the Army – – I remember the eventful day I finally made up my mind to choose the Army as a career.

 I went to the school principal to inform him about my latest decision. He was overjoyed because they all wanted me to go to the Army. My classmates had already departed for the pre-selection interview and I was not listed. Nevertheless the principal gave me a note to the recruiting officer and suggested that, as a good athlete, I ran to catch up with my mates at the depot. Half way there, I ran into Lieutenant/Captain Maimalari who was cycling in my direction. He was pleased and delighted to see me. He offered good advice and guidance when I told him about my decision to enlist”.     

Lt-General Salihu Ibrahim who joined the Army in 1956 and rose to become the Chief of Army Staff explained how Maimalari assisted him to get into the military. He said, “From those days, recruitment into the military was based on quotas. My father, who was from the North, was a serving soldier with the Battalion in Enugu where Maimalari was serving. Although we were from the northern region, my family was then staying in Enugu because my father was posted there as a soldier. Now, to be able to enlist into what was known as the Boys Company in Zaria, I was required to face the Army Selection Board. But, as an indigene of Northern Region, I was not eligible to face the board in Enugu because it was meant to select only candidates who were natives to the Eastern region. It was at that stage that the late Brigadier Maimalari intervened on my behalf and ensured that I was allowed to face the board in Enugu even though I was a native of Northern Nigeria. It was Maimalari’s intervention that made it possible for me to become a soldier”. 

Brigadier Maimalari was highly regarded as a consummate professional soldier. His pioneering colleagues including those he taught as boy soldiers and those he commanded in his brigade and even those soldiers that merely heard of him have been unanimous that he was a soldier’s soldier. Major-General David Jemibowen a former Military Governor of Western State and a 3rd Republic Minister of Police Affairs, first met him when he was deployed to the 2nd Brigade which was commanded by Maimalari which was then preparing to proceed to Congo for a United Nation’s mission. In his interview Jemibowen said, “My impression, immediately upon introduction to Zakariya Maimalari, was of a man who knew his onions. He had supreme confidence in himself, his abilities, and his work. He was a very great professional. Now, many Nigerians who know me will tell you that I do not call black white or white black. – – In comparison to his contemporaries and other officers of that era in the Army, Zakariya Maimalari was A1! He was A1! You don’t need to waste your time asking anybody! Take it from me: Zakariya Maimalari was A1! A1! A1! Zakariya Maimalari was a dashing officer! A dashing officer! He was a go-go officer, – – a no-nonsense officer”.

 Major General Ibrahim Haruna, a former GOC of 2nd Mechanised Infantry Division and former Minister of Information, was among the first set of students admitted to the Boys Company in the Nigerian Military School Zaria and he had vivid recollection of Maimalari. He said, “Maimalari stood out. He was forthright, well spoken, very articulate, and very smart. He, in particular, inspired us to look up to when we would eventually become officers. His knowledge was broad and he taught us what we came to know as right and wrong, militarily or otherwise. I fondly recall that Maimalari was the first officer who ever gave me command. As a boy-soldier, we had gone on a military exercise and were on a small tactical section attack. The rather bigger boys were fumbling. So, he called out: ‘Ibrahim, Ibrahim, take over the section and lead them into an attack!’ As a nervous young boy, I sprang up in line with the courage he inspired and took up the challenge, rightly or wrongly. That was how Maimalari moulded my character!”

His civilian colleagues that were interviewed for the book, Dr Musa Goni, Liman Ciroma, Ahmed Joda, Lawal Kaita, Tanko Yakasai, Aminu Alhassan Dantata and Yusuf Maitama Sule all extolled Maimalari’s virtues as a soldier. In fact Maitama Sule was billed to speak at the presentation of the book but died just a day earlier. Maitama Sule was a very close friend of Maimalari at Barewa College and out of it. In the interview he was quoted as saying, “From his days at college, Zakariya had charisma. He had courage. He had the potentials of a soldier. I was therefore not surprised when he joined the army. He had the guts.”

 Maimalari joined the Army, was trained and became an officer. Maitama Sule became a staff of the Kano Native Authority and later decided to join politics. They found themselves in Lagos where Maitama Sule was a parliamentarian and Federal Minister while Maimalari was commanding the 2nd Brigade. Naturally, their friendship blossomed. He recalled their very last day together: “I remember on that very day, we went and bought some cloth we wanted to sew against the Sallah festival. That was the cloth we were never to wear! The coup actually took place – – In fact, I gave his own piece of cloth to his wife after the disaster occurred”.

We shall return to the subject next week when we recall some hilarious moments boy-soldier (later, General) Emmanuel Abisoye had with Maimalari in Zaria in 1960 as well as how 2nd Lieutenant (later, General and now Emir of Gwandu) Muhammadu Jega reacted when he found a strange Brigadier sitting in his parlour in an Enugu barracks in 1965. Keep a date with this page. 


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