Last week, Nigerians awoke to the horrifying news of an army mutiny at Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State, where some soldiers reportedly shot at their GOC in protest against some grievances. The defence headquarters of the Nigerian military has since announced the redeployment of the GOC to an undisclosed location, and the constitution of a Board of Inquiry to investigate the mutiny.
But what that incident has also done, was to bring up the name of “Maimalari” to the fore of national attention and public consciousness. It has once again challenged our knowledge of history and capacity to recall the past: who was this Zakariya Maimalari after whom the Maiduguri Barrack is named? What do we know of him and what can we tell future generations about him? This brief essay attempts a modest contribution towards that objective.
Brigadier Zakariya Abubakar Hassan Maimalari was born on the 17th of January 1930 into the royal family of Maimalari, in Maimalari village of present day Yobe State, Nigeria. At the tender age of four, he began his educational career at Nguru elementary school, also in present day Yobe state. He completed his primary education at Borno Middle School, Maiduguri in April 1941. From there, he proceeded to Barewa College Zaria, where he obtained the Cambridge School Certificate in December 1947.
It was while at Barewa College Zaria, that the interest of the young Maimalari was first kindled on the army as a career by one of the school's principals. However, it was only upon completion of his secondary education and return to Maiduguri that he eventually actualized that ambition through the help of late Mallam Ibrahim Imam. Along with his childhood friend and schoolmate, Lawan Umar, they enlisted into the Royal West African Frontier Force (R.W.A.F.F.) Zaria, on the 10th March 1950.
About six months later, they went to the West African School of Infantry in Teshi, Ghana. From Ghana they left for the United Kingdom and continued training first at Eaton Hall, Chester, on the 9th January 1951 and subsequently at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. From the records I obtained from RMAS, it was indicated that Zakariya Maimalari was in Burma Company, course intake 10, which ran from September 1951 to February 1953. He was eventually commissioned 2nd Lieutenant (Subaltern) on the 16th February, 1953.
Therefore, Zakariya Maimalari and Lawan Umar, both of whom were from then Borno Province in what is today the north east geo-political zone of Nigeria, were the first four (4) Africans, along with late King Hassan of Morocco and a Ghanaian Charles Buah, ever to attend and successfully pass out of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS) in the United Kingdom. Lawan Umar was eventually forced to resign his commission from the Army, leaving Zakariya Maimalari as the first regular combatant Nigerian in the Officer Corps of the Army, in contrast to about twenty-eight or so other officers of his time who rose and were commissioned from the ranks.
As an officer in the Army, Maimalari attended many professional courses. They included the Platoon Weapons Course at the school of Infantry, Hythe, England. He attended the Regimental Signal Instructor's Course at School of Infantry Signal Wing, in September 1956. Between 14th January and 24th March 1957 he was in England for the Platoon Commander's course. He went for the Company Commander's course also at the School of Infantry, England, between 14th June and 7th August 1959. In 1961 he was at the Staff College in Quetta, Pakistan. He also attended the Royal College of Defense Studies, London from January to December 1964.
From 1957 - 1959, Zakariya Maimalari commanded the Officer Cadet training wing of what used to be known as the “Boys Company” in Zaria. It was in this capacity that he trained and motivated some of the top ranking Generals of the Nigerian Army, all of who are now either retired or dead today.
Maimalari also served as second in command and instructor at the Nigerian Military Training College (N.M.T.C.) Jaji, Kaduna. He commanded the Second Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Abeokuta between 1962 - 1963, and finally rose as a Brigadier to command the Second Brigade, Nigerian Army, Apapa, Lagos from 1963 - 1966. Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari was holder of the Campaign Stars Medal; Medal Forces Service Star; Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Coronation Medal and the United Nation's Congo Medal.
On the night of 15th January, 1966, Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari had hosted a party in his residence in Ikoyi. Later in the early hours of the following morning some of the very officers who had warmly fraternized with others at the party that same evening returned to his house and attacked the Brigadier under guise of staging a coup d’état. He was able to escape the initial attackers and exited through the backyard of the residence, only to fall into the hands of his own Brigade Major who it turned out was a part of the coupists. They shot him to death.
By Haruna Y. Poloma
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