Day Nigerians converged in Abuja for first regular combatant, Maimalari
Recently at the Africa Hall of International Conference Centre Abuja was a convergence of prominent Nigerians from all walks of life. They include ex-Head of the State, General Yakubu Gowon, ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former Minister of Defence, General T.Y Danjuma (rtd), retired and serving military personnel, ministers, governors and others.
It was for the public presentation of a book titled: “The First Regular Combatant: Brigader Zakariya Maimalari” written by Haruna Yahaya Poloma. To many, the questions were; who was Maimalari and why did the book presentation attract large number of prominent Nigerians from different ethnic groups?
Answer to these questions were provided when the event kicked off at about 12:00pm with a welcome address by the Minister of Interior and chairman of the organising committee, Lt.General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd).
In his address, Dambazau said: “I have always known the subject of the book, Brigader Maimalari, to be a larger-than-life person in the history of the country. The turnout here today is a further signifier that even though, he passed on 51 years ago, his stature and appeal have continued to grow. Servicemen regard him as a soldier’s soldier and both people of privilege and the common citizens of this country see him as a model of competence and integrity.
“We, as members of the fraternity of arms, are ourselves flattered by the benign light in which Maimalari is regarded. And, as his ideological heirs, we have a duty to ensure that we continue to proclaim the goodness in him, not through vanity or arrogance, but to engender the emulation of the ordinary virtues of hardwork and commitment, which meant so much to him.
“Maimalari is indeed a hero. The manner in which he rose to public prominence from obscurity is an enduring tale of inspiration. His humble beginning from rural north eastern Nigeria, his struggle in an environment of limited opportunities; his diligence and hard work, his enlistment into the Army and transformation into a new world of European sophistication as an officer of African descent has got all features of an epic story.”
Also in his speech, the acting president Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented by the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, said: “Maimalari’s name is a familiar one and he is correctly noted as Nigeria’s pioneer combatant army officer. He is also amongst those who were killed in the unfortunate events of January 15, 1966.
“His significance extends beyond the manner of his demise for he was a professional of great worth and integrity; attributes uncommon these days. It is these qualities that ensured he stood head and shoulder above his time. He is an icon and national hero who deserves to be widely and more commonly acknowledged.
“Maimalari was killed at just 34 years of age, yet, considering the place in history he had forged for himself, he seems to be living for eternity. Every few years, the subject of Maimalari and his times comes to the fore of public discourse in Nigeria and beyond.”
To former Head of State and chairman of the book presentation, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the event is an important spotlight on a heroic figure in the country’s national history.
Gowon disclosed: “When I left school, a number of professional possibilities played in my mind, among them medicine, engineering and teaching. Even though the Army seemed very interesting, my decision to enlist came a bit late. I therefore needed to go the Depot in Zaria to clear things up. On my way, I met Maimalari, resplendent in his uniform and bicycle. He stopped, spoke to me and gave me hints as to what steps to take at the Depot.
“Maimalari, for me, was a favourable wind and there is sense in which I can say my enlistment profited from his support and approval. By the time I was commissioned, Maimalari was already a Major.
“In the following years that followed, he enjoyed steady professional advance and was even favourably mentioned as one of the likely successors to ultimate authority on the departure of the colonial masters. Many things happened and many things failed to happen. He was denied the ultimate prize and this denial produced widespread consternation. But life went on.
“However, our institutional paths crossed again in January 1966, when just 36 hours before his tragic death in the hands of those he loved. I was posted to take over as Battalion Commander, 2nd Battalion, Ikeja, under Maimalari’s Brigade.”
The reviewer of the Book and a retired major general, Senator Ike Nwachukwu simply described Maimalari as the unsung hero of the Nigerian military, who came, saw and conquered. He said Nigerian Army would have been different and better, had it been Maimalari was not killed.
Also speaking, ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said that it was in order to avoid the repeat of the 1966 military coup that made him to retire all military personnel who have occupied political offices before 1999.
Obasanjo condemned military incursion into politics. He described late Maimalari as an outstanding officer with impeccable character and absolute discipline. Maimalari, according to Obasanjo, was the Commander of his 5th Battalion that was put together as Nigeria’s first contingent that participated in the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Congo.
“He was a particularly good officer, who cared greatly about the welfare of his officers and men,” Obasanjo testified, adding: “The Nigerian Army would have been the better for it if he (Maimalari) had led the army.” He lamented the grievous harm the incursion into politics had caused the military and the nation. He said: “Many military officers who had been highly trained at enormous cost to the nation were cut off in the prime of their lives.”