1966 Coup: How Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari was murdered by his Chief Of Staff, by Dr Mohammed Gujbawu

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Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari
Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari

“Yakubu, Yakubu, who are those shooting in your house?” Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, Commander of the 2nd Brigade, Lagos, screamed into the phone. His phone had been ringing and he had just woken up to pick it at his 11, Thompson Avenue, Ikoyi, home in Lagos around 2am. It was Lt.Col. James Yakubu Pam, the Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army, calling to report some shootings in his compound and that some soldiers had gained forceful entry into his bedroom to arrest him.

Maimalari had hardly spoken to Pam when he himself heard gunshots at his own gate. Maimalari’s guard commander who adamantly denied the mutineers entrance, was killed.

Immediately Maimalari heard the gunshots, he dropped the phone, ran upstairs to pick up his 15-year old wife and kept her at the boy’s quarters. He scaled the tall fence and disappeared into the darkness.

Major Donatus Okafor, the officer commanding the Federal Guards, was tasked with the assassination of Maimalari. It was important He was cold-dead if their Revolution was to succeed. As Commander of the Southern Brigade, Mai-Malari had under him all the fighting forces of the battalions, the field artillery corps, the armoured and mechanized squads. He could effectively mobilize the entire brigade even if the country was suddenly attacked by a neighbouring army.

The aim of the January 15, 1966 coup plotters was to kill all senior officers that could impede their Revolution and abduct the ruling politicians in the country.

Maimalari’s Chief of Staff and leader of the Revolution, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, had used forged orders in Maimalari’s name to invite all the battalion commanders for a 3-day Brigade Training Conference in Lagos for easy assassination. To ensure that these commanders did not travel back to their stations when the conference finished by 2pm on 14 January, Ifeajuna persuaded Him to hold a small cocktail in his house to be attended by the brigade hierarchy. It was financed with brigade funds withdrawn in the name of Mai-Malari.

When Okafor realized Maimalari had fled the house, he became very angry. He ordered his men to comb the compound and shoot the Brigadier on sight. He was not to be given any chance to surrender. Without Maimalari dead, they were doomed. They knew their actions were high treason which carries the death penalty. Therefore, they had to be successful or die trying.

Okafor, like other officers, joined the Revolution because he wanted to free Nigeria from corruption and indiscipline of politicians. But in December 1965, he was found guilty of stealing his subordinates’ funds. Okafor was afraid of being severely punished that he appealed to Brigadier Maimalari to help. Maimalari intervened and “cut tapes” that let Okafor off the hook.

Had Mai-Malari allowed army procedures to properly take its course, he would not have been in a position where he had to scale his own fence, hide in shrubs and flee from the man whom he thought he had saved from punishment.

Maimalari had been hiding and running, trying to make his way to the Federal Guards barracks in his pyjamas when he heard or saw the light of an oncoming vehicle. He ducked into the shrubs again thinking it might be Okafor and his men. Instead, he recognized the red Mercedes Benz and his famous brigade major cum Chief of Staff.

It was not immediately clear to Maimalari that Ifeajuna was part of the mutineers. Instead, He saw Ifeajuna as his hope and dashed for him. Ifeajuna slammed the brakes, stepped out with his SMG and sprayed his boss. The Brigadier fell, killed in cold blood on a cold morning by someone he trusted so much.

The history of Nigeria would have changed had Maimalari chose to move on foot to the barrack which was just 100 metres to where he had been shot by his Chief of Staff.

Zakariya Maimalari was born in a small town called Mai-Malari in Yobe Province on 2nd January 1932.

He attended Officer Cadet School, Eaton Hall, England from January – May 1951, attended Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst from August 1951 – February 1953, attended Staff College, Quetta, Pakistan from January – December 1961. He spoke five languages: English, Fulfulde, Hausa, Arabic and Kanuri. He enlisted in the army on 10th of July 1950 and on 5th February 1953, he became the 6th Nigerian commissioned into the army after Ugboma, Bassey, Aguiyi-Ironsi, Ademulegun and Ogundipe in that order.

Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari was survived by his parents, his fifteen-year old wife (whom he married just one month before his death in December 1965 in Kano, after the tragic death of his first wife, Mariamu) and two children, Abubakar, born 1961, Amina, born 1962. He was only 34.

#TheNationRemembers #GoneButNotForgotten #HistoryVille — Amah Jones

Maimalari is now in Yunusari Local Government of Yobe State.

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