Remembering Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari


Hassan M. Hussein

Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari at the time of January 15th 1966 coup was the commander of 2nd Brigade in Lagos and the highest ranking Nigerian military officer of Northern origin. He was callously and cold-bloodedly assassinated by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna one of the leaders and executioners of that coup. It was a coup that shaped Nigeriaís political destiny like no other.

On the night of Jan 14th 1966 many senior army officers were attending a party in the honor of Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari who had remarried, his first wife had been shot dead in a bizarre accident involving a hunting rifle. The party was attended by the coup plotters themselves and most senior officers based in Lagos. In the  January 15th coup that overthrew the civilian Government, Northern political ( Sir Ahmadu Bello , Sir Abubakar Balewa, Ahmed Ben Musa.) and military leaders (Maimalari, Pam, Kur, and Largema) were murdered by Igbo officers. That means all military officers but one (Gowon), of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above of Northern origin, were eliminated.

Zakaria Abubakar Hassan Maimalari was born on 17th January, 1930 in Maimalari village of the present day Yobe state. He was an alumnus of famous Barewa College Zaria. Zakaria Maimalari and Umar Lawal, along with the late king of Marocco and a Ghanian Charles Bual are the first Africans to ever attended and successfully passed out of the world famous Royal Military academy Sandhurst in United Kingdom.  As an officer in the army, he attended many professional courses and trainings in England and Pakistan.

Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari was a charismatic, influential, disciplinarian, and intimidating character who would not tolerate any disobedience or disloyalty. He feared nobody and exacted discipline from all his subordinates .He was widely respected within the army, especially among the Northern soldiers who viewed him a role model .It took him eight years to become a major , but after that only two years to reach the rank of brigadier ( a promotion of three ranks) and found himself commanding an entire brigade . The only officers of equal rank to him were Ironsi and Ademulegun. He trained and motivated some of the top ranking officers of the Nigerian army.

 Major General Johnson Aguyi Ironsi emerged as the chief of state of the provisional military government on January 16th 1966. Ironsi did not publicly  explained the circumstances of the January coup or the events that led him to assume power to Nigerians .Some of the units whose commanders were killed in the January coup received no formal announcement about the fate of their former commanders . It seemed as if the dead officers simply vanished into thin air and were replaced by new commanding officers without any explanations to what happened to them. A riot almost broke out when an attempt was made to remove Brigadier Maimalariís name from notices at the 2nd brigade headquarters in Lagos. Many soldiers believed that he is still alive. A heroic mythology grew around his character.  

The murder of Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari in particular caused grief and anger among Northern soldiers, they felt it a duty to avenge the death of their colleagues murdered in January .The volatile situation in the Nigerian army was not helped by Ironsiís decision not to court Ėmartial the executors of the coup.

The Northern officers resolved to strike. The de factor leader and coordinator of the revenge coup was the inspector of signal Lt-Colonel Murtala Mohammed .On 29th of July NorthernĖbacked army officers staged a counter coup, assassinated Ironsi and replaced him with Gowon. The coup was followed by massacre of thousands of Igbos in the Northern cities.

Exactly one week after Zakaria Maimalariís assassination, Murtala Mohammed was blessed with his first baby boy. He named the boy Zakaria, in the memory of the officer he so much respected. A military barrack in Maiduguri, a major street in Abuja and a lot of governmentís structures and facilities all over the country had been named after him. Some decades after Brigadier Zakaria Maimalariís death, his son Lt-Colonel Abubakar Sadiq Maimalari became the last military Governor of Jigawa State from 1998-1999.

He was a holder of the campaign star medal, medal forces service star, Queen   Elizabethís the 2nd coronation medal and United Nationís Congo medal.


Excerpt on How Zakaria Maimalari was assassinated (Source: SPECIAL BRANCH REPORT: "Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966")



53. The assassination of Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari as originally conceived in the conspirators Master plan failed.


54. Major DO Okafor and Captain Oji were present at HQ 2 Bde when troops were being mustered and issued with arms and ammunition. When these arrangements had been completed these two officers entered Major Okafor's personal car accompanied by the following ORs from No. 1.


Signal Squadron:


NA 500611     L/Cpl B Okotto


NA  18150074  L/Cpl  P Esekwe


55. They drove direct to the Federal Guard Unit in Dodan Barracks, Ikoyi, where, in the meantime, Lt. Ezedigbo and 2/Lt. Igweze had roused additional troops and arranged for the issue  of arms and ammunition. By the time the troops were ready for the alleged IS operations, Major Okafor and Captain Oji had arrived at the barracks and were at the Unit guardroom. Major Okafor ordered that troops mount into 2 Federal Guard Landrovers detailed for the operation by Ezedigbo


56. Federal Guard personnel detailed for this operation were the following:


NA 3785      Sgt. SA Umch


NA 18150997  Sgt.  N. Ibundu


NA 18149870  L/Cpl N. Noji


NA 3995      L/Cpl HH Okeke


NA 18149870  L/Cpl P. Nnah


NA 1706      Pte.  J. Ogu


NA 18149723  Pte.  S. Eke


NA 18141571  Pte.  I. Onoja


NA 18148787  Pte.  JF Enunehe


NA 18149970  Pte.  J  Abaye


NA 3695      Pte.  CS Dede


NA 18151261  Pte.  S. Adekunle


57. The following vehicles were used:


Landrover NA 773 - driven by Pte. I Onoja


Landrover NA 957 - driven by L/Cpl N. Noji


58. The party drove direct to the house of Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari at 11 Thompson Avenue, Ikoyi.  This is a corner house and situated at the point where Brown road runs into Thompson Avenue.  On arrival at their destination, the troops were dismounted and divided into three sections commanded as shown:


No. 1 Section - Captain Oji


No. 2 Section - 2/Lt C Igweze


No. 3 Section - Sgt. SA Umch (in reserve)


59. The reserve section under Sgt. Umch was ordered to take post in a dark place opposite the house.  The three officers, followed by their men then entered the compound which was guarded by NCOs and men of the 2 Battalion NA.  Major Okafor ordered the Sentry to call the Guard Commander whom he informed that the situation was bad and that he, Okafor, had come to take over the guard. He instructed the Guard Commander to assemble his men and to take them back to his unit.  The Guard Commander, according to some of the ORs interrogated, replied that he could not obey this order as he had received no instructions to that effect.  Major Okafor and Captain Oji overruled the Guard Commander's objections and entered the compound


60. Whilst Major Okafor was pre-occupied with the guard the telephone in the downstairs lounge of the Brigadier's house started to ring.  Some of the men present, including 2/Lt. Igweze, have stated that the Brigadier came downstairs to answer the telephone. No sooner had he picked up the receiver than a burst of SMG fire was heard in the compound.  This was Captain Oji firing at a member of the Brigadier's Guard, a L/Cpl of 2 battalion.  The L/Cpl was killed and his body later placed into Major Okafor's Landrover.  At the same time, L/Cpl Paul Nwekwe of 2 Brigade Signal Troop who was on gaurd in the front of the main gate to the compound, was hit in the neck by a bullet, thought to be a richochet.


61. Brigadier Mai-Malari, alerted to the presence of Major Okafor's force in his compound by Captain Oji's burst of fire dropped the telephone and, followed by his wife, was observed running into the boy's quarters.  From there he escaped into the road, and it is thought, tried to make his way to the Federal Guard Barracks.


62. According to the ORs interrogated, Major Okafor flew into a rage when he discovered that the Brigadier had escaped and bitterly blamed the men of the Federal Guard for not shooting the Brigadier when they saw him running towards the boy's quarters.  He then ordered all present that the Brigadier must be shot on sight.


63. Major Okafor then jumped into the landrover driven by L/Cpl Noji.  He informed 2/Lt Igweze that he was going to get "that man" and to arrange for more troops to come to the Brigadier's House.  He drove around the area for some time but failed to find the Brigadier.  By the time he returned to 11 Thompson Avenue, Major Ademoyega and Captain Adeleke had arrived there in a landrover driven by L/Cpl D. Omeru.  Major Ademoyega had already informed Captain Oji that the Brigadier had been killed and that he had seen his body at the Federal Guard.  Captain Oji was overheard telling Okafor that "the Jack had been killed".  It is presumed that by "the Jack" Oji meant the Brigadier. Major Okafor then informed the troops with him that Brigadier Mai-Malari had been killed by men from another unit.


64. The time, by then, was nearly 0400 hrs.  captain Oji was ordered by Major Okafor to proceed to 2nd Battalion in Ikeja to check the situation there.  The Captain left in landrover NA 773 accompanied by Sgt. H. Irundu, L/Cpl H Okeke, Pte. S. Adekunle and Pte. I Onoja.


65. As stated elsewhere in this report, Major Ifeajuna and his convoy, after the abduction of the PM and the Finance Minister, drove towards the Federal Guards Officers mess where he made a brief stop and then proceeded toward Ikoyi Hotel, still with the PM in the car.  At a point in the Golf course, adjacent to a petrol station Brigadier Mai-Malari was walking towards Dodan Barracks when he saw Major Ifeajuna's car.  The Brigadier recognized his Brigade Major Ifeajuna and shouted and beckoned him to stop. Then Ifeajuna stopped the car and accompanied by 2/Lt Ezedigbo went towards Brig. Mai-Malari and killed him.


66. After the Brigadier had been killed, his body was loaded into the 3-Tonner and driven to the Federal Guard Officers' Mess. (Source: SPECIAL BRANCH REPORT: "Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966")