A former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, has described the first regular combatant of the Nigerian Army, Zakariya Maimalari, as a courageous officer who wanted the best for the army and the country before he was killed during the first military coup.
He spoke on Tuesday in Abuja during the public presentation of a book on the late officer.
The 382-page book, entitled “The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari,” was written by Haruna Poloma.
Mr. Maimalari was one of the military officers killed on the night of January 15, 1966 during the coup that brought Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power.
A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, United Kingdom, Mr. Maimalari was until his death the Commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Lagos.
Mr. Gowon, a retired army general, who was Nigeria’s leader between July 1966 and July 1975, said Mr. Maimalari and Umar Lawal, who trained as regular combatants, were amongst the first Nigerians to be enlisted into the Nigerian Army.
He said the late officer wanted the best for the army and the country.
He said those who knew Mr. Maimalari would appreciate that he was not only outstanding but awesome, endowed and gentlemanly.
“Zakariya wanted the best for the army and for Nigeria and was a courageous, prestigious and humorous man who remained loyal to his profession before he was assassinated in the 1966 coup,” Mr. Gowon, who chaired the occasion, said.
“Those who know and are familiar with him will appreciate how outstanding, awesome and gentlemanly he was.”
The former head of state said the book was a brief but extraordinary account of Mr. Maimalari’s life and was “brought in such graphic and entertaining way and manner by personalities and dignitaries whose lives he touched.”
He urged Nigerians to buy the book in order to learn from the life of the late army officer, who he described as a “great man.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general, who served under Mr. Maimalari in the 60s, described the slain officer as a selfless man, who focused on the welfare of his soldiers of which he was a beneficiary.
He said though he did not know him when he was growing up and when he was in school, they both served in a battalion, which was sent on peace-keeping force in Congo.
Mr. Obasanjo, who was Nigeria’s military head of state between 1976 and 1979, said the army would not get over the death of Mr. Maimalari and that he would have been a head of state or president of the country if he were alive.
The acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented at the event by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, also extolled the virtues of the late military officer.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, who was one time chief of army staff, said the large turnout for the event was an indication that even though Mr. Maimalari died 51 years ago, he remained a hero while his legacy “lives on.”
The book reviewer, Ike Nwachukwu, a retired army general and former senator, said it documented Mr. Maimalari’s military career and achievements.
At the event, Mr. Maimalari’s granddaughter, Fatima, presented a poem in honour of the slain officer.
“It is usually asked – can you make an impression of someone you’ve never met? Well I have. I know I have never met my grandfather but I’ve read about him, how he was as a soldier, a friend, a father and a husband,” she said.