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Murtata, Maimalari and mystery of 13 – Emeka Obasi

Young Murtala Mohammed was barely 13 when  Cadet officer, Zakari Maimalari,  became part of Intake 10 of the Royal Military  Academy, Sandhurst, England in September, 1951. The former was at the famous Barewa College before joining the Army. The latter would later toe the same part.

Maimalari belonged to Burma Company and was commissioned Second Lieutenant on Febrauary 16, 1953 alongside compatriot, Lawan Umar, Prince Hassan, who later became King Hassan of Morocco and Charles Buah, from the Gold Coast[Ghana].

Murtala moved to Sandhurst in September 1959, as part of Intake 27. Some of his mates included Tim Onwuatuegwu, Mohammed Shuwa, Iliya Bisalla, Chris Anuforo and Ibrahim Haruna. They were commissioned in 1961.

Thirteen years after Maimalari was commissioned,  he was assassinated in Nigeria’s first military coup. The January 15, 1966 coup was led by the duo of Majors Emma Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Nzeogwu. Ifeajuna was Nigeria’s first Commonwealth gold medalist and loved so much by Maimalari, his Brigade commander.

On January 22, 1966, Murtala and wife Ajoke, were blessed with a baby boy. He was named Zakari, after the late Brigadier Maimalari. A Week earlier, the  one–star general had finished celebrating his new wife before he was gunned down. Haruna drove Lt.Col Abogo Largema to Ikoyi Hotel not knowing that Ifeajuna  and Anuforo had perfected plans to strike.

On February 13,1976, Murtala was murdered by troops led by Lt. Col Bukar Dimka of the Army Physical Training Corps. Dimka was part of the July 29, 1966 counter coup, led by Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed. The first military Head of State, Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi was killed in that second coup.

Dimka had something to do with 13. He was commissioned on December 13, 1963 in down under Australia. One of his course mates at the Army Cadet School, Portsea was Boniface Ikejiofor. Due to limited space at Sandhurst and Dehra Dun, alternative institutions became necessary to train a new crop of officers.

Cadets like William Walbe, Isah Bukar, Ganiyu Adeleke, T.I. Atumaka, Yemi Alabi and Nuhu Nathan found themselves  at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Knox, Kentucky both in the United States where they spent at least two years before they got their commission.

Lambert Ihenacho spent almost three years[July 21, 1962-October 1965] at the Haile Sellasie Military Academy, Harar, Ethiopia. It took him a longer time to become Second Lieutenant unlike such cadets as Chris Ugokwe, Juventus Ojukwu and Muhammadu Buhari who joned the Army in April 1962 and by January 26, 1963 passed out of Mons, Aldershot as subalterns.

While Maj. Don Okafor missed Maimalari who escaped from the back and was running towards Obalende before Ifeajuna killed him in 1966, Murtala was shot at Obalende by Lt. William Seri after Captain Malachy Parvwang missed him. So both men died around Obalende, in 1966 and 1976 respectively.

Murtala died on Febraury 13. His Aide de Camp, Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa died with him, on February 13. Col. Ibrahim Taiwo, who fought under Murtala during the civil war was also killed on February 13. We all remember that Maimalari was commissioned in February.

When Murtala, an Old Boy of Barewa College, Zaria, toppled General Yakubu Gowon, who like Maimalari also attended Barewa College, Gowon’s ADC was Walbe. The America trained officer was born on July 13, 1943.

One of those executed following Murtala’s assassination was Joseph Gomwalk, a zoologist turned police officer who also schooled in Zaria, at the  College of Arts, Science , Arts and Technology. Gomwalk was born on April, 13, 1935.

Murtala made John Yisa Doko, Chief of Air Staff after sacking Brigadier Emmanuel Ikwue. Doko was one of the first set of  Nigerian Air Force pilots. His course mates included Salaudeen Latinwo, Austine Okpe, Usman Jibrin and Canice Umenwaliri. The air chief was born on February 13, 1942.

The import is that the day Murtala died, Doko was getting set to cut his 34th birthday cake. That also was the birthday of one young cadet at the Nigeria Defence Academy, Azubuike Ihejirika who turned 20. Ihejirika would later become an Army GOC, like Murtala.

Murtala’s  first son, Zakari, was born in January[22]. Maimalari was also born in January[17, 1930.] On August 13, 1993, Zakari was shot dead in yet to be unraveled circumstances. His friend and driver were alleged to be with him when he was killed.

On October 13, 1993, Zakari’s friend and driver were charged to court for culpable homicide. The Murtala Mohammed family is still in tears because nobody has been held responsible for a young man who went out with a friend in good health and came back lifeless.

It therefore sounds uncanny that Maimalari died 13 years after he was commissioned as an Army officer. Murtala named his son Zakari, after Maimalari. Zakari was born in January 1966, Maimalari died in January 1966, his month of birth.

The man who succeeded Murtala, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, so did on February 13, 1976. When Obasanjo quit office in 1979 ending the Murtala/Obasanjo era, the  officer who commanded the parade was Col Abdusalam Abubakar. His birthday is June 13.

Abdusalam later met Obasanjo again at the parade ground. In 1979, it was Lagos. Venue changed to Abuja in 1999. The military governor of Jigawa the day power changed hand from Abdusalam to Obasanjo  was Lt.Col. Abubakar Maimalari, son of Brigadier Zakari Maimalari.

Maiamalari’s son was a governor. Murtala’s second son, Risqa, tried to be governor of Kano State, he was not lucky. Maimalari’s son, Abubakar, was retired from the Army by Obasanjo, who succeeded Murtala. Murtala’s son, Risqa, was made Presidential aide by the same Obasanjo.

Maiamalari was shot, Murtala was murdered. Murtala’s first son was murdered, Maiamalari’s first wife was shot in a hunting expedition that turned sour before he married another wife. It was the party that he threw for the new wife that made it easy for the January 1966 coup plotters to get some of their target.


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