Down in Lagos, at 11 Thompson Avenue Ikoyi, home of Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, the commander of the 2nd Brigade, there was an elaborate gathering of all the senior officers and some junior officers for a cocktail party. It started at seven in the evening. The compound was a green sprawl patterned with stout palm trees and garden benches. Ramadan was ongoing but Maimalari did not concern himself with such rituals. Instead, military stewards in white gloves moved gracefully around with trays on which were delicately perched wine bottles with bow ribbons tied to their necks. All senior officers including their ADCs were in mufti except the Joe Nez-led regimental orchestra who amongst other songs played popular hits from the British comic play, Pinafore. Zak Maimalari was under his jacaranda tree with the GOC, Major General ‘John’ Aguiyi-Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon and Patrick Keatley, a British journalist for the London Guardian. (Note: all Nigerian officers had English nicknames so that their erstwhile colonial officers could easily remember them) As the guests swayed to the orchestra, Jack Gowon said, “There was song of revelry by night.” It was the famous opening line of Lord Byron’s poem The Eve of Waterloo in which Byron narrates how the night before their defeat at Waterloo, French soldiers kept on drinking and dancing and womanising at a party thereby ignoring the advancement of death and destruction from the animated enemy forces. In his later account of that night, Keatley said he replied Jack Gowon:
“But surely we need not conclude that Nigeria is facing her Waterloo?”
Jack replied deferring to his superior, the guest of honour for the night: “The politicians may not know it but John sees danger but you can take it from me John will never allow this country to be torn apart. The Federal Army is his pride and joy and its final barrier that will save us from tribal warfare.” It was a tactical cleverness on the part of Major Ifeajuna, Maimalari’s Chief of Staff who organised the party to make “General John” the special guest of honour. That made it impossible for the pre-selected senior officers in Lagos to find an excuse not to attend and miss their appointment with death.
Tiv drummers and dancers from 2nd battalion in Ikeja who had performed at the send-off party for outgoing commander of the battalion Lt Col Hillary Njoku on 12th January filled up the serene Ikoyi air with a native flavour after the regimental orchestra paused for drinks. Maimalari used the occasion to show-off his new wife from Kano. His previous wife, Doinmansey Mariamu was killed on Major Fajuyi’s balcony. They were officially married on 4th January 1961 and they had two children: Abubakar, born December 1961; Amina, 1962. Fajuyi was returning from a hunting expedition when he noticed Mrs Maimalari and Mrs Fajuyi sitting at the balcony. He greeted them cordially, went into the sitting room and propped his Beretta 12 gauge shotgun against the wall. He had forgotten he still kept the shotgun loaded and primed when he left for the bedroom. Then came his little son who began to play with it. The powerful explosion razed down the sitting room window and ended the previous Mrs Maimalari outside.