Maimalari, Joe Garba and the power of reading, even on duty

Recently, it was reported widely that a Nigerian had become president of the United Nations General Assembly. The first Nigerian to be appointed into the prestigious position was former foreign affairs minister and one time Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Major General Joe Garba.

General Joe Garba had a chequered career in the army as part of the officer corps but that entire career path happened because of a chance encounter with Nigeria’s first graduate from the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy, in the United Kingdom, Brigadier Zakari Maimalari.

The chance encounter occurred one evening, when Brigadier Maimalari, then the Commanding Officer of 1st, 4th and 6th Battalion, who was on a tour of the 4th Battalion stationed in Ibadan, decided to go for a stroll, away from his guest house. Joe Garba, who was corporal at the time was one of the guards stationed at the gate to guard Maimalari. When he got to the gate, Garba who was reading a book, quickly got up to let him out. When he returned some minutes later, the earlier scenario repeated itself: Garba rose up from his book to open the gates. “What is that book you are reading? He asked. Garba answered. “You are a bright man,” his Commanding Officer remarked among other comments. And the journey for him to becoming an officer got a re-start.

The Military School, what used to be called Boys Company, in Zaria, was set up to train those they called modern NCOs, Non-Commissioned Officers, who will be able to handle the sophisticated equipment the Nigerian army was acquiring at the time because many of the older soldiers could not quite find their ways around the new machines. As it turned out, many of the students that went for the programme were very bright such that they were encouraged to take the entrance exams into officers training instead of settling for the Boys Company. They passed and went for officers’ training subsequently became officers.

From that time, every student for Boys Company also took the entrance for officers’ training. Those who were successful went on officers training, those who failed followed the path to becoming Non-Commissioned Officers.

Joe Garba did not pass the officers’ training entrance exam in his first attempt. So he was sent to the 4th Batallion in Ibadan as guard of the Commanding Officer’s Guest House. Until Providence arranged that chance encounter with his Commanding Officer on the fateful day. Following that encounter, Maimalari recommended him to be given another chance at the entrance exam into officers’ training, which he passed. And eventually became all that he became in the army and Nigeria’s foreign service.

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