Maina Maaji Lawan was born in Cross Kauwa and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration.
He was a member of House of Representatives from 1979-1983. In the third republic he was elected governor of Borno State in 1992-1993. As governor, he put a committee in place to consider closing down some tertiary institutions, a move aimed at discouraging education in Biu Emirate.
He was a senator between 1999 and 2003 on the platform of People's Democratic Party (PDP). He moved over to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) after he failed to secure the PDP governorship ticket in 2003. The objections to his running again for governor may have related to a feud with Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, presidential liaison officer, when he was governor in 1992-1993. Ibrahim-Iman beat him in the PDP primaries for Borno state by two votes. In an interview, however, Maina Lawan stated that the reason he was not elected was because he was not in the Obasanjo camp.
In April 2007, Lawan ran for the Senate as a member of the ANPP and was elected for the Borno North constituency. He was appointed to the selection committee. He was the Senate minority leader. A May 2009 report said he had not originated any bills as a senator.
In February 2008 he sponsored a motion on the security implications of the crises in the Chad Republic, including the problem of Chadian refugees fleeing to Nigeria. In February 2008, as a member of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), he criticized the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation for failure to cooperate with the committee.