27th February, 2020
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
There is an aura of venerability around individuals who do not talk frivolously. And when such people do, their utterances are respected. That, in many ways, applies to General Domkat Bali, a former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and now a traditional ruler in Plateau.
He turns 80 today 27 February, 2020.
Since he quit the army in 1990, Bali has kept a low profile, spending his time in private business and also minding the paramount traditional stool of the Langtang people of Plateau State. He became in December 2010, In December 2010, Bali became the Ponzhi Tarok, the paramount ruler of the ethnic group.
At various times, he has been chairman, HFP Engineering, an Israeli company based in Lagos, and member, Board of Trustees, Nigeria Wire and Cable, Ibadan.
He also tried his hands at farming and almost withdrew from this engagement because of frustrations caused by cheats who worked for him. But the pathetic condition of a nursing mother who came to his house in Langtang, Plateau State, begging for food, changed that. Bali gave her half a bag of maize. When the retired General is not on his farm, he occupies himself with the game of golf.
Although taciturn, he was highly respected in the military. In 1983 when Bali was the Director, Army Training and Operations, President Shehu Shagari ordered the withdrawal of troops he had earlier deployed to the North-Eastern Nigeria to curb the activities of smugglers.
However, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, then General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Armoured Division Jos, refused to obey Shagari’s order. The Chief of Army Staff, General Garba Wushishi, had to order the withdrawal, which Buhari grudgingly obeyed.
A rift developed between the politicians and the military, which wanted to carry out a putsch. To do that, the coup plotters needed to consult the most senior army officer – Bali. They sent Babangida. Bali reportedly advised the officers to “give the politicians time to sort themselves out”.
One day, Bali was on his way to Langtang and decided to pay Buhari a visit in Jos. The GOC seized the opportunity to persuade Bali to support the coup against the “corrupt and undisciplined politicians” Bali agreed.
Less than a week later, Buhari and his men struck and Bali became the Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence Staff.
When Babangida ousted Buhari in August 1985, he still found space for Bali, his senior, whom he appointed Defence Minister and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, there were two developments which Bali would always remember with some measure of sadness: the circumstances surrounding his retirement and the execution of General Mamman Jiya Vatsa over an alleged coup plot.
On 17 December 1985, over 100 officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force were picked up and, for three weeks, probed by the Brigadier-General Sani Sami-led Preliminary Special Investigation Panel. Seventeen of them were court-martialled at the Brigade of Guards Headquarters, Lagos, by a Special Military Tribunal convened by Bali.
Those accused were Major-General Vatsa, Lt. Cols. Musa Bitiyong, Christian A. Oche, Michael A. Iyorshe, M. Effiong; Majors D.I. Bamidele, D.E. West, J.O. Onyeke and Tobias G. Akwashiki; Gaptain G.I.L. Sese and Lt. K.G. Dapka. Others were Commodore A.A. Ogwiji; Wing Commander B.E.N. Ekele and Adamu Sakaba, and Squadron Leaders Martin Luther, C. Ode and A. Ahura.
They were tried under the Treason and Other Offences (Special Military Tribunal) Decree No 1, 1986.The tribunal was chaired by Major-General Charles Ndiomu. Other members were Brigadier Yerima Yohanna Kure, Commodore Murtala Nyako, Col. Rufus Kupolati, Col. E. Opaleye, Lt. Col. D. Muhammed, Alhaji Mamman Nassarawa, a Commissioner of Police, and Major A Kejawa, the Judge Advocate.
Vatsa, according to Nowa Omoigui a defence analyst, was accused of financing a coup “using the cover of a farming loan to Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong. “Worse still, Bitiyong was allegedly tortured to implicate Vatsa by making reference to certain private political conversations they had, which Vatsa denied.”
Vatsa was also accused of “harbouring bad blood against his friend and classmate, Babagida.”
General Bali told THE NEWS: “I think there must be something between the two of them. I think they went to the same secondary school or something. There was something between them since their secondary school days. I think they didn’t trust each other much. It must be something that started when they were in secondary school that created that long-term hatred.” Revealing his regret, Bali said “I am not sure whether Vatsa ought to have been killed, because the evidence they amassed against him was weak. My only regret is that I could not say ‘don’t do it” I am not so sure whether we were right to have killed him.”
The second experience that still pains Bali was the way he left the military. When Babangida reshuffled his cabinet on 29 December 1989, he removed Bali as Defence Minister and pushed him to internal Affairs. Bali refused to accept the position and left. In his words: “I could accept that I was junior of the Head of State, but to accept that I was also junior to other junior officers, to me, was unacceptable.”
Born on 27 February 1940 in Zamko, Langtang, Plateau State. Bali attended elementary schools at Mban and Langtang, Plateau State, and the Provincial Secondary School, Kuru, from 1955 to 1960. Bali’s military career began when he entered the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna in April 1961. He later attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England in 1961 and had further military training at the Gunnery Staff Course, Larkhill, UK in 1968; Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, and the Royal College of Defence, Cowdon, U.K.
When Bali was commissioned a Lieutenant and later, Captain, he was appointed Battery Commander, Nigerian Army and commander, Artillery Regiment. As a Major in 1968, he became Commander, Corps of Artillery, a position he held till 1970 when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
In 1973, he was appointed Commandant, 9th Infantry Brigade, Nigerian Army, Akure. The next year later, he became the Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army. In 1976, Bali was promoted to Brigadier and sent to command the Corps of Artillery. The following year, he became the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1st Mechanised Infantry Division Kaduna and later , GOC, 4th Infantry Division, Lagos. He was in that position till 1979 when he was elevated to Major-General and became the Commandant, Command and Staff College, Jaji and later Director, Army Training and Operations. He occupied this position till 1983 when the military struck.
The new military regime, headed by General Muhammadu Buhari, appointed Bali as Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and member, defunct Supreme Military Council. When Babangida took over in August 1985, he appointed Bali Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, member, Armed Forces Ruling Council and Minister of Defence. Bali retired as a Lieutenant-General in 1990.
Since his retirement he has been Chairman, Yakubu Gowon Centre and the Pan-African Association of Telecommunications Congress.
-This tribute was adapted from the preface to Bali’s interview, published in the 22 May, 2006 edition of TheNEWS