THE BALI INTERVIEW COVER DESIGN: IBB Killed Vatsa Out Of Malice – Rtd Gen. Bali Confesses Pt 2



What kind of soldier was Vatsa?

He was a very good soldier. I can tell you for sure that Vatsa was a very good soldier.

People said he hated Babangida to a fault!

No. I think there must be something between the two of them. I think they went to the same secondary school or something like that. There was something between them since secondary school days. I think that they didn’t seem to trust each other much. It may have been something that started when they were in secondary school that created that long-term hatred.

When Babangida assumed power, he appeared populist but over time, he became stronger and more powerful. How did he achieve that when people like you were around?

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You should ask Babangida that question!

But Babangida is a very jovial person and he is a man that you can get to like easily. He portrays himself as a very likeable person, cheerful and kind.

He wants to come back and rule Nigeria again. What is your opinion about that?

If I meet him and he asks for my personal opinion, I would advise him to be a kingmaker not a king. That is my advice to him. I do not support his coming back.

There is a speculation all round, and some people are actually campaigning that President Obasanjo should elongate his tenure. What do you think will happen if he goes ahead?

That money is changing hands on account of this is one of the saddest parts of  Nigerian politics. To start with, my disappointment is the fact that we are being led by people (most of whom) were not elected at all. Democracy, I was told in the secondary school is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is not a government of cheats who are bent on looting the treasury. That is what we are having now. So I don’t believe we are practicing democracy at all. To that extent, my disappointment is that we are not practicing what democracy should be.,

What is your personal disappointment about this clamour for a third term?

As far as I am concerned, the third term issue is very wrong. The right thing, people say, is that we the military gave the constitution. It is not a valid argument. The constitution is a document backed by generations of Nigerians and it states that ‘we Nigerians have accepted blab la bla.’ That is the preamble of the national constitution. It may have been drafted under the military and handed over to the civilians.  To that extent, they are right, they said it was Babangida who sat down and drafted it. It wasn’t him. it was a group of civilians who drafted it. When you talk about the people of Nigeria, soldiers are not many – the Head of State, governors and a few ministers. All the others, including ministers, are civilians.

Can you do a comparison of the economy now and during your time?

What I never liked about the Babangida regime is the devaluation of the Nigerian currency. What I give the Abacha government credit for is that he kept the Nigerian currency stable throughout  the time he was there. Now I don’t know. I can give Obasanjo credit for a lot of reforms he has been carrying out, including privatization and  so on. There are positive issues on those grounds. But he himself blamed Babangida and said that reform must be with human face.  Obasanjo must also allow his reforms to have human face.

Is the fact that we have reforms that will benefit Nigerians on the long run enough for somebody to think he should continue to rule Nigeria in perpetuity?

I think Obasanjo is wrong to want to amend the constitution for him to stay in power. Even if we have to review the constitution, it should be because of future governments, not his government.

It has been argued that power should be shared along geo-political lines, but some people, especially in the North, are of the opinion that power must be rotated along North and South rather than geo-political lines. Where do you stand on this issue?

If power has to be rotated at all, it should be on ethnic basis. I agree with General Gowon on that. It should be the Hausa/Fulani, the majority in the North, the Yoruba in the West, the Ibos in the East and the minority in the South-South. That is, if power must rotate at all. But I personally do not believe that power should rotate, if things are fairly done, if people are free to elect people. As I said, people are now rigging election for the sole purpose of putting themselves into offices in order to loot. So I don’t believe in rotation personally. But if it must be done because of the need for unity, it must follow the arrangement I discussed earlier. Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba of the West, Ibo of the East, minority of the North and of the South-South. That is, if there must be rotation at all.

I want you to appraise President Obasanjo on his anti-corruption crusade.

Obasanjo means well in this regard. I said so earlier on. I think and believe so, One of the greatest problems we have in this country is corruption. It is the biggest evil that has permeated all facets of the Nigerian society. The civil service, I don’t know whether the banks are spared but the civil service has already been corrupted. Corruption  is a serious issue. There is an anti-corruption official who has a child in my wife’s school in Abuja so when I met him at the Parent/Teachers Association meeting, I congratulated him and said well done for doing a good job. But unfortunately, over the period, people are saying that he has become a tool for Obasanjo against people he doesn’t like. That is a negative part and I said you cannot fight corruption if you yourself are corrupt. But you need to fight corruption with somebody who himself is upright.

There are some lawmakers who are taking money to ensure that Obasanjo’s third term materializes. How can he be said to be fighting corruption under such circumstances.

I agree with you that it is a wrong way to fight corruption. Nigeria needs a very strong leader. I can even offer that Nigeria needs a benevolent dictator, a man who wants the greater good of Nigeria. But you cannot fight corruption when even you are encouraging corruption. But some people will say at least he is fighting corruption. I keep telling them that he is selective.

Are you interested in political office?

I don’t fit into Nigerian politics. As of now, I don’t because I am not used to being told lies. I am not used to telling lies to people. I am not used to bribing my way to get things done. It is not my nature.

You fought in the civil war. Do you have any fear that if care is not taken, Nigeria may experience another civil war?

I honestly have none. The first one was even a mistake to have happened at all. I dread that another one should happen. I don’t know of any country that has survived too many civil wars. And I am a strong believer in one Nigeria. I tell you what, I come from a small tribe – the Tarok tribe in Langtang. It is a small tribe within a small group. If the North secures independence from the rest of the country, the Hausa/Fulani will be so dominant that they will lord it over us whether we like it or not. A bigger Nigeria will check such excesses. So the bigger Nigeria is, the freer the tribe and myself will be. I am a strong believer in Nigeria.

There is this talk about Langtang Mafia, powerful retired soldiers. Is it real and does the Langtang Mafia still exist?

I wish it is real!

But how did such a large crops of brilliant officers come from a small zone?

All I can say is that it is partly co-incidental and partly the value system.  Where I come from, people admire valour. Even as children after the second world war, soldiers who returned from the war would march as soldiers and harass market women, drink their burukutu free and go away. There was the attitude that soldiers were brave people who have fought all over the world. I like the police but there are not many of us in the police. Police are not regarded in the same manner. So it is not by co-incidence alone but by value system of the people. They admire bravery.

How, in a nutshell, would you describe the Nigerian president as a leader and soldier?

He was my senior, don’t let me abuse my senior. In the army, that is criminal.

Vatsa: A Taciturn General

There is an aura of venerability around individuals who do not talk frivolously. And when such people talk, 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).

Since he quit the army in 1990, Bali has kept a low profile, spending his time in private business. 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 coupists 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 YerimaYohanna Kure, Commodore MurtalaNyarko, 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. He 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.


Credit: TheNewsNigeria




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