By Bayo Onanuga
General Domkat Yah Bali, the Langtang, Plateau state-born soldier, who spent 29 years in the military, died today. He was 80 years old.
His last duty was as traditional ruler of his town as the Ponzhi Tarok, a position he held since 2010.
Bali as a soldier was taciturn and for a long time, he was a chain smoker.
He was also not thickset like many soldiers. Like Muhammadu Buhari, Bali was a lanky officer.
But what he lacked in physical frame, he compensated for in his lion heart, his unbelievable courage.
In December 1989, then military head of state General Ibrahim Babangida, reshuffled his cabinet and removed Bali as minister of defence and chief of defence staff, two positions he had combined since 1984.
Babangida then moved Bali to the Interior Ministry.
Bali was on holidays in Jos, when the announcement was made.
He felt his new position was a demotion and decided to quit, rather than bearing the indignity, by remaining in office.
He did what many officers dared not do in those days.
He wrote a letter of resignation and couriered it to Babangida in Lagos.
His resignation was announced by Babangida himself.
It was taboo in those days for a military officer to walk out on the military head of state.
The practice at the time was that you must wait to be kicked out.
But Bali opted out and nothing happened to him. The heavens did not fall and the military lords did not hound him.
His act of bravery is relevant now to Nigeria’s service chiefs, who continue to stay in office, beyond their term and service years, despite public outcry they should retire.
General Olonisakin and co could borrow a lesson from Bali and leave office, rather than wait for President Buhari to remove them.
Bali will also be remembered for offering a reflection on one of the phantom coups that occurred during the Babangida years and the carnage that followed.
It was the so-called Mamman Vatsa plot said to have been uncovered in late 1985, in which at the end of some trial in 1986, Vatsa and many young military officers were executed.
Bali, as chief of defence staff made the announcement of guilt and execution.
Many years later, Bali harboured doubts whether the action was right.
He did not hesitate to voice out his concern.
“My regret is that up till now, I am not sure whether Vatsa ought to have been killed because whatever evidence they amassed against him was weak. My only regret is that I cannot say, don’t do it’. I am not so sure whether we were right to have killed him”, he said in an interview with TheNEWS in 2006.
Bali, a member of the Langtang mafia in the Nigerian military in the 80s and 90s, rose through the ranks, and had a distinguished military career, reaching the peak as Chief of Defence Staff.
He was born on 27 February 1940 in Langtang and joined the army in 1961, about the time that Buhari also joined.
He had his primary education at Mban, Langtang and from 1955 to 1960, he attended the provincial secondary school at Kuru.
He entered Nigerian Military Training College in 1961, a year ahead of Muhammadu Buhari.
He also attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
In 1964, he became a lieutenant and troop commander.
He became captain a year later in 1965. In 1966, he was battery commander and during the Nigerian Civil War, he was a regimental commander.
He was made major in 1968.
Between 1970 and 1971, Bali was commander, Corps of Artillery.
He later became a colonel at the Second Infantry Division in Ibadan.
In 1973, he was posted to Akure as the commander of the 9th Infantry Brigade.
He became the adjutant general Nigerian army in 1975, commander Corps of Artillery in 1976 and in 1978, he was the GOC of the First Infantry Division, Kaduna.
Prior to becoming Defence Minister in 1984, he was Commandant of the Nigerian Armed Forces Command and Staff College from 1981 to 1983 and later director of army training and operations.