Domkat Yah Bali was loyal to his country and he spent decades in active service proving just that. Bali served as minister of defence and member of the supreme military council, and the armed forces ruling council of 1985 to 1990. He was joint chief of staff between 1984 and 1985 when President Muhammadu Buhari was head of state.
Born on February 27, 1940, in Zamko, Langtang, Plateau State, to the family of Hassan Bali Tabut and Yinkat Bali, he attended elementary schools at Mban and Langtang and the Provincial Secondary School, Kuru, from 1955 to 1960. His military career began when he entered the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna in April 1961.
Domkat Bali was 20 years old when Nigeria became independent. As a young man, he saw the new nation’s transition from colonial rule through internal self-government and finally its attainment of full sovereignty as a republic.
His decision to join the Nigerian Army in 1961 could be said to have been influenced by patriotism which ensued from internal self-satisfaction and the joys inherent in the nationhood of his fatherland.
He later attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England from 1961 to 1963 earning his commission as a lieutenant in 1964 and had further military training at the Gunnery Staff Course, Larkhill, the UK in 1968; Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, and the Royal College of Defence, Cowdon, UK.
Career as a Military Man
Bali joined the Nigerian Army in 1961 when he joined the Nigerian Military Training College. He rose through the rank and became a lieutenant and troop commander in 1964, and a captain in 1965.
He undertook further military courses at Camberley, London. In 1966, as mentioned above. He was battery commander during the Nigerian Civil War and was made major in 1968.
Between 1970 and 1971, Bali was commander, of the Corps of Artillery and 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 was 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.
He was Commandant of the Nigerian Armed Forces Command and Staff College from 1981 to 1983 and later director of army training and operations and was made Defense Minister in 1985.
Domkat Bali was one of the arrowheads of the December 31, 1983, coup led by then General Muhammadu Buhari, which truncated the second republic headed by Shehu Shagari of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He also played an active role in the August 27, 1985 coup led by Ibrahim Babangida that toppled Buhari’s regime.
The General Who Broke Taboo in Nigeria’s Military
In December 1989, the 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.
While Domkat Bali was on holiday in Jos, it was announced that Babangida has moved Bali to the Interior Ministry. He felt his new position was a demotion and decided to quit, rather than bear the indignity and remaining in office.
Major General Domkat Bali 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.
Domkat 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 about whether the action was right. He did not hesitate to voice his concern.
“To be very frank with you, the Ministry of Internal Affairs is a very important ministry, but that was not my problem.
My problem was that as a military officer, I was senior both to Babangida and Buhari, but I served under both as Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I could accept that they were heads of state. You cannot remove the fact that I was a senior to both of them. And when Babangida came, he said, ‘ok, you are no longer Chief of Defence Staff, but Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If I am not that, then I am also junior to all other military people other than the Head of State, which I would not accept,” Bali said in a 2006 interview with The NEWS.
“I could accept that I was junior to the Head of State but to accept that I was also junior to other junior officers to me, that was unacceptable. That was the main reason that I had to leave.
Not because I was made the Minister of Internal Affairs. Some people said it was because I was taking over from John Shagaya who was also a junior officer. Those were not the issues at all.”
“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.
Domkat Bali Prevented a Genocide
Speaking during Bali’s 80th birthday party in Abuja, Yakubu Gowon, former head of state, said the army general’s loyalty and discipline saved the lives of hundreds of civilians by preventing a genocide hours to the end of the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970.
According to him, Gowon, who did not mention the particular military operation at the time, said that he (Gowon) called Bali and instructed him to cancel the operation after preparations were concluded for the final onslaught and he (Bali) obeyed without any argument.
“We owe Domkat Bali a lot for averting what would have been a genocide by the Nigerian army during the civil war,” Gowon said.
“His loyalty and discipline saved the lives of hundreds of civilians who would have died in the final onslaught planned to take place 24 hours before the war ended. I called him and gave him the instruction to stand down. He obeyed without any question and that was how the war ended on ‘no victor no vanquished note“
Major-General Domkat Bali, A Perfect Gentleman
Gen Bali’s former colleague and Defense Minister, Lieutenant-Gen.Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, recalling their glorious days and how their paths crossed in service of their fatherland, said: “Domkat Bali served as my Artillery commander in 1 Brigade, Nigerian Army throughout our advance from Nsukka to Umuahia.k
“As his Brigade Commander on the war front, I had ample opportunity to observe and appreciate his military skills and capability closely. After the civil war, our paths crossed again when I became the Chief of Army Staff and Bali the Inspector of Artillery. Consequently, I can justifiably claim to have written more annual evaluation reports on Bali than anybody else throughout his military career.
“Bali is a perfect gentleman, an excellent and brave soldier. His humble and unpretentious disposition may be mistaken for docility but at critical moments, Bali’s true nature comes to the fore. He would assert himself and defend his position without mincing his words. Bali is humane and he mixes easily across religious and tribal boundaries, but he does not suffer fools gladly.
“At Army Headquarters, I found Bali as a dependable and loyal officer. He was diligent in the performance of his duty and he was honest and transparent in his handling of public funds. I rated him as a possible future Chief of Army Staff in my last and final report on him. I was not surprised when he eventually surpassed that and ended his career as a four-star general. He fully earned every one of those stars.”
Ponzhi Tarok, the paramount ruler of the Tarok People
The Tarok People of Langtang in Plateau State are famous for producing senior military officers. The fact that the Tarok people are fond of military service is a topic that should be looked into closely and examined.
The Tarok tribe in Langtang North and South local government areas of Plateau State is said to be a tribe of warriors and known as the ethnic group with the highest number of military personnel in the North Central.
Every household/family (nuclear or extended) in Langtang has military personnel; it could be a senior or junior officer/other ranks, a fact that has been confirmed to be in fact true over the years.
In December 2010, he was selected by the Tarok kingmakers headed by the Madakin Langtang, HRH Daniel Lamda Bongtur to succeed the Lt. Hrm. Edward Cirdap Zhattau (OON.) as the Ponzhi Tarok, the paramount ruler of the Tarok people of the Plateau state.
In 2011, Bali rejected the national merit award of the commander of the federal republic (CFR) given to him by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Justifying his rejection of the honour, Bali said he had earlier been conferred a higher title, adding that accepting that of the CFR would amount to demoting him.
He said: “It makes no sense to me. I saw the recent national merit award given to me as an insult to my personality.
They told me the 2011 honour awarded me is Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR. But the Federal Government of Nigeria gave me in the past a higher national merit honour as Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, which is the second-highest national honour in Nigeria.
So what this current government offers me in the 2011 National Merit Award is inferior to what I have before now,”
“So I said, let them give the CFR to someone else who deserves that. I don’t deserve that because I had a higher one. That was the reason why I refused to attend the programme because my appearance there in Abuja will mean my acceptance to be demoted.”
In the interview with TheNEWS, Bali was asked if he had concerns that Nigeria would witness another civil war and he said: “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.”
President Buhari upon hearing about the death of the great man said: “the records of bravery and patriotism of Gen. Bali, the Ponzhi Tarok, will continue to inspire young military officers, while the foundation he laid in all the commands he headed will always be remembered.”
The life of General Bali holds out to emergent leaders and young Nigerians with a rich lesson that education remains the key to a progressive future. His path through academic institutions, including Junior Primary School at Mban and Provincial Middle School, Kuru, exposed his thirst for knowledge, which marked him as a bright and precocious pupil with leadership qualities.
Standing up to his father’s apparent indifference to western education with determination and perseverance, Bali’s personal sacrifices at a very young age helped him to attain lofty heights in life.
Although many people believe that Bali was an accidental soldier, given the fortuitous circumstances that propelled his enlistment into the Army, his thirst for knowledge and academic brilliance did not lose its lustre as he served with monumental distinction in his different military assignments.
In most of the pioneering and responsible positions he occupied within his 30 years of troubadour in the military, his deft application of sound character and arcane intellect bequeathed his professional calling those qualities that succeeded in making him a General’s General.
It was a mark of the popular acclaim of his shining service records that as at the time he attained 30 years in service, he shunned powerful pressures to remain by resigning from service at age 50, only to be promoted to a General after his eventual retirement.
Some of the institutions and military courses he attended that helped to shape his worldview and excellent personality include Gunnery Staff Course, Larkhill, UK, 1968-1969; Staff College Camberley, Surrey, England, 1972; Royal College of Defence Studies, United Kingdom, 1980; US Army School of Artillery, Oklahoma, USA.
His elite haul of epaulettes from a distinguished career contains the following, Grand Commander of Order of Niger (GCON), Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), Defence Service Medal, National Service Medal, Republic Service Medal, General Service Medal and Forces Service Star, among others.
Domkat Yah Bali has been listed as a noteworthy military officer by Marquis Who’s Who.
After his resignation from the Army in 1990, Bali became the Chairman of HFP Engineering, the building construction firm that gave Lagos the iconic Victoria Garden City. Now, at 80, General Domkat remains one of Nigeria’s ornaments of harmony and beauty in diversity.
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 as a true Tarok man
General later took up farming, Golf, reading, and chess as a hobby.
General Domkat Yah Bali (GCON) Joined his Ancestors on December 4, 2020.
Domkat Bali was married to Esther Bali an educationist who recently launched a book about the great man titled: Gen. Domkat Yah Bali As Ponzhi Tarok: A Contextual Analysis Of The Imbroglio (1990-2020). They have two children, Nanna and Ponfa.