In view of the apparent lacuna in the explanations of the government on the rationale and the proposed modus operandi of the coupists in their alleged plans to bomb bridges in Lagos, these explanations were received with some skepticism.
Even General Bali, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff and who was asked by Babangida to announce their execution in March 1986, could not say with certainty that the alleged plans to bomb Lagos was actually true.
In an interview he granted to TSM magazine Edition of July 14, 1991, Gen. Bali was not too forthcoming in his answers.
A thorough-bred professional soldier who was quite apolitical, he was apparently an outsider to the political scheming of Babangida and his political soldiers.
The interview went inter alia:
TSM: You announced the execution of Vatsa and co.
TSM: Based on what was published, there were allegations of some very diabolical things that would have been done. Was it really true or were they exaggerated?
Bali: Which things?
TSM: Like blowing up some bridges and Dodan Barracks. Now, if they were to plan destroying Dodan , where would they operate from?
Bali: If you destroy Dodan Barracks today, the government would always operate from somewhere else. I don’t know where else but Dodan Barracks is not a must for Nigeria.
TSM: But traditionally?
Bali: Yes, and if it isn’t going to be Dodan Barracks somewhere else would be found.
TSM: Okay, about the allegations, could they really be true?
Bali: Did I announce those things?
TSM: Not that announcement. I mean the allegations, were they really true? I want you to confirm those plans of destruction as claimed by the government
Bali: How? Which plans?
TSM: Those places government claimed Vatsa and co intended blowing up?
Bali: Intended! Intention is a matter of opinion. Don’t ask me to confirm intention, especially as claimed by others. I didn’t tell you that. Did I? All I know is that there was an investigation that found Vatsa and co. liable for conspiracy against the government. There was a Tribunal which found them guilty of conspiracy and sentenced them to death. All other matters about intention or whatever it is, is not my duty.
TSM: Did it really fall on you to make the announcement as the longest serving officer or how?
Bali: You mean I appointed myself to go and announce it?
TSM: No, not like that. I mean as the oldest officer, militarily?
Bali: No. You know the thing cut across the Armed Forces. They needed somebody who was at the centre of the Armed Forces and that was me. If it was announced by the Chief of Army Staff, it would have been seen somehow, one-sided, or even by an Air Force personnel or Navy. So I was one person who had dealings with all the three Services. So it was appropriate that I should make the announcement. That was all.
TSM: But their execution was secretive in a way and it was a novel thing. Executions have always been public. Why was that decision taken? Was it because of the public’s seeming sympathy at that time?
Bail: I think that was part of the reasons but that is all I do know.
TSM: Now, please confirm authoritatively, were they really killed or was a dummy being sold?
Bali: Certainly Vatsa was. That I can confirm to you, for sure.
And in another interview with THE NEWS magazine edition of May 22, 2006, General Bali, when asked about the Vatsa issue again, said:” My regret up till now, I am not sure whether Vatsa ought to have been killed because whatever evidence they amassed against him was weak.
U 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…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 the long-term hatred”.
Excerpts (Pages 136-138) from Richard Akinnola’s book – FELLOW COUNTRYMEN :THE STORY OF COUP D’ETATS IN NIGERIA)
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