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Balat: The story of a truly self-made man

By Luka Binniyat

There is no doubt that Kaduna State’s most exotic, charismatic and last binder of Southern and Northern parts of the state is gone.

It is also difficult to think of anyone now who would succeed the man, who had personal and most times, intimate contact with major key players in the socio-political and economic sphere of Kaduna State, northern Nigeria and most parts of Nigeria. And that would include members of the military, the business class, academics, clerics, traditional rulers and even journalists.

enator Balat...I think they should count themselves lucky that they have somebody.
*Senator Balat

In effect, the story of the late Senator Isaiah Balat is the stuff that makes bestsellers, a thrilling tale of a village lad, who came to town during the boom days of Nigeria and rode through  its treacherous urban jungles to become an icon  before suddenly snapped by death around 3 pm last Tuesday at the age of 62.

His demise at the National Hospital, Abuja according to family sources, was from complications arising from the removal of a brace lodged in his right thigh after an accident in 1979.

Before his death, however, he had attended among others, many executive courses in ivy league universities, especially in the United States, and was a board member of many prestigious public and private owned  companies. He had also won scores of awards and accolades both home and abroad.

“He was worked with the then British Petroleum, as a junior worker in early  1975 or so, and he a was very neat, smart and confident young man”, recalled Alhaji Tajudeen  Jijani  Ajibade, a  65-year old Journalist, who reported Balat between the ‘70s  to 2000, while writing for four National Newspapers at different times.

“He rose to management level through honesty, hard work and the innovations he brought to the company”, said Ajibade, “he liked good clothes and at times would sew  some fanciful trousers for his friends with his  sewing  machines. And we would look hip on high-heels shoes and Afro hair style”, he told Vanguard.

That should be after Balat attended the  College of Commerce in Jos between 1966 to 1970, and worked with a fashion and tailoring outfit under the Leadway Insurance, Jos in 1970, before coming to Kaduna in 1974.

“But he was a fiery fighter for justice and fair play, and never hid his indignation at the way he saw his native people of Southern Kaduna being treated by the majority Hausa/Fulani people of the then old Kaduna state”, he said.

“Yet, it was with the Hausa axis of Kaduna –  Unguwan Sarki that he chose as his home, and they formed some of his  very close confidants”, recounted  Ajibade, who was the News Editor of New Nigeria in 1978.

“To him, the struggle was not a personal thing, but institutional, so as a young reporter, I was drawn to him”, he said.

“When Politics came, he became an active participant, joining the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) as its Kaduna State Chairman, with Ali  Madaki (late Minister of Works) his kinsman, was its Secretary”, he said

Armed with not even a secondary school certificate, no regular diploma or a degree, the village lad who left Gora Bafai, a woody community in heart of Zangon Kataf Area of Kaduna state,  his self-confidence, sharp mind and  adroit pursuit of his political agenda endeared him to the heart of the late Owelle of Onitstha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik).

“Each time Zik was in town or anywhere in the North, he made sure that Balat was beside him”, recalled a friend of Balat, who said his name should not be put in the newspapers as a  mark of respect  for the man.

It is said that the merger between the then Peoples Redemption Party (PRP)  and the NPP was made possible because of Balat and a few who conceptualised and made it happen. It was that merger that   made it  possible for Balarabe Musa to be elected governor of Kaduna State in 1979.

After the NPN won the Presidential  elections of 1979 it did not secure a majority in the National Assembly. An accord, in which Balat played an active role, was formed.

The gains were that  Prof. Ishaya Audu of the NPP, a minority Christian from Wusasa Zaria,  became Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs.  Edwin Ume Ezeoke of the NPP became Speaker, Federal House of Reps, and John Wash Pam of the NPP from Plateau State, became Deputy Senate President. Isaiah Balat on his part was appointed the pioneer Chairman of Katsina Rolling Mills.

His political links with the NPP drew him close to the then Governor of Plateau State, late Dr. Solomon Lar, and the Governor of Anambra State,  ChiefJim Nwobodo among other wider circles of politicians and statesmen.

It would seem that he was centre leftist, pushing for the right of his oppressed people but still keeping his friendship with the same people he fought.

However, in 1981, not happy with his role as a rising opposition figure, his house was torched in Unguwan Sarki by Hausa political thugs.  This forced him to move into a safer place in town at a great psychological and financial cost.

But he soon got over it when assistance came from various quarters, including being one of the contractors to build the then new Enugu Airport under Jim Nwobodo.

When the Military struck  on  December 31, 1983, Balat went back into full time business, bringing in new ideas, partners and funds.

He became the President, Kaduna Chambers of  Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA), once thought to be solely occupied by the Hausa/Fulani stock. The most important programme of KADCCIMA, it would seem, is its Kaduna International Trade Fair.


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