Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson (1936-2019)
One of the iconic figures from the era of military administration and government in Nigeria, Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson died on October 30, 2019 after 83 long years on earth. Although he served as military governor of Lagos in an era when the military officers posted to states saw the territory as their fiefdom, it is on record that he was one of only two former governors who were found not guilty on corruption charges.
Last week, as tributes were paid to this gentleman as part of his funeral ceremonies, everyone acknowledged his mien as a man of peace and honour. Most living officers from the first generation of the Nigeria Army officers including former Heads of State and President were in attendance to celebrate a colleague’s good life. Characters who hold high office and yet keep their fingers off the communal till are rare in these days of extreme vanity and rapaciousness!
Born on the 9th of February 1936 to Joshua Motola Johnson and Gbemisola Johnson of Egba ancestry who migrated to and settled in Lagos early in the 20th century, the young Johnson started his education at Reagan Memorial Baptist School in 1941. In 1954 he attended Hussey College in Warri before moving to Methodist Boys’ High School Lagos where he finished his secondary school education in 1957. After his secondary education he elected to join the army and in 1959 he proceeded to Officer Cadet Training School in Ghana. He continued his military training in Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot and finally at the iconic Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom from 1960 to 1961.
Before and after his formal training abroad, he held many positions in the army. He worked at the military depot from 1958 to 1959. He also served in the United Nations Peace Keeping contingent in Congo. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Nigeria Army in 1961, Lieutenant in 1962 and Captain later in October that year. In 1964, Johnson was appointed Commander Federal Guards and later Deputy Adjutant and Quarter Master-General Headquarters, 2nd Brigade in Apapa. He was promoted to the rank of Major in February 1966 barely one month after the first military coup in the history of Nigeria. At different times he held the positions of Second in Command 4th Battalion Ibadan and Station Commander Benin Midwest.
After the January 1966 military insurrection, he was appointed administrator of the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos because the Head of State needed someone from Lagos to handle the affairs of the territory. When Lagos State was created in May 1967, he was appointed its first military governor. He immediately embarked on the task of creating a bureaucracy to run the affairs of the state. With the help of some seasoned technocrats, the groundwork for the current civil service was laid. As governor of Lagos, he is credited with building the international express road linking Nigeria with some neighbouring countries, Third Mainland Bridge and reclamation of the Bar Beach shoreline. With the 1975 overthrow of the Gowon’s administration, Johnson retired from the Army and went into private life. As a private citizen he served as chairman, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, director and later chairman of Julius Berger Nigeria till he stepped down in 2009. Johnson was also chairman Executive Council of Lagos State University Development Foundation, chairman Board of Trustees of Methodist Boys’ High School Lagos Old Boys’ National Association.
God blessed Mobolaji Johnson with a long life, like his late father, and a steady family. His four children, three sons and a daughter have indeed played their different roles in life and their father must have died a happy man seeing the level of success of his offspring. He was a keen sportsman particularly in his secondary school days. He continued to play some role in sports and perhaps it was for this reason that some sports facilities were named after him. The Onikan Stadium, for example, was named after him. On the down side, Johnson received trenchant criticisms when his administration demolished the Ajele cemetery to give way to property development. This did not go down well with custodians of the moral conscience of the nation. Overall, he was a good man who meant well for the people of Lagos.
The simple and honest life which Johnson lived recommends itself to current and future office holders in the land. Men and women who have the honour and privilege to serve the country should remember that they would be remembered by their worthy deeds, not by what they said or how many luxury apartments they cornered for themselves. Treasury looting is the practice associated with brigands, not officials of government. Of the 12 military governors from that era of official brigandage, Mobolaji Johnson is remembered as a man of honour and character. Leadership is all about service, no matter the circumstances such persons find themselves in.We sympathise with the Johnson family, the Lagos State government and the good people of Lagos State on the loss of their beloved son, father and leader and pray the Lord to grant him eternal rest till the resurrection.