ON October 30, consummate soldier, administrator and elder statesman, Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson, breathed his last. He was aged 83. The departed icon held many notable positions in his lifetime, but he would be mostly remembered as governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. With the incursion of the Nigerian military into politics, Johnson became the Military Administrator of the Federal Territory of Lagos. This was in January 1966, and he was to hold that title until May 1967 when the present-day Lagos State was created and he became its first governor. The state then comprised the old Federal Territory of Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Lagos Island, together with Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu and Ikeja divisions. He served in that capacity until July 1975 when he retired from military service.
Educated at the Reagan Memorial Baptist School, Yaba, Lagos, Johnson attended Hussey College, Warri, from which, in 1955, he moved to Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, where he finished his secondary education in 1957. While in the school, he carved a niche for himself as a sportsman, something that was to stick with him throughout his lifetime. In 1959, Johnson attended the Officer Cadet Training School in Ghana. He later proceeded to the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, United Kingdom, between 1960–1961. He was appointed Deputy Commander, Federal Guards, 1964; Commander, Federal Guards, 1964; Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster-General Headquarters, 2nd Brigade, Apapa, Lagos, 1964; Major, February 1966; Second in Command, 4th Battalion, Ibadan and Station Commander, Benin, Midwest.
Although Johnson’s tenure as governor of Lagos State was not without controversy—it carried out the controversial demolition of the Ajele Cemetery in the early 1970s—it was nevertheless marked with many positive strides. Among many other strides, it was credited with transforming the civil service in the state. It built the 60.7-kilometre international express road (Lagos–Badagry Expressway) linking Nigeria with the neighbouring countries Benin, Ghana and Togo; Toikin Bridge to link Epe to Ikorodu; and the Eko Bridge. He built a network of roads and bridges still pivotal to modern-day Lagos and undertook the reclamation of the Bar Beach shoreline.
Instructively, at the inception of the General Murtala Mohammed administration, Johnson was one of the two state governors (along with Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi) not found guilty of corruption by the three-man panel commissioned to investigate the various allegations of corruption among the state governors. That was not fortuitous: he lived a largely austere, simple life all through, and was never at any time associated with primitive accumulation of wealth, a pastime of leaders in this clime.
Following his retirement from the Nigerian Army in 1975, he went into private business. Johnson was chairman of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, and chairman of the construction giant, Julius Berger Nigeria, a post he held between 1996 and 2009. In a tribute to his memory, the leadership of the company described his tenure as being very productive, successful and impactful on the business fortunes of the company, adding that his commitment and hard work laid a solid foundation for the growth of the organisation. Johnson also served as the Chairman, Executive Council of the Lagos State University Development Foundation.
In his tribute to the late administrator, the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said: ‘‘Although General Mobolaji Johnson has gone to be with his Lord and Creator, the memories of great accomplishments he left behind will linger on forever. One remembers how the late General Johnson’s administration worked with other seasoned professionals to establish five Government Colleges and housing estates, which were commissioned by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, within one year of his administration. This, to me, is the hallmark of service and has remained a benchmark for successive administrations in the state.’’ Sanwo-Olu, who described the late Johnson as a man with a mission to see a modern Lagos evolve, noted that “the vision has started to manifest in what is seen today, as every successive administration strives to build on the developmental structure and foundation of good governance” that he laid. On his part, the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the IBB Golf and Country Club, General IBM Haruna (retd.), a contemporary of Johnson, recalled that as a pioneer member of the Board of Trustees, he made immense contributions to the game.
Of a truth, Mobolaji Johnson lived an impactful life. We commiserate with his family and friends, the Lagos State government and the country at large. May his soul rest in sweet repose.