Remembering Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson
Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson was born on the 9th of February, 1936 to Joshua Motola Johnson and Gbemisola Johnson both of Egba ancestry who migrated to Lagos in the early 20th century. His grandfather's last name was previously Osholero but he changed it to Johnson after the priest who converted him to Christianity.
Mobolaji Johnson began 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 decided to take after his father and launched a career in the Army. He began at the Officer Cadet Training School in Ghana in 1959. 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.
He also served in the United Nations Peace Keeping contingent in Congo and 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. At a relatively young age of 31, Mobolaji Johnson was appointed the pioneer Military Administrator for Lagos in 1967. With his enviable track record in the Military, no one was left in doubt that Johnson was the right man for the pioneer job, and he did not disappoint. With the help of some seasoned technocrats particularly the four musketeers, -Acting Secretary to Government A.E. Howson-Wright, Acting Financial Secretary Mr. F.C.O. Coker, Legal Secretary M.I.O. Agoro and Principal Secretary J.O. Adeyemi-Bero- they together set the pace for what would become the current civil service.
As governor of Lagos, he is credited with building the international express road linking Nigeria with some neighbouring countries and the reclamation of the Bar Beach shoreline. Other achievements of the Johnson administration include: The 60.7-kilometre international highway (Lagos-Badagry Expressway) linking Nigeria with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Ghana and Togo, built with Lagos taxpayers’ money, Itoikin Bridge linking Epe to Ikorodu, a critical strategic feat in the political and physical integration of the State, a network of roads and bridges that laid the foundation for what is Modern day Lagos. To check skyrocketing house rent in Lagos, the Governor came up with an edict, stipulating categories of houses and rents to be collected by landlords. The move alleviated the suffering of tenants from oppressive landlords.
Remarkably, the administration created a Coat of Arms for Lagos. It also designed the ‘yellow, blue, red, green and white colours’ which are still in use till date.
With the overthrow of the Gowon’s administration in July 1975, Johnson was mandatorily retired from the Army and went into private life. Following the Coup d’etat, the administration of Gen Murtala Mohammed showcased Brig. Mobolaji Johnson as one of the two state Governors (along with Brig-Gen Oluwole Rotimi) found not guilty of corruption by the three-man panel commissioned to investigate the various allegations of corruption against the State Governors.
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. In 1968 he was installed as Majeobaje (Chief) of Lagos, by the Oba of Lagos, and in 1970, he was given another title of Chieftaincy —Maiyegun of Ikorodu.
During his secondary school days, he was popular for his sportsmanship and continued to play an important role even after active service. Perhaps it was for this reason that some sports facilities were named after him. The Onikan Stadium, for example is named after him.
He was generally revered for his humility even after service and his non-controversial lifestyle. The fact that he had no private house to himself after he was compulsorily retired by the Murtala Mohammed administration in a Coup is a testament to his financial astuteness. He was generally regarded by all and sundry as one who prioritised the development of Lagos State before personal gains.
Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, who lost his wife, Funmi, on Saturday, February 6, 2016, was survived by three sons and a daughter. He died on October 30, 2019 at the age of 83.
Written by ‘Timilehin Salu
- The Guardian: Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson (1936-2019)
- The Guardian: Mobolaji Johnson: An officer and gentleman goes home