Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, CFR

Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, CFR

December 30
08:18 2020

Not all those fortunate enough to find themselves thrust in a position of power and authority are able to totally subsume their personal interest to allow public interest take precedent. Not many are able to resist the temptation of enriching themselves at the expense of the entity they are supposed to lead and serve. These sterling qualities of impeccable character were precisely what distinguished Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson as a rare gem. Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson was born February 9, 1936 in Lagos to an Egba father who had moved to Lagos at the age of eleven and a Lagosian mother.


He attended Reagan Memorial Baptist School, Yaba, Lagos for his Primary School education in 1942 but had to transfer to Yaba Methodist School, where he schooled from 1946 to 1951. This was because Reagan converted to an all girls school. He began his secondary school education at the famous Hussey College, Warri in September 1951 but had to transfer once again in 1954 to Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos where he concluded his secondary school education in 1957.

The very next year, in 1958, Johnson joined the Nigerian Army. His training took place in Zaria, where he graduated as the Best All Round Recruit. This was followed by training as an Officer Cadet at the Regular Officers’ Training School in Ghana and further training in the United Kingdom at MONS Officer Cadet School, Aldershot. He then proceeded to the renowned Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, also in the UK.

Upon his graduation from Sandhurst, the young officer was posted to the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army, stationed in Kaduna. He then went on tour and served with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Congo. At the end of this tour he returned to Nigeria. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1962 and made Captain later that year, in October. In 1964, he was appointed Deputy Commander of the Federal Guards and made the Commander in the same year. Johnson’s next posts were as Deputy Adjutant General and Quartermaster-General, Headquarters 2nd Brigade, Nigerian Army in Apapa, Lagos in 1964. He got promoted to the rank of Major in February 1966 and was posted to 4th Battalion in Ibadan as it’s second in command. He then became the Station Commander of troops in the Midwestern Region, Benin.

Providence shined on Johnson when at the youthful age of just 31, the then military Head of State, Major General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi appointed him the Military Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos in January 1966. He served there as the Military Administrator until May, 1967 when the new government led by General Yakubu Gowon, redesignated him as the first military Governor of Lagos after the creation of the 12 states. He remained Military Governor of the new State, which he utterly transformed through extensive infrastructural development and a highly effective Civil Service, until the military coup d’etat lead by General Murtala Mohammed in July 1975, pushed him and all the other State Governors out. With the able assistance of four outstanding civil servants in the shape of A.E Howson-Wright, who was the Head of Service; F.C.O Coker, the Finance Secretary; J.O Adeyemi-Bero, Administrative Secretary and M.I.O Agoro as the Legal Secretary. Brigadier Johnson’s administration is remembered as one which provided Lagos State with a very solid foundation to build on. It was his administration that created the now easily recognizable Lagos State coat of arms and set the pace with many innovations and firsts which continue to stand the state out amongst it’s peers.

Amongst the achievements of Brigadier Johnson’s administration are the following: the 67 kilometer Lagos-Badagry double carriageway, which linked Nigeria to the neighbouring West African countries of the Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana. On completion of the road and to let the people of Lagos know that the tax they were paying was being put to good use, he placed a massive billboard by the side of the road informing motorists that it was the tax they paid that made it possible. The hope was that it would encourage even wider compliance. Another major achievement was the Itoikin Bridge, built to link Epe to Ikorodu; the Eko Bridge and the reclamation of Bar Beach in Victoria Island and many new roads and bridges which set the tone for modern day Lagos. In addition, his government also built the five Government Colleges within Lagos State in its first year of governance. Quite an incredible feat. It constructed the state’s first housing estate, established it’s industrial estate and even went on to complete a huge poultry project which dramatically increased the supply of eggs to hospitals and school in the state.

After the coup d’etat led by General Murtala Mohammed overthrew the Gowon government, General Mohammed as the new Head of State set up a three member panel which investigated all the erstwhile Governors and subsequently indicted all but two. Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson and Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi were only two who were not found guilty of corruption and that has written their names in gold ever since. He retired from his loved profession with full honours in 1975. He thereafter went into private business and became a Director on the board of Julius Berger, the German construction company in 1979 before eventually becoming it’s Chairman in 1996 until he retired in 2009.

As a young man he was a good sportsman, particularly excelling in squash, tennis and polo. After retirement and well into his latter years he remained an avid polo player.

To honour this great man who served his state utmost devotion, a road, an avenue, a sports complex and a housing project, all in Lagos, have been name after him. In recognition of his performance orientation and upright character, he was also called to serve in different capacities. He was for several years, the Chairman, Nigeria Conservation Foundation; Chairman Executive Council of Lagos State University Development Foundation and Chairman of both the Board of Trustees of Methodist Boys’ High School Lagos, and Chairman of the Old Boys’ National Association.

In appreciation of his great service to his state, he was installed as Majeobaje (Chief) of Lagos, by the Oba of Lagos in 1968 and in 1970, he was given get another chieftaincy title of Maiyegun of Ikorodu. In 2012, the Federal Government of Nigeria conferred on him the National Honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), in recognition of his selflessly service to his nation as a gallant military officer and as Military Governor.

Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson, passed away at the age of 83 on October 30, 2019. This Lagos Legend will forever be remembered for his uncommon humility, dedication to duty and integrity. In a world where such virtues are fast eroding, he shines as a beacon worthy of celebration and emulation. Lagos State will forever be indebted to him for setting the bar of excellence.

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December 2020