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Tribute to the Original Lagos Boy, Mobolaji Johnson: 1936 – 2019

By Eric Elezuo

The dusk finally came at exactly 4:15pm on Wednesday, October 30, 2019. Brigadier-General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson (Rtd), the first military governor of Lagos State bowed to the superior power of death, having lived 83 years in meritorious service to his fatherland.

Mobolaji Johnson was born on February 9, 1936 to the family of Joshua Motola Johnson and his wife, Gbemisola Johnson (née Dudley-Coker), his father was of Egba heritage and was a member of the Royal West African Frontier Force during World War II. His grandfather’s last name was previously Osholero but he changed it to Johnson after the priest who converted him to Christianity.

Mobolaji Johnson started his primary education at Reagan Memorial Baptist School, before completing it at Yaba Methodist School in 1941 because the school was turned to all-girls school. He later moved to Hussey College, Warri for his secondary education 1954. But he returned to Lagos in 1955, and moved to Methodist Boys High School Lagos, the School his father attended, where he completed his secondary education in 1957.

It was reported that during his time in school, Mobolaji was actively involved in the business of his mother as he helped to hawk the bread his mother baked on the streets of Yaba where he grew up. He was industrious from day one.

At 21, Johnson joined the military and proceeded to the officer cadet training school in Ghana in 1959. He also attended the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, the United Kingdom between 1960-1961. According to him, he was influenced into join the military by a photograph of his father

“I opted for the military. I saw the photograph of my father who was in the Second World War and rose to the rank of sergeant major class with his belt,” he said.

“I saw his photograph where he was looking so handsome and I looked at that photograph and said, one day, I’m going to put on this uniform too. So, that was the influence I had before going into the military.”

Before the Biafra War, Mobolaji Johnson was part of the Aburi talks, and after the war, he was among the federal delegates at the end of the war ceremony. In 1966, after the abortive coup d’etat that put paid to the first Nigerian civilian administration, he became Military Administrator of Lagos State. A position he got courtesy of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s appointment. He was just 31 years. In 1967 he became the First Governor of Lagos State. The state composed of the old Federal Territory of Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Lagos Island plus the additions of Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu and Ikeja divisions.

Mobolaji’s tenure as Military Governor of Lagos State saw the building of major infrastructure as well as the civil service in Lagos State. He confessed to developing Lagos with a paltry 10, 000 Pounds.

“Lagos State came into existence as a child of circumstance…It was a modest sum of 10,000 pounds. That was what I used in starting Lagos state,” he said.

Johnson was initially assisted in running the state with help from some key civil servants such as Administrative Secretary, Adeyemi-Bero, Finance Secretary, Folarin Coker, and the acting secretary to the Military Government, Howson Wright. He appointed his first set of commissioners in April 1968.

In 1975 at the inception of the then General Murtala Mohammed’s administration, Mobolaji Johnson was one of the two state Governors (along with the then Brig Oluwole Rotimi) found not guilty of corruption by the three-man panel commissioned to investigate the various allegations of corruption among the State Governors. He was however, compulsorily retired.

After his retirement from the army, Johnson became a director with Julius Berger, and later, he was appointed as chairman of the construction firm from 1996 – 2009.

The ex-soldier though is survived by four children, he is ”reunited” with Funmi, his wife, who passed away in February, 2016. He married Funmi at the young age of 26.

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