The death on Thursday last week, October 30, 2019 of Brig-Gen. Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson, first military governor of Lagos State, further depleted the ranks of Nigeria’s eminent statemen who played crucial roles in the history of the country during the crises periods of 1966, the subsequent civil war and the Oil Boom aftermath. Born on February 9, 1936, Johnson was appointed military administrator by the military Head of State, Major Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, and latermilitary governor of Lagos State by Gen. Yakubu Gowon. He held the positionbetween 1966 and 1975 when he was retired from the army.
Before then, Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi also appointed him as the administrator of the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos in 1966, where he actively helped to develop the civil service.During his military service, he was with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Congo as a member of the Nigerian contingent. Johnson was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1961, was promoted to Lieutenant in 1962 and he became a Captain in October 1962.Johnson was appointed Deputy Commander, Federal Guards in 1964. He became Commander, Federal Guards the same year. He became Deputy Adjutant General and Quartermaster-General, Headquarters 2nd Brigade, Nigerian Army, Apapa, Lagos in 1964.
He was promoted to Major in February 1966 and became the Second in Command, 4th Battalion, Ibadan and later, Station Commander, Benin, Midwest Region (former Bendel State).Johnson was among the federal delegates at the ‘end of war ceremony’ after the Nigerian civil war.
Brig. Gen. Johnson’s nine-year tenure wouldbe remembered for the building of major infrastructure in Lagos State. His administration is credited with the construction of the 60-kilometre Lagos–Badagry Expressway that links Nigeria with Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo; the Toikin Bridge that links Epe to Ikorodu; the Eko Bridge; reclamation of the Bar Beach shoreline, and a network of roads and bridges that make up what is today known as Lagos City.
One of the major controversies of his tenure, however, was the demolition and disinterment in the early 1970s of the Ajele Cemetery where people such as Madam Tinubu, Babington Macaulay, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, James Pinson Labulo Davies and many others were buried. Among others, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka described digging up dead ancestors as a violation of an ancestral place. Prof. J.D.Y. Peele said it deprived the people of Lagos a green space in the heart of the city and memorials of their ancestors.
After the overthrow of the Gowon regime, General Murtala Mohammed instituted a three-member probe panel that indicted most Gowon-era military governors of corrupt practices and abuse of office. Mobolaji Johnson, along with his Western State counterpart Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, were the only two who were cleared of any wrongdoing. Johnson retired from the Nigerian Army and went into private business, thereafter becoming a director and later chairman of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. He has a road, a housing scheme, a sports complex and an avenue named after him in Lagos State.
His death came at a time when his wealth of experience was most needed in the political life of the nation, especially as Nigeria trudges ina delicate political transformation processafter a long period of military rule.Painful though his exit is, we urge the federal and Lagos State governments to immortalize Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson and ensure that his legacies, especially in infrastructure and transparent governance, are upheld for future generations to admire and to build upon.
The federal and state governments could also nameafter him somemore strategic national and state structures in order to further immortalize his name. Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson’s role in the infrastructural transformation of Lagos is a bequeath to the generations. He was a shining example of how a man could resist temptation, shun bad habits all around him and come out with his integrity intact. We condole with his family and may his soul rest in perfect peace.