Mobolaji Johnson: The Bread-Hawker-Turned-Governor Who Midwifed Modern Lagos

By Segun Adesokan 

A heavy military presence was anticipated.

One could easily conclude that on this day, December 5th, 2019, ‘Nigeria’ visited Yaba, judging by the number of high-and-mighty who had journeyed from different corners of the globe to attend Mobolaji Johnson’s funeral, held recently at Yaba, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Mobolaji Johnson (1936-2019) – The Sun Nigeria

You would perhaps also agree with me it was never a day for Danfo drivers and unruly Okada operators to misbehave, even at 50km radius of Yaba.

Yaba community was almost practically locked down having been besieged by sizable number of high ranking military personnel, and other ‘khaki boys’, as countless number of army patrol vehicles and other multi purpose security vehicles had cordoned off a long stretch of Herbert Macaulay way, in readiness for his (Gen Mobolaji Johnson) final home coming.

This particular ‘siege’ has nothing to do with the regular trademarks of Army invasion we’ve been used to. For this kind of siege, it’s one of such rare landmark events held to bid a distinguished soldier, former First Military governor of Lagos State, a befitting good bye.

On this day, Yaba had played host to former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon (retd); former President, General Olusegun Obasanjo (retd); General T. Y Danjuma (retd), former Osun State Governor, Brigadier-General Olagunsoye Oyinlola (retd) and Brigadier General Buba Marwa (retd), (both served as military administrators of Lagos state) and several other high ranking retired military personnel.

Two former civilian governors of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, (represented by his wife, Sen. Remi Tinubu) and Babatunde Fashola, and many other notable politicians were all present to bid the late Mobolaji Johnson a befitting farewell.

Also worthy of note are tens of serving military Generals, (mostly of Brigadier and Major General cadre) under whose close supervision the body of Mobolaji Johnson was ceremoniously wheeled into Hoare’s Memorial Methodist Cathedral, one of the foremost Methodist Churches in Lagos, which had also served as the family Church of The Johnsons, venue of the funeral.

Also among other guests were hundreds of residents of Yaba neighborhood and undocumented onlookers who had flooded the venue to catch a glimpse of the dignitaries, watching from the floors of high rise buildings to catch up with the show.

Let me momentarily skip part of the activities that marked the week-long funeral of Brigadier Gen. Mobolaji Johnson (retd), in order not to lose the essence for which this piece is intended.

Little Funso Mobolaji Johnson at infancy was inhibited by a strange ailment, and for this reason he couldn’t walk until he turned three years old. A man whom fate later would thrust upon his shoulders the leadership of one of Africa’s largest and wealthiest cities, as a thorough bred military administrator, having distinguished himself from Sandhurst Military Academy.

Not only was he one of Nigeria’s sterling soldiers, at age 31 he became the first Lagos State Military Governor in 1969, under whose watch the masterpiece of Lagos State, as seen today, which had earned it its endearing and imposing posture of being referred to as ‘Centre of Excellence’, took its origin from this same man, as a result of some of his landmark achievements.

Born on 9th, February 1936 to Motola and Emma Johnson, the third of six siblings. The Johnsons household at some point, every new day begins with the daily routine of mixing dough and baking bread, moments later, Bolaji and his brothers would hawk bread around their neighborhood from 7:00am to 8:00am, then return home before setting out for school at 9:00am.

Young Bolaji had earlier attended Regan Memorial until it was converted to a Girls’ school in 1946, prompting him to move to Yaba Methodist School.

In September 1951, Bolaji was admitted to into Hussey College in Warri where his friendship with Chris began, also with Grace Alele, the two who would later become his two life long friends with Grace becoming a Professor of Mathematics and the first female Vice Chancellor of University of Benin.

Upon concluding his West African School certificate education in 1957, his self motivation and passion in pursuing a career in military suffered a momentary set back due to his inability to secure a pass in General Knowledge which was mandatory for admission. Undeterred, he still enrolled for the army through the ‘recruit’ route often considered less prestigious or meant for averagely educated folks. Despite seeming hardship and poor living condition associated with army recruitment at Depots, still, he kept hope alive in becoming a soldier by traveling to Ibadan where would-be soldiers were camped. Upon successful enlistment into the army, he was sent to Zaria to officially begin his military training.

Still not satisfied with the tag of being identified as army recruit, he retook the Officer Cadet Examination. He passed this time and was able to proceed to Teshi in Ghana to get trained as a Commissioned Officer. He would later emerge as the all-best trainee in September 1959, as this also qualified him to be selected for further training at the highly competitive Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.

At first, the opportunity to further his training at Sandhurst was almost botched due to age limits. He had surpassed the required 21 years eligible for trainee, by two years, but later considered due to his record at Teshi.

Few days after his passing out ceremony from Sandhurst as a Regular Combatant, on 26th December 1961, in London, Mobolaji Johnson married his childhood sweetheart Obafunmilayo Aganga-Williams and the 55-year union was blessed with four children.

After the coup of July 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon was named as the Supreme Commander-in-chief of the Federation. He asked Major Johnson to officially continue as the Administrator of Lagos in 1967, having been previously appointed by former Head of Federal Military Government of Nigeria, Gen. Aguyi Ironsi who had earlier named him the Administrator of Lagos Federal Capital Territory.

Under the 8-year watch of Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson’s stellar leadership in Lagos he recorded the following: creating of Victoria Island, Eko Hotel, Falomo Bridge, Itoikin link Bridge at Epe, Iganmu Industrial Estate, Housing Estates at Ikorodu, Badagry and Ikeja, Mushin-Itire road, 57km Badagry Express road, among others.

Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson would later reinvent himself even outside his military career which was halted by the sudden July 29th, 1975 coup as he also blazed through business and other private enterprising endeavors, among which is Chairman, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc; Chairman, Femi Johnson and Co; Chairman, Seatrucks Nigeria Ltd; Director, Metalum Nigeria Ltd; Director, The United Africa Insurance Brokers, among others.

To his credit and unblemished personality is also conferment of several chieftaincy titles from Lagos and Ogun State.

He is also found worthy to have been conferred with a Presidential honors and awards of CFR by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Also named after his legacy is former Onikan Stadium, which is now Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson Stadium, Onikan, Lagos by Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu.

Just like every other mortal, on October 30th, 2019, he went home to be with his maker, having fought so hard with old age related ailment recently, which took a great toll on his mobility.

Brigadier Gen. Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson (retd) CFR, KJW was here!

Fare thee well, great soldier, statesman father, builder.

Mr. Adesokan is a contributor editor of WesternLifeNews.

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