Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson died on October 30, 2019 at the age of 83. He was a giant among his peers. As a soldier, he was generally regarded as a gentleman officer. His son, Deji, has explained how his dad lost the battle for life and why his children would work to keep his legacy alive. Johnson was the founding Military Administrator of the Federal Territory of Lagos in 1966, but in 1967 Lagos State was subsequently created and he became its founding Governor.
With very lean resources in 1967, he was able to build five government colleges and a housing estate in his first year, accomplishments which the incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu praised as a benchmark. He was one of the officers that negotiated the Armistice at the end of the Nigerian Civil War. The presence of positive personalities like him seemed to have contributed to the initial confidence and trust, which conferred credibility on the peace settlement.
And at a time the ‘victorious’ Nigerian Army officers were hustling and out-doing one another in wealth acquisition, Johnson kept away from the get-rich-quick bandwagon. It was, therefore, no surprise that in the end, he was vindicated, being one of two state military governors, among the 12 state governors in the country, who went through a probe and was found without blemish. All 10 military governors were indicted for corruption and many of their assets were seized.
Indeed, Johnson’s retirement in 1975 was received with misgivings as many saw it as a great loss. Not only did it constitute a loss of the services of a fine officer of utmost integrity, but it also seemed to have penalised a man with rare qualities in an increasingly materialistic Nigeria.
But Johnson rode quietly into a private civil life without drawing attention to himself. He got into the Lagos community to do quiet but vital work.
He became the Chairman of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation at a time very few Nigerians understood something called climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer. The construction giant, Julius Berger, found him a worthy board member and later a chairman of its board for many years until his death.
He also was the Chairman of the Executive Council of the Lagos State University Development Foundation. He also chaired the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Boys High School Old Boys National Association. He was so honoured for his unstinted leadership and assistance to his alma mater.
Johnson’s father was a senior non-commissioned officer of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF), which saw action during the World War 11. He wanted to walk in his father’s shoes because he loved the uniforms. His grand father’s last name was Oshilero, which he changed to Johnson after the name of the priest who converted him to Christianity. The Johnson family was of the Egba stock in Ogun State and it moved to Lagos early in the 20th Century.
Johnson had five siblings and began his education at the Reagan Memorial Baptist School, Yaba. He also attended the Hussey College, Warri. In 1955, he moved to the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos. He finished in 1957 as an all-round sports man.
In 1959, he attended the Officer Cadet Training School in Ghana. Later, he attended the Mons Officer Cadet School in the United Kingdom before he eventually went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, United Kingdom, from 1960-1961.
After his training in various military institutions, he rose rather swiftly. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1961. The following year, he was promoted Lieutenant and in October of the same year he was elevated to the rank of a Captain. He was appointed the Deputy Commander of the Federal Guards in 1964 and later that year he became the Commander of the Federal Guards. He became the Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster, General Headquarters of the 2nd Brigade, Apapa, Lagos.
Johnson was promoted a Major in February 1966, and was posted as the Second-in-Command of the 4th Battalion, Ibadan. He was later to assume the position of Station Commander in Benin in the Midwest (Old Bendel State). He was one of the most illustrious and honourable of Nigerian Army Officers. The Federal Government should commemorate the service of a man of integrity by naming an institution after him.
May God grant his soul eternal repose.