Babajide Sanwo-Olu pays tribute to his predecessor, Mobolaji Johnson, the first military administrator of Lagos State
We gather here today not to mourn but to celebrate a distinguished life, the life of Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson, a great patriot, an accomplished administrator, one of the makers of modern Lagos who, sadly, will never share this physical space with us again.
In whatever role we knew him, the first and longest serving military administrator of Lagos State stood out as a special person for his leadership and charismatic personality. If anyone was qualified to be addressed as “an officer and a gentleman”, it was General Johnson. Despite his imposing frame, he was as gentle as a dove. He never threw his weight around, even though he was a man of power. He was a man of authority, but he was never authoritarian. Though a soldier, he never ruled with an iron hand; he was compassionate. Gen. Johnson was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. A prince among soldiers, he had the common touch.
This occasion, despite its somber nature, is an opportunity to sing the praise of this great Lagosian, thank him for his service to our dear state and say a final bye to him. So it is my hope that today’s event will help to reaffirm our resolve to pursue our journey to a Greater Lagos that he envisioned and my administration is committed to delivering.
I thank you all for responding to our invitation to honour a goal-oriented leader who did great things for Lagos State and and the nation.
I must also thank the family of our beloved pathfinder for allowing us to honour him. I say this because a funeral is first and foremost a family affair. But in our life’s journey, men and women renounce their personal space to undertake the noble calling of public service. When this happens, many things change, not only in life, but also in death. One of the changes is that their private lives are shared with the public who they serve, and it is often difficult to inter them privately when they fulfill their mortal covenant.
Many people will share with you their experiences about this great man of many parts, Gen. Johnson. They will speak of the great things he did as governor.
It is hard to eulogize any man – to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential essence of a person, his private joy and sorrow, the unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, such as our own Gen. Mobolaji Johnson.
Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the acclaim that he so rightly earned, it is apt to remember Sir Mobolaji as an iconic figure, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry preoccupations of lesser men. A quintessential manager of resources, Gen. Johnson touched and transformed thousands of lives through his foresight, service and industry. He was a symbol of decency, humility and integrity, fairness and justice.
Our illustrious and now departed son of Lagos was a constant source of support and inspiration to successive governors of Lagos State, especially from 1999 till date.
He was always willing to offer his wise counsel and experience whenever the need arose. Even while it was obvious that his health could not take really rigorous endeavours, Gen. Johnson was a regular feature at every major Lagos State Government ground breaking events. Such was his unbelievable and unswerving commitment to the cause of Lagos State. How then are we not going to miss him sorely?
As the first military governor of Lagos State, he discharged his mandate equitably – with remarkable dignity. His indelible record of service remains intact. The “Centre of Excellence” that we proudly proclaim today is a product of his vision for Lagos State when he conceived several landmark programmes and projects for the newly created state from 1967.
Even in death, the story of the development of Lagos to a model megacity cannot be told without a mention of this unassuming and worthy leader. Some of the impactful projects he executed as governor are still visible.
In the realisation that Lagos State is the most populous and leading state in the federation, Mobolaji Johnson was determined to turn the state into the pride of the nation. The policy thrust of his administration was shaped by his faith in the creative capabilities and boundless energies of the people, especially the masses. Thus, his early days in office clearly showed him as a man who brought resourcefulness, experience and dynamism to the task of solving some of the teething problems of our dear state.
His biography is a story of inspiration.
Mobolaji Johnson was first appointed the administrator of the Federal Territory of Lagos on January 15, 1966 and later as Military Governor at the creation of the state on May 27, 1967. His regime witnessed an increase in the state’s revenue from N36.7m to N99.7m. The increase was largely due to the revenue allocation formula that had just been introduced and increased revenue from crude oil, which was partly shared out to the state governments
Under his leadership, the state government generated the larger proportion of its earnings from internally generated revenue (IGR). According to the government then, the IGR was known as “sources under the control of the Lagos State Government”.
The Mobolaji Johnson administration began the construction of Ikorodu and Mushin General Hospitals. It also modernized the General Hospital, Lagos, by building the new mortuary block, physical medicine department, sewage treatment plant and installation of a standby generator. The administration also commissioned the nurses hostel, doctors flat at Marina, Isolo and Harvey Road Health Centres.
His administration also built the maternity annex at Onikan Health Centre and an additional ward at Igbobi Orthopedic Hospital. It equally opened five new Government Colleges in each of the five divisions of the state.
The Gen. Johnson administration also introduced the harmonized teachers’ salaries and conditions of service to enhance the status of the profession and commenced the implementation of the Universal Primary Education (UPE).
It also completed projects under the Lagos Water Supply phase 1 Expansion Programme and designed the Owo Water Works as an alternative to Iju Water Works to serve Ojo and environs. Other strides of the administration are: construction of the Victoria Island Sewage Scheme for Ikoyi, Lagos Island, etc.; introduction of the regulations for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets; introduction of Traffic Courts; establishment of Agricultural Extension Works Stations; construction and commissioning of the Government Printing Press at Isheri road in Ikeja; and so on.
Many recollect with nostalgia the young officer who commanded the parade at the Race Course when the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe became Nigeria’s first and only indigenous governor-general in 1960 before she became a republic. On horseback, Gen. Johnson was dashing and professional. He added so much colour to that landmark ceremony.
Mobolaji Johnson began his military career at the Zaria Military Depot in 1958. Two years later, he served as a member of the United Nations Peace Keeping Troops, Congo between 1960 and 1961. He was promoted as 2nd Lieutenant in the Nigeria Army in 1961. He became a Captain in October 1962. He was Deputy Commander, Federal Guards, Commander, Federal Guards, Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster-General Headquarters, 2nd Brigade, Apapa, Lagos, Station Commander, Benin, Midwest (old Bendel State), Second in command, 4th Battalion, Ibadan, among others.
Gen. Johnson, needless to say, earned his epaulettes.
He set Lagos on a course and a race of an unending quest for improvement, innovation and development.
We remain inspired and grateful as we celebrate the life and times of this great man, and more importantly his service to our people, borne out of deep conviction, and executed with grace and without blemish.
We will miss him, even as we keep in our minds the lesson of his enviable life – that hard work pays and the power of vision cannot be blighted by human inadequacies.
In the end, “beauty fades and riches take up wings for themselves and fly away, but the last quality of a human being is character”. Gen. Johnson was a man of character. May The Almighty smoothen his path to eternity and bless his family.
Sanwo-Olu is Governor of Lagos State
His early days in office clearly showed him as a man who brought resourcefulness, experience and dynamism to the task of solving some of the teething problems of our dear state