|Posted by The Reunion Black Family on April 10, 2011 at 3:05 PM|
HOW WE BUILD LAGOS-- MOBOLAJI JOHNSON .
In 1967 when Lagos State with a landmass of 14,712. 32 square kilometer was created; the responsibility of steering the ship of the new state fell squarely on the shoulders of 31-year-old Major Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson. With his enviable track record in the Military, no one was left in doubt that Johnson was the right man for the pioneering job. And he did not disappoint. With his four Musketeers of seasoned civil servants, A.E Howson-Wright, (Head of Service); F.C.O ACoker, (Finance secretary); J.O. Adeyemi-Bero, (Administrative Secretary) and Okuyiga (Inland Revenue Matters), Johnson set out in the onerous task of laying a solid and enduring foundation for Lagos State.
The new state constituted from the merger of two areas the municipality of Lagos on one hand and the four divisions of Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry and Ikeja which prior to the 27th of May 1967 were administered by two different political jurisdiction, the Federal a Government and Western Region Government respectively. A modest 10,000 British Pound made available to Johnson as take off grant under a one-line vote and the 400,000 Naira, which was the balance in the account of Ikeja Local Treasury cash office of the defunct Western Region.
The Johnson administration did not only create a Coat of Arms for the new state but also designed the yellow, blue, red, green and white colours for the emerging state. Governor Johnson operated from his first office in the late Okotie Eboh's house on King George V Road, Onikan, while the council chamber was located in the building presently housing Zone 2 Command of the Nigeria Police opposite the Onikan Statdium. About nine months in office, Johnson created seven Ministries, which comprised of Ministries of Justice; Finance & Economic Development; Works & Transport; Agriculture & Natural Resources; Trade & Industry; Education & Community Development; Health & Social Welfare.
Within one year, the Johnson's (administration through the Commissioner for Education, the late Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya built five Government Colleges. The administration also established its very first housing estate, which was commissioned by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. Other landmark achievements included the establishment of an industrial estate and an ambitious poultry programme that boosted the supply of eggs to schools and hospitals in the state.
In his reminiscence with The New face of Lagos Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson, now 74 years old went down memory lane on the creation of Lagos State and challenges his team weathered in their tireless drive to make project Lagos State a success story.
Q: WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU MET ON GROUND AS THE PIONEER GOVERNOR OF THE STATE?
A: Lagos State came into existence as a child of circumstance. The country was at the verge of going to the civil war and one of the masterstrokes General Gowon applied was the creation of states, which pulled the carpet off the feet of Ojukwu. I came in first as the administrator of the Federal Capital before states were created. The feeling of Nigerians was that Lagos is a no man's land. I had to face the challenge of correcting the erroneous impression. There was the need to let people know that the territory known and called Lagos belonged to a people with their distinct historical background, culture and tradition. Again quite a good number of people thought the creation of Lagos was a ruse that it cannot be; that it cannot work. So we had to make sure it worked, we had to work round the clock to ensure that Lagos became reality and I am happy to say that over 40 years down the road, Lagos State is a reality and a model state, waxing stronger.
Q:APART FROM THE CHALLENGING TASK OF CORRECTING WRONG IMPRESSION, WHAT OTHER MAJOR PROBLEM DID YOU HAVE TO CONTEND WITH?
A: Our brothers in the West did not like the creation of Lagos State. They believed it should be part of the West. It became a ding-dong affair. Don’t forget that Lagos at a point in history was part of the West before it later became the Federal Capital, which brought about the parlance "gedegbe l' Eko wa”. The West was bitter, claiming that they had all their industries in Ikeja and how can we come to take them (the industries) away. I had to go on a peace mission to the West with my officials to see Co. Adeyinka ¬Adebayo, the Governor of Western Region.
Again, skeptics never gave us a chance. They were calling us names, wondering how we were running government without commissioners. But I knew it was more difficult than that. All the functions being done by the Federal Government were being taken over by the new state, which is still in its infancy. A lot needed to be done at that time the legal backing to the new state and part of the functions to be taken away from the Federal Government by the emerging new government in Lagos State will take sometime. There was also a noticeable friction between the elders and youths who were trying to write-off the elders as those responsible for the woes of the country that the fall of the First Republic was caused by them. They were agitating that it was now time for the youths to be at the helm of affairs. Before long, I became the subject of all sorts of editorials in national newspapers that I surrounded myself with some of those who spoilt the country.
I had to call a conference of the elders at the old City Hall. I told them in Yoruba parlance that: "ogiri to ba la ni alamo nkosi" Its when you have cracks on your wall that lizards have the opportunity to get inside. Because I didn't want to bring the elders and the youths together without first smoothening the rough edges. I had to convene a separate meeting with the youths.
A grande finale took place at the City Hall where I brought the elders and the youth under one roof and I said to the assembly I could not conduct the meeting alone that I wanted six representatives from each side to join me on the high table. A lot of fundamental issues were resolved and the meeting in a way formed the background to the emergence of Lagos State. When things improved particularly after my peace mission to the West, some of them had a change of mind and returned to Lagos State. Folarin Coker and Shamsideen Thomas was one of the early –high ranking civil servants that returned to join the service of Lagos State.
I should also mention here that civil servants of Lagos State origin were reluctant to leave the West, because Lagos to them was not yet a reality. They were not sure of their future so they remained in the West. When things improved, particularly after my peace mission to the West, some of them had a change of mind and returned to Lagos State.
Q: WHAT WAS THE FIRST BUDGET LIKE?
A: I had a one-line vote, which I was using as the administrator of the Federal Capital. It was a modest sum of 10,000 pounds. That was what I used in starting Lagos State. Okuyiga and Coker set up a board that was responsible for revenue generation. Pools betting generated money for the state and once we were sure we could pay the salary of our workers and civil servants by the first month, we began the match to transforming the states. Those who never gave us a chance were surprised that we could achieve that feat with our meager resources.
Q: BEFORE YOU BECAME THE ADMINISTRATOR OF FEDERAL CAPITAL AND LATER THE FIRST GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE IN MAY 1967, WHERE WERE YOU?
A: I always tell people, if you are good, you are good, and if you are bad you pay a price. I had a rapid promotion in the Military. Before the first coup of January 15, 1966, I was already a Deputy Adjutant & Quartermaster General of the Headquarters of the 2nd Brigade in Apapa, Lagos. I was in charge of the troops in the West, Mid-West. They fall under my command as administrator.
The DAQG job involved everything from boots, bootlaces to armoured tanks, accommodation and career officers and men under my command. As Brigade Commander, I was, working as number 2 staff officer. My Brigade Commanders in the brigade were Aguiyi Ironsi and Maimalari. When the coup took place, the Commander of the First Battalion, Major Largema was killed at Ikoyi Hotel and the troops marched on Lagos, insisting on seeing their Commander, and of course we knew he was dead. I stopped the invading troops and received them, telling them, look it is not by fighting that we can do justice to the memory of the late Commander of the Battalion. So I asked them to go back and be , rest assured that everything would be done to immortalize the fallen officer.
It didn't come as a surprise when after things had settled down a bit, I was posted to the 4th Battalion, Ibadan as Second in Command to the late Joe Akahan. In my new posting, I was able to change the attitude of my officers and men and move their concentration from coup plotting to games, sports and training programmes. We came to Lagos for Army Sports Competition and we won the competition. It wasn't long after I was posted to Benin without troops. Benin was never a military zone. So I was again called upon to go and set-up a Military Station in Benin under Ejoor and I became second in command to Governor Ejoor. I must state here that Benin provided the opportunity for me to have my first stint of political administration. I was in the cabinet that had people like Mariere, who was adviser to the Governor. I learnt a lot from Benin. It was there in Benin that Ejoor returned to his duty post after a Supreme Military Council meeting in Lagos and instead of me saluting, he was saluting me sharply and then gave me a signal that I was wanted in Lagos and that when I get to Lagos they will tell me the details. That was how I moved back to Lagos and was received by General lronsi who told me that as from that time on, whenever he was receiving visitors or conducting interviews, he would want me to be there because, he wanted somebody to come and look after Lagos, otherwise, he couldn't move an inch; he couldn't do a thing outside solving the problems of Lagos. He said he wanted somebody and that's how they arrived at my name. They wanted somebody born and bred here in Lagos and that's how I became the head of the Federal Territory.
Q: IN THE COURSE OF THIS INTERVIEW YOU MENTIONED THE 4 MUSKETEERS WHO WERE SADDLED WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RUNNING THE NEWLY CREATED STATE WITH YOUR EXCELLENCY AT THE HELMS. IF YOU HAD TO LOOK BACK, WHO WERE THE PERSONAGES THAT CAME ON BOARD AND AT WHAT POINT IN TIME IN YOUR ADMINISTRATION?
A: The four men I called the musketeers were civil servants. th Howson Wright was Secretary to the Military Government; F.C.O Coker was Finance Secretary; Agoro was the Attorney General while Adeyemi Bero was the Administrative Secretary. In the enlarged cabinet, which was constituted later on, I had the simple luck of having credible men around me and the right people for the right job. The men who came on board my administration included LS Adewale; Adeniran Ogunsanya; Reverend Akin Adesola; Babs Williams; Johnson Agiri; Ganiyu Dawoduand other men and women of integrity whose names I can not readily recollect now.
Q: AS A STATE GOVERNOR OPERATING FROM THE FEDERAL TERRITORY AND SEAT OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, HOW MUCH OF AUTONOMY DID YOU ENJOY?
A: I must give it to Gowon, he created states and ensured that they operate as autonomous state. Although some officials didn't let go, I went ahead to form my own Civil Service Commission overnight headed by Norman Williams as Chairman. Oba Alaketu of Ketu and Mrs Femi Pearse were Commissioners in the Civil Service Commission. I was given a free hana by Gowon to operate while I got my cabinet working. We took steps to ensure that the new state stabilized.
Q: WITH THE EVER INCREASING POPULATION OF LAGOS STATE, WHAT WERE THE MAJOR PROBLEMS YOU HAD TO CONTEND WITH?
A: I remember when the civil war came to an end there was so much hardship. - increasing cases of armed robbery and Lagos was becoming untenable. That's when I made an edict to the effect that if you were caught as an armed robber, you will be sentenced to death. This stance had become necessary because I believe that the law court will be too slow for me. I believe in punishment being immediate for it to have the desired effect. If someone does something, punish him or her immediately and let the people know. That was why we made that edict. But then I found out that my edict was not strong enough to override the constitution of the country that says that anybody that's going to be tried for life must be tried in a court of law. But was my Tribunal a court of law? So I put up a memo to Genera] Gowon telling him to give backing to my edict by creating a decree that could override the constitution. I didn’t get a reply from him. One Monday morning a lawyer was killed in Yaba area. His death in the hands of armed robbers made headline news. The lawyer’s mother had come from up country. My blood went cold on hearing the news and I phoned General Gowon and that was the only time I think I was rude to my Head of State. I called him on the red hot line telling him; “have you seen the papers this morning, sir, see the front page of Daily Times.” I went on to tell him that since the time I wrote a letter to him that my edict be backed with a decree I never heard from him, “I want to tell you, sir, that people are being killed in Lagos are human beings. Are you waiting until when one of your Commissioners or Governors come into Lagos and get killed before you will deem fit to take action?" And I banged the phone Gowon got my message and acted fast. He sent Graham Douglas to come and confer with my Attorney General and that's how a decree came up.
Q: IT IS ON RECORD THAT YOUR ADMINISTRATION ALSO CAME UP WITH AN EDICT TO CHECK THE SKYROCKETING HOUSE RENT IN LAGOS, ESPECIALLY IN THE METROPOLIS. COULD YOU PLEASE GIVE US AN INSIGHT INTO THE EDICT ON HOUSE RENT?
A: I was quite close to the people and felt for them. I also knew then that the landlords were shylocks they were exploiting the explosion in population by demanding high rents for house accommodation. The landlords were charging very exorbitant rent on their properties. So we sat down and formed a committee that looked into categories of houses and accommodation as well as the areas of location. Of course, for obvious reasons. You cannot compare a room in Ajegunle to say a room in Victoria Island or Ikoyi. So we came up with an edict, stipulating categories of houses and what landlords will take as rent on their buildings. One musician, Ayinla Omowura actually waxed, a record and the lyric of the song goes like his aye e ma tapa siJoba, efara no omo Bolaji. (Its fruitless kicking against the government, abide by the housing edict of Mobolaji Johnson) Omowura did it on his own as his social responsibility; we didn't ask him to promote the rent edict. We set up a Tribunal where an aggrieved tenant who felt aggrieved could take his or her landlord. The Tribunal was to ensure that the common people were not exploited. The edict worked for sometime, but I don't know what happened when I left office as Governor.
Q: WHAT WERE THE PROJECTS YOU PLANNED TO EXECUTE DURING YOUR TENURE BUT FOR THE REASONS OF TIME CONSTRAINT AND FMANCIAI WHEREWITHAL YOU COULD NOT?
A: I wasn't happy with the transportation system in Lagos, and I felt particularly strongly about the waterways that we could not fully exploit. I sent a delegation abroad to look for flat bottom boats that could take passengers across the waterways. I wasn't happy with the transportation system and would have loved to see a better system in place.
One of the ideas I had was to construct the 3rd Mainland Bridge. Don't forget, the 3rd Mainland Bridge was the creation of the Government of Lagos State and not that of the Federal Government. The Federal Government only took it over at a point in time when we didn't have enough money and therefore included the project as part of the state's contribution to 2nd Five-Year Development Programme of the Federal Government.
In 1972,1 went abroad and was surprised to discover that the headquarters of Julius Berger was located in the same area with the hospital where I went for medical treatment. I met Mr. Whitman who later served as Vice Chairman on the board of Julius Berger. His first job in Nigeria was the construction of the Itoikin Bridge that links Lagos with Epe.
During my meeting with Mr. Whitman and his team of engineers, I showed them what we were planning for the ring roads around Lagos. I believe people getting out of Lagos should have free ways that they can use. The concept I had for the inner ring road and outer ring road was to have pillars erected to the middle of Herbert Macaulay and Murtala Moharnmed Way with the pillars supporting a network of highways on the top like the ones I saw in Tokyo, Japan. I believed we could achieve same in Lagos.
The Julius Berger team looked into my concept and came up with a blue print ready for my submission to the Federal Government. That's how Julius Berger and an army of officials came all the way to Lagos. Work began in earnest with the engineers in boats and canoes crisscrossing the body of water over which the 3rdMainland Bridge and its ring roads would be built. At Marina, they proposed sand filling as the best option so as to be able to gain more useful land in addition to solving the traffic problem on that axis.
I was thinking we could use the idea of the 3rd Mainland Bridge to sand fill a sizeable portion of the water front of the University of Lagos and adjoining areas and create a big motor park where a park and ride system of transportation would be available to take passengers from the Oweoronshoki area into Lagos, where you will equally take a taxi or a bus to wherever you are going on the Lagos Island and when you are through with what you came to do on the island you'll be taken back by boats across the water to where your car is parked at Owotonshoki. That was one major project I would have loved to accomplish" but couldn't. To date, our waterways, I must say, are still largely under utilize