EXCLUSIVE: How Scion of The JMJ Johnson Family, Chief Abiola Johnson Died

…The Life and Times of The Emeritus Commissioner and Apesin of Lagos

…His Battle With Diabetes Retina

…His Stormy Marriage With Iyanda Folawiyo’s First Daughter, Toyosi Johnson

…His Gregarious Lifestlye and Passion For Music

Abiola Johnson, the Apesin of Lagos
Abiola Johnson, the Apesin of Lagos

There was a veiled but undisguised look of sorrow on the faces of many Lagos personalities when the news of the death of Chief Anthonio Abiola Johnson was announced a few weeks ago.

The ELITES gathered that Johnson died on Friday, November 20, 2015, after a brief illness. He was aged 68.

Johnson, who prided himself in being a genuine and true Lagosian, was also a Commissioner for Transportation in Lagos State whence he introduced the M. O. T. Test for vehicles in Lagos State, and later served as Commissioner for Commerce & Industry, all under Governor Tinubu.

His children
His children during the burial ceremony

Abiola Johnson was the first son of Nigeria’s First Republic Minister of Internal Affairs, Labour & Social Welfare, Chief J. Modupe Johnson (J. M. J.). He held the revered title of Apesin of Lagos, and was among the ten leading and most senior of Lagos titled chiefs (since 1987), as the Apesin of Lagos, in succession to his father to that honorary chieftaincy title.

The ELITES learnt that Johnson, had battled with diabetes retina for so many years. The ailment even led to the loss of his sight in 2006, which to a large extent affected his political and social life. The ailment took a turn for the worse, a few months ago, and Johnson was flown abroad for treatment.

The ELITES exclusively gathered that it was while he was being treated abroad that Johnson was informed of the severity of his ailment, and he was reported to have emphatically rejected the only option which was laid bare to him – the amputation of both legs.

With former wife and daughter-in-law, during son, Abiola Jnr's wedding in 2013
With former wife and daughter-in-law, during son, Abiola Jnr’s wedding in 2013

Predictably, the Apesin of Lagos was said to have asked to be brought back home. He died a few weeks after his return to Nigeria.

Abiola Johnson was married to Chief Toyosi Johnson, the first daughter of foremost billionaire and the former Baba Adinni of Nigeria, Chief Wahab Iyanda Olayinka Folawiyo. Their marriage, though stormy, produced four beautiful children- Tilewa, Abiola, Modupe and Tola, who are all chartered accountants, and many grandchildren. Sisi Toyosi, as she is fondly called holds the revered title of Iyalode of Lagos.

The remains of Abiola Johnson were interred at the Ebony Vaults of the Ikoyi Vaults and Garden. A grand reception was later held at the City Hall, Lagos Island.

His son, Modupe at the funeral
His son, Modupe at the funeral

Save for Mr. Tunde Balogun, the former Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, who took a full page advert in a national newspaper to eulogise Chief Abiola’s contributions to the victory of APC in Apapa Local Government area in the last general elections and Chief (Mrs.) Teju Phillips, the former Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Johnson’s other political associates and colleagues in the cabinet of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, where he served as a commissioner were conspicuously absent at the funeral.

Indeed, Abiola Johnson lived and led a truly gregarious life as a jazz aficionado and a leader of the Jazz Section of the Island Club and chief reviver and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Waka Club 1945, Lagos.

His final resting place
His final resting placed

It is imperative to note thatJohnson had been a musician from his St Gregory’s College days, through his merchant navy days with late Chief Eng. Doyin Benedict and Eng. Victor Damole of the Gregorian inspired Cyclops pop group. In Santos Brazil, the trio of bassist, Doyin, Victor, melody and Abiola Johnson as lead guitarist thrilled audiences in all the bars of the sea ports, Santos, in 1967 when all the rage of World Youth Music centered on Beetlemania.

Abiola Johnson’s musical career culminated in his role as a lead guitarist with Chris Ajilo in the Gangan Night Club of Lafia Hotel in Ibadan during his marine leave period way back in 1969. He performed under the leadership of Nigeria’s greatest musicologist, now 85 years old, Chris Ajilo (composer of “ARIWO”) alongside jazz singer Mama Lou from the USA, Charlotte Dada from Ghana, the Lijadu twins, Jimi Solanke with Chico on the Conga and Freddie on the Bass Guitar. Till his death, Johnson considered himself the best guitarist of the blues genre in Nigeria. During his musical sabbatical in Ibadan, he also taught music and the guitar to the students of International School Ibadan (ISI), the secondary school of University of Ibadan (UI).

Lagos White Cap Chiefs at the burial
Lagos White Cap Chiefs at the burial

Notable among some more Abiola Johnson’s prominent siblings are Abimbola Williams, the wife of Folarin Williams, the third son of late legal luminary, Chief FRA Williams, Ranti Johnson, the famous society lady, textile merchant and younger sister of Sisi Abah Folawiyo, Tokunbo Johnson, Akinwamide Johnson, the former husband of Biola Okoya and many others.

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