Ajala Travel: Nigerian globetrotter who saw the world but died at home in poverty
Olabisi Ajala reputedly toured 87 countries on a scooter, meeting political leaders and celebrities until he returned home to die lonely and poor at 65
October 24, 20215 min readEven if conventional history ignores Olabisi Ajala, the phrase “Ajala the traveller”, a nickname in Southwest Nigeria for the footloose and the adventurous, means he would never be forgotten.In fact, the legendary Juju musician, Ebenezer Obey, in his 1972 hit album, “Board Members,” contributed to etching his name in Yoruba folklore when he sang memorable lines about his adventures:
“Ajala travelled all over the world (2ce). Ajala travelled (2ce), Ajala travelled all over the world.”Such was the life lived by Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala, aka Ọlábísí Àjàlá, who toured about 87 countries on a motorcycle in the 195os.
By every inch of it, his adventure had all the trappings of glitz, showing off not just himself but also his culture as an African.In every country he visited, he donned his agbada – the Yoruba flowing gown – and a cap, a combination described as “elaborately flowered robes with a felt-like head-dresses to match.” headtopics.com
Flawed he was, as is everyone. Heroes, as the great columnist Sam Omatseye once wrote, do not come in neat packages. Neither are villains complete disasters.If Mungo Park toured the African coast to “discover” the River Niger and Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated to prove the earth was spherical, Ajala explored the world to exhibit the African culture and the can-do élan of Nigerians.
Ajala is therefore to Africa what Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, James Cook, and Marco Polo are to Europe, and Ibn Battuta al-Tanji and Zheng He to Asia.His motorcycle was his compass which he used to cross borders and challenge the brutality of racial intolerance.
He was popular for his encounter with authorities and brushes with the law. If not for petty crimes like being caught with a counterfeit cheque, then it was in fights over a woman.Ajala, the ladies’ manReputedly possessing a ferocious libido, his escapades produced for him offspring scattered all over, literally becoming a father in many nations.
A Chicago nurse named Myrtle Bassett had his first son, Oladipupo (also called Andre), whose paternity he initially denied despite a court ruling saying otherwise.He would marry an American model, Hermine Aileen, who divorced him on the charges of philandering and adultery, an allegation he said he “cannot contest.” headtopics.com
He went on to marry a 19-year-old white London radio-TV actress, Joan Simmons. His Australian wife, Wajuan, had for him: Femi, Dante, Lisa and Sydney. There was Toyin Ajala in England, with whom he had Taiwo and Kehinde. In Nigeria, it was Sherifat, among others.
Ajala was born in Ghana to Nigerian Muslim parents in 1934 – the twenty-fifth of his father’s 30 children from four wives. He attended Baptist Academy in Lagos and Ibadan Boys’ High School in Ibadan.Leaving NigeriaAged 18, he travelled to the United States to study pre-medicine at the University of Chicago, becoming the first black student in the Delta Upsilon Pi ‘fratority’, a co-educational Greek-letter organisation.
He wanted to study medicine so that he could “wage war on voodoo and other superstitions” when he returned to Africa.“The world should send doctors to Africa, and missionaries to Chicago. The gangsters here need to convert much more than we do,” he wrote in his travelogue.
He would never fulfil that career dream as he abandoned the stethoscope for a life on the road.He would later move to Roosevelt University (then called Roosevelt College) to study Psychology.At 22, fame came to the charismatic icon on June 12, 1952, when he decided to embark on a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, covering about 2,280 miles all on a bicycle. He was received by Los Angeles city mayor, Fletcher Bowron. headtopics.com
With the tour, during which he stopped to deliver lectures at 11 major cities, he sought to educate the American people that “we (Nigerians and Africans) do not go about nakedly in loincloths.”Meanwhile, as a result of a number of run-ins with the American immigration for petty offences and because he abandoned his schoolwork, he was sentenced to a one-year suspended jail term and was later ordered to be deported to Nigeria.
He protested the deportation order by climbing up an 80-foot radio tower and threatening to jump off it if the order was not rescinded. Ignoring pleas from the authorities, he later jumped down from about 15 feet and sprained his back. He was, nonetheless deported, but to London instead.
Ajala atop a tower, threatening to jump down. Credit: oldnaija.comWhile in London, on April 27, 1957, the adventurer began his globetrotting for six years,what is believed to be 87 countries on a Scooter Vespa motorcycle.Ajala on his Scooter Vespa motorcycleRead more: Premium Times »
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I documented this story in this podcast episode. Great read As a kid then in the 80s dad use to play Ebenezar obeys music, And I know the lyrics “Ajala traveled all over the word “ thanks for giving more info on this Ajala the traveler. To me he still fulfilled his fantasy of exploring the world and that is great. About him dying poor, we all have to know and be sure that we can't have everything in life.
Take the opportunity or it takes you out Beautiful but sad story.