The Popular first African Traveller( Ajala Travel)

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Olabisi Moshood Ajala was the first African to tour the world. Fans of great Musician Evagelist Ebenezer Obey are familiar with the name Ajala Travel as he mentioned in his Album title "Board Member".
Ajala Olabisi is an African explorer just like Europe had Christopher Colombus, Vasco Da Gama, Ferdinand Magella, James Cook, and Marco Polo. Asia also had Ibn Battuta and Zheng.
Ajala was one of the preeminent  icons of Nigeria cultural history. He is a Nigerian man at heart and a proud africa in soul. Olabisi Ajala toured United States of America with Bicycle for lecture tour covering 2,280 miles and the world on a motor Scooter ( Popularly known as Vespa).
During Ajala's prime both the young and the adult envied and praised him for his courage, determination and success.
Ajala Olabisi Moshood Adisa popularly known as "Ajala Traveller" was born in Accra Ghana in 1928 by Nigerian parents Ahmed Rufai Ajala(father) and Jaminat Agbeke Ajala (mother). The father was half Muslim half traditionalist. Ajala was born into a polygamous family of thirty(30). The father was Kolanut merchant who travelled across West Africa selling his products, while in Ghana he had most of his kids including Olabisi in 1928 and his last born Olayinka in April 1931. Olabisi was this 24th child produced by his father and his four wives out of 25.
He grew up in Nigeria, Lagos island to be precise, schooled at the Baptist Academy Broad Street, beside Old Federal Secretariat, Lagos and Ibadan Boys' High School. At the age of eighteen he went to America to further his studies.
He was the first black student to be pledge by the Delta Upsilon Pi Fractority, a co - educational Greek-letter Organisation at De paul University in Chicago in January 1952 where he was a pre - medical student. He was an active student in the campus. He was also a feature editor of the campus newspaper De - paulian.
Olabisi Ajala ambition was to become a medical doctor, return to Nigeria a d wage war on voodoo and other superstitions practices. Interestingly he never fulfilled his dream of becoming a medical doctor as he diverted to become a world traveler. He later studied etymology Psychology in Columbia University.

    Olabisi Ajala was popular on June 12 1952, at the age of 22 and as a Psychology junior at the Roosevelt College  in Chicago when he embark on a bicycle lecture tour across the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles, covering 2,280miles. The journey took him 28days (July 10th). He was given award by Fletcher Bowron, Los Angeles City Mayor. The tour included stops to deliver lectures at 11 major cities, was aimed to educate the American public on the progress made by his country Nigeria. The tour was carried out with him wearing Nigerian costumes to prove to Americans that Nigerians don't go about walking naked or half dressed in loin clothes at it was believed by Americans them.
Being a ladies' man, Ajala was a man of so many women Olabisi Ajala had a lot of affairs with women. In 1953, a baby boy was born by a former Chicago nurse named Myrtle Bassett who was residing in Los Angeles . This lady claimed Ajala was the father, but flatly refused. The lady filed a paternity suit against him although Ajala later named the baby (Oladipupo), and also signed the birth certificates.

Ajala was interviewed by jet that time, he said: the mother had refused to have blood tests for the baby so he could prove he was not its father. Also, he had contributed $300 to cover the medical and hospital expenses to cancel a restraining order against his $300 a  week salary at 20th Century - Fox  Studio, where he completed work in the movie White Witch Doctor.
    In March 1953, a Los Angeles domestic court ordered Ajala to pay Myrtle Bassett the sum of $10 per week for support of her  baby boy, Oladipupo.
In August 1955 in London, United Kingdom, Ajala revealed to journalist that he and his American wife, Hermine Aileen were divorced and he was planning to marry his 19years old white London radio  - Tv actress Joan Simmons in December of the same year. Hermaine divorced him over adultery and when Ajala was questioned about the philandering charges pressed by his wife, he said curtly: this, I am not contesting .
Ajala as an Actor
Following his daring bicycle trip across the continental United States, Ajala became the darling of many. Newspaper journalists besieged him and he was made a celebrity overnight. Deals, endorsements, and contracts came flying at him. One of such was the movie contract he signed with Eagle-Lion Studios in Hollywood in August 1955, the deal involved making a series of drama and spy films with European and African backgrounds.
After his deportation from the United States, Ajala proceeded to Canada and spent nine months perfecting his acting skills. It was while he was there that he starred in the stage play Lost In The Stars.

Ajala's Deportation
A free-spirited individual known for crashing into movies amongst other interesting ways of expressing his liberty, it was not long before Ajala surfaced on the American security radar. In July 1953, things had taken turn for the worse for Ajala. But what happened?
In March 1953, the police of Beverly Hills, California arrested and jailed Ajala on three felony charges. He was accused on one count of forgery, two grand theft and three, worthless cheque charges. To add to his trouble, he had also been sued by a former Chicago nurse for refusing to accept paternity of his child. Back to the forgery case, specific charges against Ajala indicated that he made attempts to work a ‘bunko’ game by opening a savings account at a branch of Bank of America under the fake name of ‘Edward Hines’ then made deposits at other branches with worthless cheques. Officials said Ajala made five of such phony deposits of about $450.
He was eventually found guilty of forgery and deported from the United States of America, he was aged 24, an exchange student from Africa and an actor. Ajala was not really deported solely because of the grand theft charges (to which he pleaded not guilty before Judge Orlando H. Rhodes), he became a subject of deportation also because he failed to maintain his studies at the Santa Monica Junior College, thus invalidating his visa. For the forgery and grand theft charges, Ajala pleaded not guilty saying with all firmness and seriousness that he was duped by Arnold Weiner, a white male ex-bank accountant. Weiner said while it was true that he showed Ajala how to write cheques, he did not dupe him in any way.
However, it must be stated that Ajala’s deportation was not without drama. After he was convicted of passing bad cheques in Los Angeles, Ajala was ordered by the American authorities to be deported to England from Ellis Island, New York but Ajala resisted and you know what he did? While awaiting deportation at the Terminal Island in Los Angeles after he was given a one-year suspended jail term, Ajala climbed an 80-foot radio tower and threatened to kill himself. From atop the tower, Ajala screamed that he ‘would rather leap to my death’ than be deported. Mr. Ajala was on the tower for almost 24 hours while the immigration authorities pleaded with him. Finally, Ajala fell to the ground from a height of 15 feet. He was examined by a doctor at the island’s hospital and they said all he suffered was just a sprained back. Immigration authorities said Ajala made the death threat because he feared what they called ‘tribal execution’ if he was packaged back to Nigeria.
Immigration officials said Ajala dreaded tribal execution so much so that when the judge sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence, Ajala dropped to his knees two times and touched the floor with his forehead saying he was ‘calling on Allah’ to bless the judge for the ‘mercy’ shown as the sentence might just save him from execution back home in West Africa.
When Ajala noted that his protest at the order of the immigration authorities did not work, he embarked on a 30-day fast which the immigration officials translated it to mean a hunger strike to stop his deportation, while Ajala insisted he was simply observing his Ramadan fasting as dictated by his Islamic faith. Whatever the case, Mr. Ajala was deported and gallantly flown to London. Immigration officer Justin Bennett confirmed his deportation without any fear of any execution and also stated that Ajala’s request to be sent to Canada was rejected because Canada has refused to approve his application.
Upon arriving in the United Kingdom, Ajala said he was going to work on a new movie at the Ealing Studios in London and talked of his plans to return to the United States.
By September 1954, Ajala was back in the United States with his American-born wife, Hermine Aileen. He explained to reporters that the deportation order only banned him from stepping on American soil and his plan was to resume his acting career in California.
Ajala's Global Travelling
He visited nations such as India, Russia (then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR), Jordan, Iran (not an Islamic Republic then but a monarchy and America’s greatest ally in the region headed by a monarch), Jordan, Israel and Australia using nothing but a motor-scooter (popularly called Vespa) and met with some of the most powerful people in the world.
These included personalities like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was Nigeria’s first prime minister, Marshal Ayub Khan of Pakistan, Golda Meir of Israel (she was the first female prime minister of the nation), Makarios III of Cyprus, Jawarhalal Nehru of India, Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR, the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi), Gamal Nasser of Egypt, General Ignatius Acheampong of Ghana, Odinga Oginga, former vice president of Kenya and others. Ajala released a book titled An African Abroad documenting all his experiences on the trip, the book was supposed to be the first volume of a trilogy. In all, he visited over 85 countries with his scooter over a period of six years.
Ajala had seen it all, from the greatest displays of wealth to the stupefying corridors of power. But somehow, by the time death came knocking, he was one of the poorest Nigerians alive.
On February 2, 1999, the man fondly known as “Ajala travel” died. He died in penury. The world famous Ajala died unsung and unrecognized.
His grave in central Lagos is no different from any other. For more than a year, Ajala suffered. He had a stroke which paralyzed his left limb. But his army of children were not there to give him succor. He only had two of them around, Olaolu Ajala, a 20-year-old student of Baptist Academy, Lagos and Bolanle Ajala, his 17-year-old daughter who had just finished her senior secondary education at the Baptist High School, Bariga, Lagos. With him also in his last hour was another teenager, 14-year-old Wale Anifowoshe. Wale was especially fond of him. He kept all Ajala’s money, the little there was.
Some of his children who could not be with him include Dante, Femi, Lisa and Sydney all of whom are based in Australia. They are the children of his Australian wife, Joan. Some of his other children are also spread around the globe. There are Taiwo and Kehinde in the United States as well as Bisola in England. But all were not around to bid their father a final goodbye except Olaolu and Bolanle.
Indeed it is a sad end for a man whose scooter is now a national monument. None of his numerous wives was around to bid him goodbye to the world beyond.
His first wife, Alhaja Sade, could not find time during the year-long sickness of her husband until he finally died. She lives in Ikotun, a suburb of Lagos. “We told her that he was sick and she told us she would come, but we never saw her, “ Olaolu said. He was not sure whether she is aware that her husband is dead. Joan only got in touch with him through correspondence. There are also Mrs. Toyin Ajala in England and Mrs. Sherifat Ajala, mother of his last daughter, Bolanle. But they were not around to tend to the man when he was battling with his sickness.
A neighbor in Bariga who spoke on condition of anonymity said “he could have survived if he had had adequate care.” Adequate care was indeed far from the late globe-trotter. In no other place was this manifested than his residence, a rented apartment in a two-storey building on Adeniran Street, Bariga. Climbing two flights of stairs to the top floor, one is immediately confronted with the way life had treated Ajala. A passage leads into a 16-by-12 feet sitting room.
The sitting room, devoid of carpet, has a table with about five locally made iron chairs in a corner which serves as the dining table. An old black and white television set sits uncomfortably in an ill-constructed shelf. The cushion on the sofa hurts the buttock as it has become flat. The curtains on the windows of the two bedroom flat shows signs of old age. It is indeed a story of penury.
© Fasasi Eyitayo S Marvel
1. Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad, (Jarrolds, London, 1963).
2. Deported Nigerian Actor Returns To US With Wife, page 58, Jet, 16th September 1954.
3. African Actor To Wed White British Actress, page 19, Jet, 25th August, 1955.
4. Moshood Olabisi Ajala, People Profile, Jet, 7th August, 1952.
5. African Cyclist Near End of ‘Cross Country’ Tour, Jet, 17th July 1952.
6. James Olney, Tell Me Africa: An Approach to African Literature, page 47.
7. Jet, 25th December, 1952, page 54.
8. Pause For Globe-Girdler, Jet, 18th September, 1958.
9. Oladipo GB Ogunseitan, Be Afra, Volume 1, page 528-530.
10. Tunji, Bolaji. ‘Sad End of Olabisi Ajala.’, The Guardian, 20 February 1999, pages 8-9.

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