Social History

The Story of Olabisi Ajala, The Popular Nigerian Traveller Who Toured The World On A Vespa

Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala aka Ajala the traveller on his vespa
Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala aka Ajala the traveller on his vespa

Who was Olabisi Ajala The Traveller?

Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala, popularly known in Nigeria and across the globe as ‘Ajala the traveller‘, was the man who toured the United States of America on a bicycle, and the world, on a motor scooter better known as Vespa.

From the ordinary son of a traditionalist, Ajala rose to a global celebrity and his name became a song sang on every lips. During his prime, Ajala was envied and praised by both the young and old for his courage, determination and success.

Even in 1972, the Nigerian music wizard himself, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, immortalized Ajala and his adventures in a song included in his album titled ‘Board Members’. Obey sang thus: “Ajala travel all over the world (2ce), Ajala travel (2ce), Ajala travel all over the world.” Below is OldNaija’s detailed account of the life, career and death of the legendary and iconic Ajala the traveller.

Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala was born in Ghana into a Nigerian polygamous family of thirty. He was one out of the twenty-five children produced by his father and his four wives. Shortly after Ajala’s birth, his family moved down to Nigeria where he schooled in Baptist Academy, Lagos and Ibadan Boys’ High School.

At the age of 18, Ajala went to America to further his studies; he was admitted into the University of Chicago where he studied as a pre-medical student. His initial dream was to become a medical doctor and return to Nigeria to disparage the practice of voodoo and the people’s belief in superstitions but Ajala’s lifetime dream changed along the course of his life; he found something more interesting to him than donning lab coats and using stethoscope.

Ajala travel all over the world
Ajala’s lecture tour appearing in a newspaper

Ajala came into the spotlight in 1952 when he went on a lecture tour across the United States of America on a bicycle covering a total of 2,280 miles.

Throughout the lecture tour, Ajala dressed in the traditional attires of Nigeria one of which was described as “elaborately flowered robes with a felt-like head-dresses to match”. He did this in a bid to enhance the purpose of his lecture tour which was to educate Americans about the progress of his country, Nigeria, and Africa in general, and to enlighten them that contrary to the popular belief held in America, Africans don’t walk about naked or covered in leaves and loin clothes.

Ebenezer Obey's Board Members
Ebenezer Obey’s Board Members

The news of Ajala’s bicycle tour spread across the United States of America like wildfire and quickly made it to the dailies and television.

Below is a text of how Ajala was described in Global Television Formats: Understanding Television Across Borders: “Perhaps even more significant for our discussion of the show’s global and local dynamics, however, was the participation of Nigerian contestant, Olabisi Ajala, a sophisticated world traveller and secretary to his country’s prime minister. Olabisi is an attractive and charismatic black man who held a degree in psychology from Columbia University and was an expert in ethnology, the subject he chose for Lascia o Raddoppia? Olabisi recurrently appeared on TV wearing traditional Nigerian clothes, and he managed to transform every night on the show into a celebration of his ethnic and cultural heritage. The final night however, Olabisi entered the TV studio wearing an impeccable tuxedo, while Mike wore the traditional Nigerian costume, demonstrating once more his ability to interact with his contestants’ most genuine aspects of identity, be it regional, Italian or foreign and Other.’’

Alala and Robert Mitchum
Olabisi Ajala and Robert Mitchum going over a movie script

Ajala’s fame also landed him big movie roles. After his bicycle tour across the United States of America, he got his first role (of $300 per week) in the movie White Witch Doctor produced by the popular 20th Century-Fox Motion Picture. He played the supporting role of Ola, a companion of Loni, a famous African hunter played by Robert Mitchum. Also in August, 1955, he signed a movie contract with the Eagle Lion Studios of Hollywood which involved making movies with European and African backgrounds.

Ajala the traveller flanked by Jawarhalar Nehru of India sitting on his scooter
Ajala the traveller flanked by Jawarhalar Nehru of India sitting on his scooter

The already famous Ajala the traveler did not limit his tour to the United States of America, he visited a total of 87 countries with his scooter in six years.

He visited countries such as Israel, India, Australia, Iran, Russia, Ghana, Cyprus, Egypt and so on where he met with some of the greatest leaders in the world such as: Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Jawarhalar Nehru of India, Niki Khrushchev of the USSR, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, Ronald Reagan of America, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria and many more.

Ajala and his son, Oladipupo (Andre)
Ajala and his son, Oladipupo (André)

Ajala the traveller was known as a man of many women. His marital life featured different women from different parts of the world. In 1953, a Chicago nurse named Myrtle Basset filed a paternity suit against Ajala for denying being the father of ‘their son’ which she claimed Ajala himself named Oladipupo and also signed his birth certificate.

Despite the lawsuit, Ajala held firmly to his ground denying being the father of the boy. Ajala proposed a DNA test but the nurse was reluctant at first and when she eventually agreed to surrender the baby for the test, Ajala disappeared into the thin air which made the court ruled against him. In March, 1953, a domestic court mandated Ajala to pay $10 per week for the upkeep of Oladipupo, also named André.

That year, things did not go down well for Ajala. In March, 1953, he was arrested on the charges of forgery, grand theft and worthless check by the police of Beverly Hills, California. Ajala pleaded not guilty to the charges, he claimed he was duped by one Arnold Weiner who was an ex-bank accountant. Arnold Weiner in turn defended himself, he admitted showing Ajala how to write cheques but claimed he didn’t dupe him.

However, Ajala was sentenced to one year jail term and later deported from America. His deportation was not solely because of the forgery charges levelled against him but also because he had failed to keep up with his studies at the Santa Monica Junior College, thus invalidating his visa. Ajala resisted deportation and protested because, according to American authorities, he feared tribal execution. The authorities said Ajala was scared of being killed by his father if he was deported back to Nigeria which led to his protest.

Ajala had climbed an 80-foot radio tower where he screamed that he would rather leap to his death than be deported. Ajala protested on the tower for about 24 hours turning deaf ears to the pleas of the immigration authorities. He eventually jumped down from a height of 15 feet but was lucky to only have sustained a sprained back. The authorities also said Ajala, after the tower protest, embarked on hunger strike which Ajala debunked. He claimed he was only observing the 30-day Ramadan fasting. However, Ajala was flown to London instead of Nigeria. He had previously requested to be flown to Canada but his request was turned down because Canada refused to approve his application.

By December 1954, Ajala returned to America with his wife, Hermine Aileen who later divorced him in August 1955 on the charges that he was being adulterous. In December, that same year, Ajala married a 19-year-old white London radio-Tv actress, Joan Simmons.

Ajala protesting on a tower
Olabisi Ajala protesting on a tower (Abiyamo)

Ajala the traveler maintained his global celebrity status for a while but soon went out of the limelight though his name still kept ringing in the ears of people. He retired to Nigeria where he lived with some of his children.

Things turned worse for the Ajala in his latter years as he fell from the famous and rich world traveller to a common man struggling to met his ends somewhere in Lagos, a rented apartment in a two-storey building on Adeniran Street, Bariga to be precise.

When Ajala fell sick, he couldn’t get adequate medical care because he didn’t have enough money, and his swarm of children were not there for him, only two of his children lived with him and they are: Olaolu Ajala, a 20-year-old student of Baptist Academy, Lagos and Bolanle Ajala, his 17-year-old daughter.

Ajala travel all over the world
Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala

It is sad to know that the once world famous Ajala the traveler died a poor man on the 2nd of February, 1999 at the General Hospital, Ikeja as a result of paralysis from stroke. However, he has found a place for his name in the history of Nigeria and the world.

Thanks for reading, OldNaija.com

References

  • Innovative Travels- The story of Ajala travel all over the world
  • Tunji, Bolaji. ‘Sad End of Olabisi Ajala.’, The Guardian, 20 February 1999, pages 8-9.
  • African Actor Jailed For Worthless Checks, Jet, 12 th March, 1953, page 46.
  • Abiyamo- The Untold Story of AJALA TRAVEL, Africa’s Most Legendary Traveller

If you find this piece worth reading, kindly drop a comment below and share on social media.

Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (May 2, 2019). The Story of Olabisi Ajala, The Popular Nigerian Traveller Who Toured The World On A Vespa. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2019/05/02/the-story-of-olabisi-ajala-the-popular-nigerian-traveller-who-toured-the-world-on-a-vespa/

34 Comments

  1. This is about my first time of reading a story about the famous man.
    It’s very important for a man to be careful in his choice of and dealing with women when it comes to marital affairs. It goes a long way in determining the rise or fall of a man.
    Nice work, OldNaija. Keep it up.

    1. Thank you for your visit and priceless comment, Mr. Lekan Bello. You have indeed spoken well. Behind a successful man, they say, is A woman. We hope people will learn from his story. Kindly do visit again sir.

      1. Yes o, what a great guy. Many Nigerian didnt know about him. I listen to one of Ayinde Barrister songs when the duo had issues. I had to research further for details of the famed Ajala. He was an interesting Nigerian. His life exploit should be well documented. Those guys lived in an interesting time and enjoyed life to the fullest.

  2. This is a very interesting historical piece, very educative, full of knowledge especially to every successful being, men have to be very careful and always know that no condition is permanent. All prospective and successful men should be careful about women, as success attracts more women, so men should be careful.
    Kudos to the compiler of this story.

  3. What about Ajala’s service in the military during the civil war and his escapade with alhaja of ‘obokun’ fame popularised by inimitable Ebenzer Obey

  4. Anyone know where I can buy the book “An African Abroad”. Had a copy in college but had to return it. Been searching for a copy for sale for years with no success

  5. wow what a pity and amazing traveler, this is wonerful to heard a very good and educative story of a man who toured so many countries with a vespa wow its not easy. i salute him may his soul rest in peace. thank you, and god bless

  6. What sad way to finish his sojourn on earth! One should should tread with caution, fear of God, clear direction men should always watch the ways with adulterous lifestyle – it doesn’t end well.
    I must commend you Teslim, you did a nice work. I like the part of acknowledging your sources by stating… bravo brother!

    1. You have indeed spoken well. Adultery is not and will never be a friend to man’s destiny. Thank you for your visit and kind words, Mr. Felicity. Kindly do visit again, and speaking of visiting again, you can subscribe to our mailing list to get notified of latest updates and exclusive contents. Have a wonderful day.

    1. A very sad end indeed. Thanks for your visit and comment, Mr. Ogungbenro. Kindly do check back, and speaking of checking back, you can subscribe to our mailing list to get notified of latest updates and exclusive contents. Have a wonderful night.

  7. very interesting,I heard the song by ebenizer obey but I never knew ajala the Traveller exist. aside from the way he lived his life, I think the Nigeria government deserve to honor him or immortalize him for promoting our culture with the agbada on a bicycle. pls can u give the source I can get any other of his posture on the bicycle with the agbada,thanks and Go bless u for this information on olabisi ajala the Traveller. I will be expecting your reply,thanks once again

  8. Thanks for the story. But on the other hand, let us think of how to eradicate this bane of once-young-successful-and influential-but-dying-poor-and-unsung syndrome. Let me suggest that you make a research on some of our past successful youths who had died poor and publish your op-ed on this platform for distribution, offering possible solutions about prevention and alleviation, if it does happen.

  9. Hmm…What a pathetic end.Ajala had everything but took them for granted.Anyways,I love oldnaija and look to hearing more from you guys.How come a book wasn’t written about Ajala…..?

  10. What a wonderful story, thanks for the writeup Teslim. Always amazed each time I read the story of Ajala. Sad how he ended his sojourn, God knows best though.

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