Ever heard of the phase, Ajala The Traveller? This should not be a new to Nigerians as we are so used to the name, it is so popularly used that they have nicknamed the president anytime he goes out of the country. Ajala the traveler is based on the life and time of a Nigerian man named Ajala who toured the world using a Vespa Motorcycle, read below…
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 lip.
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 a 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 the stethoscope.
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’.
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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 Unclad or covered in leaves and loin clothes.
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.’’
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.
The already famous Ajala 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 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 Ajala in the 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-story 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 was 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.
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 a stroke. However, he has found a place for his name in the history of Nigeria and the world.
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