|You may be familiar with the evergreen 1972 album – ‘Board Members’ by the legendary Nigerian juju musician Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi.If you’re not, here’s a brief summary: The 38-minute long album was full of praises and philosophy. It was one of the most successful Nigerian albums ever released, it broke sales charts and earned Obey and his Inter Reformers band a place in the history of African music. But Obey, who also used his music for education and social commentary created another star from that album. His name? Ajala.|
It was not a stand alone track by itself. But the chorus went, to use today’s parlance, viral.“Alajala mi Omo Olola, Alajala mi Omo Olola; Alajala mi Oko Alhaja Sade…Ajala travel all over the world, Ajala travel all over the world, Ajala travel, Ajala travel, Ajala travel all over the world.”The name Ajala and his story became a lexicon in the Nigerian parlance. Here is the story behind the man and why everyone who loves travelling is easily nicknamed after him.
|Who Was Ajala?|
Mashood Olabisi Ajala’s exploits were relatively unknown until Obey made him a global star. Before the tour of the world that made him popular, Ajala had, while studying in the United States, aged 23, bicycled 2,280 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles.
In its December 11, 1952 publication, Jet magazine reported that this adventure landed Ajala a role as a second male lead in 20th Century-Fox’s adventure movie ‘White Witch Doctor’ in 1952, joining a cast headed by Susan Hayward and Robergt Mitchum. The contract, according to the Jet, was worth $300 a week and he played the role of Ola, a companion of Loni (Mitchum) a famous African hunter.Born in 1929 in Ghana to a Nigerian father with four wives and 25 children, Ajala started crossing borders at a young age when his family relocated to Nigeria. Back home in Nigeria he was educated at Baptist Academy in Lagos and Ibadan Boys’ High School in Ibadan, Oyo State where he graduated in 1946, according to the school’s nominal roll seen by Neusroom.With the disapproval of his father and the blessings of his father’s four wives and his 25 siblings as he narrated in his 1961 article published in the West African Review, Ajala left Nigeria for the United States in 1952 to study at Roosevelt College in Chicago.
|His first movie role in 1952 also came from recommendations from actor Ronald Reagan whom he met in London three years before travelling to the U.S. Reagan later became the President of the United States.But everything changed one year later, Ajala, who was enjoying media attention for his travel and acting exploits, ran into trouble with the U.S authorities.|
In February 1953, he was arrested and jailed on three counts of grand theft in Los Angeles after he was charged with passing bad cheques under the name Edward Hines. He admitted the act but insisted he was duped by an American banker Arnold Weiner.As if that was not enough, Ajala was also convicted for failing to maintain his studies at Santa Monica Junior College, a condition which invalidates his Visa. Adding to his many troubles, a Chicago nurse Myrtle Bassett also filed charges in a Los Angeles Court against him for refusing to accept paternity of his child.
Apparently, when it rains, it pours.Bassett claimed her child – Andre, was conceived in Chicago before Ajala embarked on his bicycle trip to California. He ‘promised’ to marry her but never returned to Chicago. Ajala was ordered by the courts to pay $10 per week to Bassett when he refused to show up to take the blood test he had demanded.
|Following the charges of failing to maintain his studies which invalidated his visa and grand theft, Ajala was ordered to be deported to England after pleading not to be deported to Nigeria. While in London he conceived the idea to globe-trott 40 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa on his Vespa scooter and he embarked on the journey on April 27, 1957. He was 26. He named his adventure – “This Safari” and said it would cover 30,000 miles across 40 countries in nine months and he would return to London afterwards.|
He visited India, Russia (then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR), Jordan, Iran, Israel, Australia and many other nations on his motorcycle. At the end of the tour he had visited 85 countries in six years.
In his memoir – ‘An African Abroad’ documenting his experience, Ajala narrated his encounter with some world leaders like Marshal Ayub Khan of Pakistan, Golda Meir (the first female Prime Minister of Israel), Makarios III of Cyprus, Jawaharlal 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.during the tour.On his encounter with the ex-president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ajala wrote:“Every day at 6am for the next two weeks, I was waiting directly in front of his presidential palace hoping he would come out. On the 13th day of my hitherto unpromising efforts, around 5pm President Naseer emerged from the interior of his residence heading for his car.”During this tour, he ran into trouble with immigration officers at border points. At the border between Israel and Palestine, Ajala said he was almost shot for speeding across without permission and was accused of spying for Israel.
12 years after his graduation from Ibadan Boys High School (IBHS), on February 28, 1958, Ajala made, what could best be described as, a triumphant entry into his alma mater. In the school’s 80th anniversary commemorative magazine – ‘The Triumph of Resilience,’ published in October 2018, Ajala’s visit was described as the greatest event of that year in Ibadan Boys’ High School.
|According to the magazine’s report, “His triumphant entry to the school was marked with all the songs and reception which any school could offer. Accompanied by cyclists, auto-cyclists and a large crowd, he rode in his 150 c.c. motor cycle through the guard of honour formed by the boys. He was heartily, proudly and warmly received by the Principal, who, incidentally, was his master at school.”Ajala also stepped into the shoes of his father who enjoyed the company of many women. Apart from the mother of his first son, he was involved with other women. |
He married an American Hermine Aileen who separated from him in 1955 over allegations of philandering, an allegation he never denied.He also married a 19-year-old British radio-TV actress Joan Simmons. In 1962 when he got to Australia during his tour of the world, Ajala met and fell in love with a 28-year-old Australian lady, Joane Prettan, whom he married and had three children with.In England he married Toyin Ajala, and Mrs. Sherifat Ajala, the mother of his last daughter, Bolanle. His children are spread across the globe – in Nigeria, Australia and London.The most popular among his Nigerian wives was Alhaja Shade who was mentioned in the famous Obey song “Alajala mi oko Alhaja Shade…Ore mi kama puro, kamu tegan kuro, Shade dara l’obirin,” that was Ebenezer Obey praising and attesting to Shade’s beauty in the album ‘Board Members’. In 1976, Ajala reunited with his 23-year-old musician son Oladipupo Andre whose paternity he had denied in 1953. Andre died in Oakland in January 2020 at age 67.
On June 18, 1998, Ajala the Traveller suffered a stroke that paralysed his left limb after falling on the balcony of his house in Bariga, a suburban community in Somolu local government area of Lagos. Living in Bariga was an indication that Ajala, who had toured the world and was a top Nigerian socialite, had seen better days.His health got worse in January 1999 and he was rushed to the Lagos General Hospital in Ikeja on January 25, 1999, where he died 11 days after, on February 2, 1999. He was buried in Lagos. In his final days only three of his children – Olaolu, Bolanle and Anifowoshe, were around to bury him.According to a February 1999 report in Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper, some of his children who could not be with him include Dante, Femi, Lisa and Sydney all of whom are based in Australia.
Others also spread around the globe include – Taiwo and Kehinde in the U.S, and Bisola in England.None of his numerous wives was around to bid him goodbye. Not even the famous Alhaja Sade, who lived in Ikotun, Lagos, at the time, visited Ajala while he was battling a stroke until he finally died. “We told her that he was sick and she told us she would come, but we never saw her,” Olaolu told Guardian.