Friday, 2 December 2016

WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT MONSHOOD AJALA, THE FIRST AFRICAN TO TOUR THE WORLD.

MOSHOOD OLABISI AJALA: Born of Nigerian parents Ahmed Rufai Ajala (father) and Jaminat Agbeke Ajala (mother) in 1928 and not 1930 as has been reported before now in the news, in Accra Ghana and was brought up in Nigeria. The father was a Kola-nut merchant who traveled across West Africa selling his products, while in Ghana he had most of his kids, including Olabisi in 1928 and Olayinka in April 1931. 

Monshood Ajala


He hails from Lagos Island, 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. His father, was a traditionalist and a Muslim with four wives and 25 children, including Olayinka his immediate younger brother from the same mother. 




He was the first black student to be pledged by the Delta Upsilon Pi ‘fratority’, a co-educational Greek-letter organization at De Paul University in Chicago in January 1952 where he was a pre-medical student. He was so active that he was made the feature editor of the campus newspaper, the 'De-Paulian'. 
Ajala


Movie star Robert Mitchum goes over script of White Witch Doctor with Ajala

His ambition was to became a medical doctor,  return to Nigeria and wage wars 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 was an expert in ethnology with a degree in Psychology from Columbia University.
Ajala with his Attorney Elias Powell

Some of his school mates include former President of the United States James A. Garfield, former President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Forty-two other brothers of the fraternity (Delta Upsilon Pi ‘fratority’) have sat in the United States Congress, three in the Parliament of Canada, one in the Imperial House of Peers of Japan, and six on the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.



Olabisi-Ajala on his Vespa motor-scooter

Me and Alhaji Col. (rtd) Rafiu Olayinka Ajala, immediate younger brother of Olabisi Ajala

 Its members have received six Nobel Prizes, five Olympic gold medals, one Pulitzer Prize, four Medals of Honor, one Lenin Peace Prize, one Presidential Medal of Freedom, seven investitures into the Order of Canada, and one investiture each into the Order of St Michael and St George, the Order of Merit, among many others.

On June 12, 1952, at the age of 22 and as a Psychology junior at the Roosevelt College in Chicago he embark on a bicycle lecture tour across the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles, covering 2,280 miles. He arrived the Los Angeles City Hall on July 10th, after 28 days on the road. He was received by Fletcher Bowron, Los Angeles City Mayor. 



Standing in front of the last house where Ajala lived and died at Bariga
Holding a copy of Ajala's autobiography
Ajala with his first son Andre, after they got reunited  in 1976

He narrated to the Mayor of how he was jailed for 44 hours in Topeka, Kansas after the white YWMA refused him a room and called the police when he protested and how he filed a suit against the Topeka YMCA and its Secretary via the Nigerian Ambassador in Washington. The tour which 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 tours were carried out with him wearing native Nigerian costumes to prove to Americans that Nigerians don't go about walking naked or half dressed in loin clothes as it was believed by Americans then.

Me and Alhaji Col. (rtd) Rafiu Olayinka Ajala,
 immediate younger brother of Olabisi Ajala


During his tours, he was featured by 'The Global Television Formats' on their station on 'Understanding Television Across Borders', and he was described thus:  ‘Perhaps even more significant for our discussion of the show’s global and local dynamics, however, is the participation of Nigerian contestant Olabisi Ajala, a sophisticated world traveler and secretary to his country’s prime minister." (Did you just read that? - secretary to his country’s prime minister Alhaji Tafewa Balewa, that is a BIG one). 



Olabisi's cousins Tunde and Saidy Ajala and me
Movie star Robert Mitchum goes over script of White Witch Doctor with Ajala

 Olabisi 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 also ventured into acting, he got his first studies script for first movie, when he met Movie star Robert Mitchum during the 20th Century-Fox motion picture 'White Witch Doctor'. He played a supporting role as the second male lead in the movie with a $300-a-week contract. The cast was headed by Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum and Ajala played the role of Ola, a companion of Loni (Mitchum), a famous African hunter, he got the role on the recommendation of an old friend he met in 1949 in London, Ronald Reagan who later become an American President.
Ajala with Mohammed Ayub Khan,
 widely known as Ayub Khan, HPk, NPk, HJ,
 a five-star rank army general who served as the second President of Pakistan

Olabisi-Ajala on his Vespa motor-scooter

In March 1953, the police of Beverly Hills, California arrested and jailed him 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 him 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 of the bank said, he made five of such phony deposits totaling $450.

His Attorney Elias Powell, tired to convince him to plead guilty and get less sentence but he pleaded not guilty before Judge Orlando H. Rhodes and he was eventually found guilty of forgery and deported from the United States of America. (Note, that he was not really deported solely because of the grand theft charges, 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, he pleaded not guilty saying with all firmness and seriousness that he was duped by Arnold Weiner, a white male ex-bank accountant. In his defence, Weiner said while it was true that he showed Ajala how to write cheques, he did not dupe him in anyway. 

Ajala on top of the Airport Tower, follow the arrow

However, it must be stated that Ajala’s deportation was not without drama. After Judge Orlando H. Rhodes sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence, he dropped to his knees twice and touched the floor with his forehead praying that 'Allah’ should bless the judge for the ‘mercy’ shown as the sentence might just save him from execution back home in Nigeria. He pleaded that he should be deported to Canada, rather than London but the judge will never accept.

While awaiting for deportation at the Terminal Island in Los Angeles after he was given a one-year suspended jail term, he climbed on the 80-foot radio tower and threatened to jump and commit suicide. He screamed that he "Would rather leap to my death" than be deported. He remained at the top of tower for almost 24 hours while the Immigration Authorities pleaded with him. Finally, he fell to the ground from a height of 15 feet. He was examined by doctor at the Island’s hospital and they said all he suffered was just a sprained back. Immigration Authorities said he made the death threat because he feared what they described as "tribal execution" if he was packaged back to Nigeria. They quoted Olabisi as saying: "My father will kill me if I am sent back without completing my college studies."

Ajala in New Delhi with India Prime Minister Jawahar- lal Nehru

 After the airport scene, he embarked on a 30-day Ramadan fasting period but the Immigration officials translated it to mean a hunger strike to stop his deportation. He was eventually deported to London, his request to be sent to Canada was rejected because Canada refused to approve his application, as was confirmed by Immigration officer Justin Bennett. 

While in the United Kingdom, Olabisi joined in a new movie at the 'Ealing Studios' in London. From there he 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 with wife, 19- year-old white London Radio-TV actress Joan Simmons an Australian
Ajala with his Attorney Elias Powell

By September 1954, he was back in the United States with his American-born wife, Hermine Aileen. He explained to reporters that his deportation-order only banned him from stepping on American soil for just one year and his plan was to resume his acting career in California.

As he toured the world on his bicycle and later his motor-scooter (popularly called Vespa) and the news of the celebrated deportation and subsequent return circulated everywhere, he became an instant celebrity. Television and Newspaper journalists besieged him everywhere. 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.

In 1963, Olabisi published his half-travelogue and half-autobiography titled: 'Olabisi Ajala - An African Abroad' the hard cover 256 page book was published by Jarrolds written in English language with ASIN is B0000CLYNI. The book documented all his experiences on the trip and was supposed to be the first volume of a trilogy, it was written while he was in Australia. The introduction of the book was done by Tom Mboya (Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya) - a Kenyan. The book opens with the following: "From America I went to Canada (where I spent a couple of years) and later on to Britain. In 1957 I began my one-man Odyssey around the world. It is still going on as I write this in Sydney, Australia. In nearly all the eighty-seven countries I have visited during the course of my six-year journey around the world (ranging from North America to Eastern and Western Europe, through Africa and Asia and as far east as Korea, Indonesia and Australia), I have observed many different political regimes both in democratic and communist states. I have met with brutality and racial intolerance. I have felt the bitter evil of man's inhumanity to man, and have marveled at the goodness of the humane-hearted"

As the time of his death, he was working on his second book "BEFORE MY ORBITUARY". This second book would have been a revised and updated version of 'An African Abroad' with latest developments in his life, the political situation and the unpleasant birth of military regimes in his country Nigeria and history of human rights abuses.

During his visits all over the world, he met with some of the most powerful citizens of the world.
People like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Marshal Ayub Khan of Pakistan, 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, Golda Meir - first female Prime Minister of Israel, and many others. On meeting with Prime Minister Golda for example, Olabisi who went through hard time to get into Israel told the Prime Minister: "Shalom, your Excellency, you will hardly appreciate how deeply grateful I am to you for allowing me into Israel after causing you and your officials so much headache!" and the Prime Minister responded: "It's not often we have this kind of trouble. Your bravery impressed us. We thought we should crown it. Just as we are trying very hard to be friendly to the Arabs, so we want to be friends to every person irrespective of his race, religion and nationality. Israel is as much your home as Nigeria."


His meeting with Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR, was very dramatic and remarkable. Khrushchev was powerful for he was assumed to be ruling with iron-fist, he ruled the most tensed years of the Cold War, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis'. Almost everybody that knew Olabisi was embarking on that tour warned him to keep off USSR, but he went on, he was shot at, but he escaped by the whiskers, most remarkable was that he met with President Nikita Khrushchev, a very determined personality with strong will power.


 He earnestly took a daring, suicidal mission to meet face to face with Russian President Nikita Kruschev, in order to seek an entry visa to the Soviet Union. Ajala emerged swiftly through the cordon unannounced, he was standing right in front of Mr. President as he was about to climb the rostrum, Ajala was dressed in his native agbada - flowing garment. He was quickly grabbed and gripped by a crowd of surging armed soldiers on alert, they grabbed him in order to protect the President. Amazed at Ajala's sudden appearance from the crowd and his struggle with the soldiers, the president unceremoniously beckoned on him.

 As he screamed at the security men "leave that young black-man alone and allow him to come up to me" Ajala stretched and grabbed the handle of the stage, he stretched out his hand to the president and handed him a hand-written note, with the content;  "Please sir, give me a Russian visa to Moscow". The president took the note, gave Ajala a handshake and laughed at his audacity, he did not read the note immediately, but obviously he read later, for he granted Ajala visa and even hosted him.

As he finally climbed down, on his way out of the charring crowd, he was encircled by four armed soldiers and three armed security men bundled him into a jeep, accompanied by two other jeeps with about a dozen soldiers. From the stadium, he was taken to a remote, military barrack in a hidden village, outside Berlin. A spacious ground with imposing, uncovered buildings firmly guarded by the watchful eyes of stern-faced gun-toting soldiers. 


He was taken to the sixth floor of an imposing building. There he was lavishly entertained to a sumptuous array of egg and bacon  sandwiches' with iced tea. After the meal the interrogations started. They wanted to know his country of birth and for where he had arrived from into Berlin and the purpose of his visit. 


Ajala with Nigerian Prime Minister Tafewa Balewa

They asked him if he was an American agent or a spy sent to gather secret information against President Kruschav. The interrogation was done by six men carrying their pistols strew around their waist and four armed soldiers, the surrounded him and placed him on a seat under a flood light. After about an hour of questioning, a gray headed bespectacled middle-aged  man who was probably their leader walked in with six clean shaven soldiers. The leader spoke to him thus: "Please Sir, Mr  Black man from Africa, The president of the Soviet Union, His Excellency Mr Nikita Kruschav respectfully wants us to bring to his palace in Berlin" and he followed them in one of the limousines they came with.      

While in Ninsk, a city in Russia, he was told that Black skinned men from Africa could only be engaged in drinking black milk. The Russians believed then that white milk will contaminate blacks since they had little or no contacts with the blacks then.

Olabisi Ajala visited 6 out of the 7 continents of the world, he visited Africa, North America, South America, Australia, Europe and Asia. The only continent he missed was Antarctica and that is because in Antartica there are no cities or villages, 98% of the continent is covered by ice. listed below are some of the countries he visited:
Australia
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cambodia
Canada
China
Cyprus
Denmark
Egypt
England
Finland
France
Germany
Ghana
Greece
Iceland
India
Indonesia
Iran
Israel
Italy
Japan
Jordan
Kenya
Korea
Laos
Malaysia
Nigeria
Norway
Pakistan
Philippines
Poland
Russia (USSR)
Singapore
Spain
Sweden
Taiwan
Thailand
Topeka
Turkey
United Kingdom
Vietnam
Yugoslavia.

In his list of countries visited, some major cities were listed as countries, even after the host country would have been listed, they include: California, Djakarta, Honolulu, Lahore, Los Angeles, Britain, Burma, Chicago, Hong-Kong, Milan, Moscow, New York, Paris, Rawalpindi, Warsaw, Sydney, Scandinavia, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and he also visited the third largest island in the world - Borneo, a tropical jungle-clad island set in the South China Sea in SE Asia.

After he returned to Nigeria, Olabisi worked very briefly at the Federal Ministry of Information in Lagos around 1967-68. He worked in the Press Section and the Production Division of the Ministry which was at that time located at the Six Storey Building on Broad Street, just opposite the Federal Ministry of Justice, and near to the General Hospital. Some of his colleagues as of then include Alhaji Rimi Abubakar who later became the Governor of Kano State, Mr. Fela Davies - veteran playwrights and author, Mr. Ademola James, amongst others. Gladys Russel a former staff in the Ministry who was Assistant Information Officer in Training described Olabisi Ajala thus: "Mr. Ajala was very bold, outspoken and direct person who seemed filled with this urge to be active. So, he was a very interesting but very restless and unpredictable person. He did not stay long with the Ministry Information because he seemed to have hearkened, once again, to this relentless urge, to mount his famous motor-bike and take to the roads again". He left the Ministry of Information to work with a plastic company Clemco Plastics Limited. 


In 1970, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, came out with an "Owambe" music for 'Ajala' from the Juju album 'BOARD MEMBER' on the West African Decca musical label, it goes thus:
"Ajala travels all over the world
You have traveled all over the world
Ajala traveled all over the world
Ajala traveled, Ajala traveled
Ajala traveled all over the world.

His wives includes: Myrtle Bassett, a former Chicago nurse who had Andre, whom he named Oladipupo, Hermine Aileen whom he divorced to marry then 19- year-old white London radio-TV actress Joan Simmons an Australian; before meeting Joan, his plan was to continue his tour from Sydney to Argentina, West Indies and Cuba, on his arrival in Sydney in December 1961 from Djakarta, Indonesia he met Joan, whom he described as "rosy, sarcastic, humorous, thoroughly affable, full of charm and charisma, young Australian in her early twenties." he went ahead and married her. He also had Toyin Ajala in England, Sade who stays in Ikotun, Lagos and Sherifat Ajala, mother of his last daughter, Bolanle among others.

His 17 children include his first son Andre, when Myrtle Bassett had Andre, Ajala initially denied the boy and Myrtle filed a paternity suit against him, but considering the fact that Ajala signed the birth certificate and named him 'Oladipupo' and also paid $300 to cover medical and hospital expenses, the case was settled out of court. Ajala went on to live his life but in 1976, he returned to US to be reunited with him. Other kids include Dante, Femi, Lisa and Sydney from his Australian wife, Joan Simmons. There are Taiwo and Kehinde in the United States, Bisola in England, Olaolu a product of Baptist Academy, Lagos and Bolanle a product of Baptist High School, Bariga, Lagos and Wale Anifowoshe.

There are some fairy tales on Ajala, I heard this at Adesina Street Bariga while I was searching for Ajala, I was told that Olabisi Ajala married a wife and had at least a child in all the 87 countries he visited, the women never knew of Ajala's relationship with the others, so they were proud to have him as their husband, he continued until he visited India, married an Indian lady who discovered his life style and used her witchcraft to kill him.

Any way Olabisi lived until June 18, 1998 when he had stroke which paralysed his left limb, he managed it for 7 months and 20 days when he joined his mother who died on March 2, 1993. Ajala traveled to return no more on February 2, 1999 at the age of 71. May his soul continue to rest in peace.

Ajala at a party, spreading money to a dancer

Among those who survived him is Alhaji Col. (rtd) Rafiu Olayinka Ajala - The Ometebise of Owu Kingdom and his immediate younger brother of the same parents. Pa Olayinka attended the same school, Baptist Academy at Broad Street. Olayinka after secondary school worked with 'The United Africa Company' in 1951. In 1955, he left for England and by the time he was back in Nigeria in 1961, he had obtained his ACISA - Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators after  then he joined the Nigerian Army. He is presently a FCISA.

8 comments:

  1. this serves as one of the best history ever told about that man ajala travel traveller , Dr.Sir, you are the pride of our generation. more grace on your research.

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  2. Fantastic write-up. You can't stop reading until the end.

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  3. The man ''scatter world" no be small! I don't think anybody can ever beat this record. May his soul continue to Rest In Peace.

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  4. Great Nigerian, great Yoruba man.may his soul continue to rest in peace.

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  5. whaoh tnx so much for this narration.

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  6. A great Nigerian full of life I grew up with that obey music ajala travel all over the world may his gentle soul rest in peace...

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