He is widely believed to have been the first Nigerian and perhaps the first African, to ride around the World.
Ajala was born in Ghana of Nigerian parentage and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. He received his early education at the Baptist Academy in Lagos and subsequently at Ibadan Boys’ High School. Eager to continue his education, at the age of 18, with the boat fare provided by his uncle, he sailed for the United States, arriving in New York City in August 1948. Ajala had no money to live on, but with the help of a Lutheran scholarship he managed to study for a year at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
He went on to study at Roosevelt University in Chicago and then at Columbia University in New York. To support himself during these years, Ajala worked as a dishwasher in restaurants and as a night orderly and morgue attendant in hospitals. In the summers he found work as a film extra in Hollywood. One of the movies he acted in was the 1953 film ‘White Witch Doctor’, where he starred alongside Robert Mitchum. He had been recommended for the part by his actor friend Ronald Reagan who later became the 40th President of the United States.
After studying in the USA (he was deported after his angry girlfriend reported that his visa had expired) he found his way via Canada to England where, in 1957-1962 he bought a Lambretta Li and set-off on a six-year journey through 87 countries. Ajala’s accounts of his travels and his activities as a free-lance journalist brought him fame at home, and he became known as ‘Ajala Travel’ and had a famous song written about him by Juju music maestro Ebenezer Obey.
His remarkable story includes many meetings with the world leaders of the time. Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev apparently ensured him a visa to ride from Berlin to Moscow. He rode across the Middle East and Egypt where he interviewed President Nasser before heading in to Israel to meet Prime Minister Golda Meir. Then onward to Iran meeting the Shah, then to India meeting Pandit Nehru. His travels through much of Asia involved meetings with Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia and Chiang Kai-Chek in Taiwan.
His book ‘An African Abroad’ (1963, Jarrolds, London, 255 pages, illustrated) describes these encounters. He also wrote of the racism he met among Hindu’s and of Australia, where he found democracy and equal treatment for all, except Aborigines. Sadly, Ajala died in penury in Lagos in 1999.