Europe had Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, James Cook, and Marco Polo, Asia had its Ibn Battuta and Zheng He and Africa had OLABISI AJALA.
He was one of the foremost Nigerian icons of cultural history, the quintessential explorer.
A very Nigerian man at heart and a proud African in soul, Ajala shattered all records of travel, voyaging into lands that no black person had ever seen not to talk of setting their feet there.
Ajala had the world in his pockets and the world bowed at his guts. From the physical boundaries of nations to the piercing demarcations of racism, Ajala tore through them all.
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Born Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala in Ghana to an African Muslim father with four wives, Ajala grew up in a large family. He was one out of 25 children.
In his own words in his legendary book, An African Abroad, he said:
‘I was born in Ghana, of Nigerian parents, and brought up in Nigeria, where I had my schooling at the Baptist Academy, Lagos, and Ibadan Boys’ High School. At the age of eighteen I went to America to further my studies. My father, a traditionalist who belongs to the old school…’
Ajala’s initial goal was to study medicine and as a matter of fact, 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 said at that time that once he became a medical doctor he was going to return to Africa to in his words ‘wage war on voodoo and other superstitions.’
He said he was proud of his 24 siblings, one of whom was a student in England. He never fulfilled his dream of becoming a medical doctor as he stumbled on something far more enchanting.
LOVE AND MARRIAGE
Charismatic and charming, Ajala was a man of so many women.
In early 1953, a baby boy weighing six pounds and eight ounces was born to a former Chicago nurse named Myrtle Bassett who was residing in Los Angeles.
This lady said Ajala was the father of the baby and had previously filed a paternity suit against him when he flatly refused he was the father. But the mother of the child countered saying Ajala did not only name the baby (Oladipupo), he also signed the birth certificate.
Ajala stuck to his guns and insisted he was not the father. He told Jet that time that:
‘1. The mother had refused to have blood tests for the baby so he could prove he was not its father.
2. He had contributed $300 to cover the medical and hospital expenses to cancel a restraining order against his $300-a-week salary at 20th Century-Fox Studio, where he completed work in the movie White Witch Doctor and
3.He had given her $150 after the child’s birth and promised $200-a-month for support, pending settlement of the case.’ Ajala was scheduled to begin work in Columbia Studio’s movie Killer Ape on the 2nd of February 1953 when all this allegations and court issues about paternity came.
In fact, Ajala planned to launch a countersuit to the paternity case saying:
It is the only way I can prove that I am innocent of the charges. She refuses to submit the baby to a blood test. I think it is a trick.
Eventually, when the lady in question said she was ready for the blood tests, Mr. Ajala was nowhere to be found and the court had to rule against him.
In March 1953, a Los Angeles domestic court ordered Ajala to pay Myrtle Bassett the sum of $10 per week for support of her baby boy, Oladipupo.
In August 1955 in London, United Kingdom, Ajala revealed to journalists that he and his American wife, Hermine Aileen were divorced and that he was planning to marry his 19-year-old white London radio-TV actress Joan Simmons in December of the same year. Hermine had divorced him over adultery and when Ajala was questioned about the philandering charges pressed by his wife, he said curtly: ‘This, I am not contesting.’
When Ajala passed through Australia in his trip, he met and fell in love with a local girl, whom he married. This union sparked the interest of many because as at that time, only about 100 blacks (Aborigines) had become Australian citizens and most of them did so via marriage.
In 1955, he married a British actress Joan Simmons aged 19.
Recall that Ajala had many children from his various romantic liaisons with women. One of the most striking stories of his children includes that of the child mentioned earlier on, the one he had with Myrtle Bassett.
Ajala did not set his eyes on the child for 23 years and when he finally met him in December 1976, he was ecstatic with joy. This was how it happened.
After the court ruled in Bassett’s favor, Ajala soon disappeared from the radar and when he turned 46, he was overwhelmed with so much guilt that he said of the meeting with Oladipupo (then called Andre). Ajala explained: ‘I was very happy to find Andre. He is my oldest son and he is so full of life. Im overjoyed that I found him.’
Ajala was just 24 and a student at Roosevelt University in Chicago when he met a student nurse there and later moved to Los Angeles with her and shortly gave welcomed the baby boy.
But a couple of months after Andre was born, Ajala had ajala-ed himself back to Nigeria, leaving his family behind. But the shame was too much for him as a father and decided to return to the United States to find his son whom he found in New York already working as a musician and a guitarist. An excited Ajala said he would love his son to visit Nigeria the following year (1977) and perform at the World Black Arts Festival (1977).