/ 6 July 2022

Polio crusading entrepreneur bikes across Africa


It’s 6am, the sun is rising and Kunle Adeyanju is getting ready for a big day’s travelling on his motorbike, Eagle, after just four hours of sleep. 

Today’s journey is different, though. It’s the celebratory leg of an epic 13-country tour and he is heading to his hometown, Kwara, from Lagos, Nigeria, escorted by other bikers.

It is barely two weeks since he arrived in Lagos, the final destination of the London to Lagos trip and although Adeyanju may have reached his advertised destination, he is continuing on another journey — raising funds to ensure a polio-free Africa

Today’s ride is part of that effort, a crusade that is both important for the country and intensely personal.

“My best friend Sanjo got polio when he was a child. It was a traumatic experience. Although he died recently, many years after contracting the virus, Sanjo’s health was never the same and I didn’t want someone else going through the same thing as he did,” Adeyanju said.

In 2021, this entrepreneur and father of two decided to travel across Africa on a motorbike to raise funds for his personal war against polio and began charting routes and plans, reading up on the travel situations in the 13 African countries he intended to visit. 

He prepared by reading widely, including referencing online resources such as the CIA World Factbook, which has information and latest statistics on countries around the world. He made a number of “informed decisions”, such as not to visit Burkina Faso, based on the information he came across — decisions that would make him question the prevailing  narrative about Africa later on.

The journey started on 19 April this year. 

A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Adeyanju has visited more than 75 countries and plans to travel further. He said this biking trip was far better than jetting to overseas destinations.

“This ride has been the most exciting adventure of my life because I discovered humanity. I discovered a much richer story than posing with concrete or sitting in a high-speed train.” 

Each country was unique in its difficulties and its delights. The places he enjoyed visiting the most were Senegal, Mali and Ghana because of the reception he received. He had the toughest experiences crossing the Sahara and in Mauritania.

“The Sahara is a very dangerous place to be. It’s hostile to life. I was in a sandstorm that lasted for one hour, 40 minutes. The gale-force of the wind lifted me off the ground. To survive, I laid my bike on its side and burrowed myself against it so that my body weight and that of my bike became one. It was hot, I got injuries from where the sand hit against my exposed skin like needles.”

What kept him alive was his survival instinct  and his children’s instruction: “Go on the trip but come back home no matter what.”

Mauritania offered different problems. 

“I wasn’t fighting the elements. Transactions as a foreigner in the country were dismal. Their currency [the ouguiya] was one ouguiya to 400 euros until recently. Now, it’s one ouguiya to 40 euros. But I was unaware of the change and the locals ensure foreigners stay uninformed. Things were very expensive and beyond that, I was maltreated,” Adeyanju saide.

Collaborating with the Rotary Club Ikoyi Metro, where he is president-elect, Adeyanju is crowdfunding to sustain the eradication of polio, and for the renovation of a primary health-care centre in Ikereku, a village in Oyo state. 

Initially hoping to raise 20 million naira (about $48 200), in May he increased his target to 100 million naira. He made the announcement on social media, urging people to donate through a bank transfer to the Rotary Club Ikoyi Metro or on GoFundMe. Adeyanju has promised to add 10% of the amount raised to the funding drive. 

In August 2020, Nigeria was declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), making it the last African country to be free of the virus. But, according to Adeyanju, the only way to eradicate the virus and prevent its re-emergence is through continual awareness-raising and vaccination against the disease.

His reception throughout the trip was encouraging. He was hosted by ambassadors, Rotary Clubs and individuals in several countries he visited. Additional donations were made by bikers and individuals in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Lagos in Nigeria, and Lomé in Togo, some of whom challenged Adeyanju to participate in various activities.

Adeyanju hopes to complete a travelogue about his trip, one that will set the record straight regarding travelling in Africa.

“My book is 50% done, and will most likely be published two months from now. It details all the experiences of this adventure. After it’s published, we’ll make a film as well.”

Although this trip takes him a step closer to achieving everything on his bucket list, he plans to do more. 

“A year from now, I will travel from Lagos to Israel. Then from Israel, I will travel to Tibet because I want to ride on the Tibetan plateau. After that, I will ride to Everest base camp to climb the mountain,” Adeyanju said.

Years ago, after well over a decade working for international corporations, Adeyanju quit his job to focus on his philanthropic pursuits and adventures. With a TEDx talk and two books behind him, his current work advising businesses gives him the necessary flexibility

“I can’t do this if I’m tied down to a company, which is why I became an entrepreneur in 2018. Now, I’m able to adjust my schedules for adventures like this, working around it if I have to,” Adeyanju said.

He never misses a chance to keep everyone updated on his YouTube channel and Twitter page. He said sharing his experiences on his blog was therapeutic, particularly during the difficult times.

Adetutu Ajiduah, a luxury salesperson, said: “I read about the #LondontoLagos journey on Twitter, and I was captivated that there’s a route from London to Lagos by bike. I was also intrigued that Kunle Adeyanju was doing it for humanitarian reasons. I wanted to know more about it, so I followed him on Twitter. His updates have been very enlightening.”

Just like Olabisi Ajala, a Nigerian globetrotter popular in the 1950s, Kunle Adeyanju regards himself as an adventurer. 

“My grandma nicknamed me Lionheart when I was 10. And I nicknamed my motorbike Eagle when I got it. Because, when an eagle meets a storm, it faces it head-on, soaring higher. A lionheart can only ride on an eagle.” 

With philanthropist Bill Gates and Twitter chief executive Parag Aragwal congratulating him for his efforts, the world is taking notice of Adeyanju’s initiative.

Marketing is a key component of  Adeyanju’s strategy. On his arrival in Lagos, Adeyanju collaborated with Radisson Hotel and The Palms Mall to have a “meet and greet”. Tunde Muyibi, marketing manager for The Palms Mall, spoke of his excitement about Adeyanju’s trip.

“A lot of us don’t know our continent as well as we should. But, through his journey, we could learn more. Kunle Adeyanju is our modern Ajala the Traveller,” he said.

The big take-away from his adventure is how distorted the narrative about Africa is. Adeyanju found the reality on the ground was very different as he made his way from country to country. 

“One thing I learned on my journey is that there is a need to tell the true African story. We are a diverse and friendly people. The negative narrative peddled about us around the world is untrue,” he said.
When he ventured into Burkina Faso while waiting for an entry visa to Côte d’Ivoire, the country was described as “dangerous and unfriendly” by the CIA World Factbook but it turned out to be welcoming and safe. — bird story agency