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Opinions of Thursday, 1 December 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Innocent Samuel

What You Didn’t Know- A Philanthropist With Many Parts

By Innocent Samuel Appiah

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. These are the words of William Shakespeare.

Perhaps, Alhaji Yakubu Ayana, Director of Ayana Travel and Tours in Tamale, who is like a celebrity who works hard all his life to become known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized, can aptly be associated with the above saying of Shakespeare. Even though he is popularly known for his Travel and Tours business, he can be described as Jack of All Trades and Master of All. When it is work, he stands tall and when it comes to languages too, one will be surprised to hear him speak so many.

Born on September 20, 1959 at Asuoyeboa, in Kumasi, the unassuming smart-looking Alhaji Ayana was sent to his hometown, Tamale in the Northern Region to stay with his uncle, at a tender age of seven years. His uncle was a Mallam and a farmer, and hence, young Ayana had to commute between an Arabic school and going to the farm. Having learnt how to make life meaningful for himself at that age, he had to equally help one of his uncles who had a drug store, where he assisted in selling the drugs.
Alhaji Ayana, who did not have the privilege to enroll for western education, later on started moving from house to house to sing to earn a living. It was during one of such rounds that he was spotted by a certain man who decided to take young Ayana to Nigeria during the regime of Alhaji Shegu Shagari to pursue the singing career there for a living. After making some money in Nigeria, he bought a Yamaha 100 motorbike. He in addition bought some clothing and shoes and then rode motorbike from Ibadan in Nigeria to Tamale, where he sold the motorbike and the items he brought along with him to commence a small scale business.
Later on, Alhaji Ayana, who has been commended by some Muslims who returned from the just-ended Hajj performance at Mecca in Saudi Arabia, decided to go into sports as he walked from Tamale to Accra to commemorate the swearing-in of former President Jerry John Rawlings in 1993. The 52 year-old Alhaji Ayana again embarked on the same walk for the second swearing-in of former President Rawlings in 1997. The reason for his walks varied from raising awareness of peace, famine and cancer to celebrate the swearing-in of a newly democratically-elected President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana.
He returned back with the same walking, through Tamale to Paga, enroute to Mecca, passing through Burkina Faso, Mali, Algeria, but had to return after reaching the Algeria - Libyan border. That was the year that Libya was bombed and for that matter he was not allowed to cross the border.
The strong and flexible Alhaji Ayana, is in an excellent shape, and does not easily get tired. He was motivated to walk to Mecca to perform Hajj from the fact that some people in the olden days were reported to have walked to Mecca some 200 years ago. Based on that he attempted to sojourn to Mecca on foot, but due to conflicts along the routes, he had to finally go by flight. He said when he attempts doing something well focused and with determination, he does it to the fullest and that was why he nearly made to Mecca but for the problems encountered at the various borders.
Media reported quoted him as commenting on his venture, “I want people to know that about 200 years ago, our forefathers used to walk to Mecca. There were no cars, no bicycles, yet they always reached Mecca on foot to perform the Hajj. Now, if you have it in your heart, you can walk to anywhere you want to reach.”
After his return to Ghana, Alhaji Ayana, who says he does not pride himself on successes chalked, redirected his route through Nigeria, but when he got to Nigeria, there was again a war between South Sudan and North Sudan, with a stop in Sudan where he had to board a boat to cross the Red Sea, where he was given a ticket to fly to Mecca to perform the Hajj in 1987. Since then, he has always performed the Hajj at Mecca.
According to Alhaji Yakubu Ayana, during his first visit to Mecca, he saw how some of the pilgrims were suffering with regards to emplaning from Ghana to Saudi Arabia as well as other ground works, and so he did a lot of homework and came to start his own Travel and Tours business, where he applied to become a Hajj Agent, which has since been doing very well on the Tourism Industry, and for which reason his customers continue to increase on yearly basis.
The self-motivator Alhaji Ayana, speaks 13 different languages – both Ghanaian and foreign. Notable among them are English, Spanish, Hausa, Yuroba, Fulani, Moshi, Ga, Akan (twi), Dagbaani, French and Arabic.
In 2000, a Benz saloon car with registration number AS 9971 D belonging to Alhaji Ayana, then Assistant Northern Regional Organizer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was burnt to ashes by unidentified persons in Tamale. The incident was reported to have occurred at 10.30 pm, a day after the Presidential run-off in 2000, when Alhaji Ayana was stopped by some three young men who had disguised themselves. The unidentified persons immediately engaged Alhaji Ayana in a scuffle and the set the car on fire. Alhaji Ayana also got his house razed by fire, which was suspected to be the work of arsonists. In that fire outbreak, he lost US$70,000, 2,800 Pounds Sterling and 1,700 Riyadh, which were paid to him by prospective Hajj pilgrims.
After that unfortunate incident, Alhaji Ayana, whom people call the ombudsman or the darling boy, decided to travel to the United States of America in 2001 and returned in 2005, and after which, he started farming. Currently, he has a 120-acre mango plantation and 200-acre maize farm. He has also recently put up a factory for roofing sheets located at Tamale, and equally deals in the sale of motorbikes. Alhaji Ayana is also connected to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, where his outfit buys rice and maize for the Ministry in Tamale.
While in the USA, the peace-walker also walked a distance of 925 miles from Chicago to New York in America to mark the first anniversary of the September 11 at the World Trade Centre (WTC). The purpose of the walk was to preach peace and unity for the whole world, since the incident that took place at the WTC did not only affect Americans. He was reported as saying, “This is a walk for world peace because there is a lot of violence in the world.”
The energetic looking man used two weeks to cover the 925-mile expedition to the Ground Zero for the peace walk, which most people who heard about it thought he was crazy. Alhaji Ayana who was then working at the Lake Forest Hospital, where he dusted, swept, mopped and varnished the floors of the environmental services ward, had a full support of the officials of the Hospital, to embark on the journey from Chicago through Michigan, to Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and finally ended in the hallowed ground where the WTC collapsed in New York.
Some of the distances Alhaji Ayana has walked are Tamale to Accra (400 miles); Accra to Lagos (500 miles); Accra to Algeria (3,000), while he attempted a 5,000-mile journey from Accra to Saudi Arabia.
In Tamale, when the paper monitored Alhaji Ayana on his daily activities, it came to light that he was much-admired by all who saw him pass. People who spoke to The Heritage, described him as very generous and always ready to offer a helping hand to those who needed his support. He has so far built two big mosques at Tamale Central Hospital, popularly known as Old Hospital and Gisonayili respectively. Another big mosque is currently under construction for the people of Nyohini, where he has already provided them with van to convey corpses to the cemetery for burial. Alhaji Ayana extends his philanthropic work to the Nyohini Children’s Home annually.
Our three-day encounter with him in Tamale, revealed that Alhaji Ayana has very little time to rest since he is always focused in whatever he is doing in other to achieve results. According to Alhaji Ayana, even though doing business has not been all that easy, he has been able to surmount the challenges into success through hard work, determination and perseverance.
Commenting on the annual problems associated with pilgrims going to Mecca to perform Hajj, he mentioned that every State in Nigeria has a Hajj Board, where the government does its part, while the private people handle some aspects. Hence, when would-be pilgrims see that the government side is not favouring them, they turn to the private side and this has led to a serious competition, making the organization of Hajj pilgrims smooth for Nigerians. He has therefore called on the government to allow the private sector to handle Hajj pilgrims to avoid the yearly challenges they encounter. He said if the private people are allowed to take charge, it would pave the way for pilgrims to decide on the type of accommodation they want instead of putting them all at one particular place, sometimes to the dislike of some of the pilgrims.
Has three wives with eight children, six of the children are living in the USA. Despite the fact that he did not enter the four corners of a classroom, Alhaji Ayana believes that the best legacy he can bequeath to his children is to invest in their education and in this regard, he is expecting them to reach the height of the educational ladder.
Notwithstanding the efforts of Alhaji Yakubu Ayana, whom some returnee pilgrims have recommended that would-be pilgrims should use Ayana Travel and Tours, very little is heard about this great and wonderful man. It is high time the state recognized some of personalities who are doing very great things in the country on a low profile.
With this, one can say that Alhaji Ayana is like a celebrity who works hard all his life to become known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.
This write-up has been made possible with a grant from PAIR