ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

173 Authors vie for the 2016 Nigerian Prize for Literature

According to the press release from NLNG today, there are 173 entries for the 2016 NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature. This year’s edition is focused on the Prose Fiction genre. More from the press release:

NLNG-Prize-for-Literature--330x218“The entries were handed over to the panel of judges by the Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo Advisory Board for Literature. Other members of the Advisory Board are Emeritus Professor Ben Elugbe and Professor Jerry Agada. The panel of judges is led by Professor Dan Izevbaye, a professor of English Language, at Bowen University, Iwo. Other members of the panel of judges include Professor Asabe Usman Kabir, Professor of Oral and African Literatures at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto and Professor Isidore Diala, a professor of African Literature at Imo State University, Owerri and first winner of the award for Literary Criticism. The International Consultant is Professor Kojo Senanu, Professor of English at the University of Legon.

The last winner of the literature prize in the Prose Fiction category was Chika Unigwe in 2012 who beat 213 authors to the prize with her book On Black Sisters’ Street.

This year’s award for prose fiction will run concurrently with NLNG’s prize for literary criticism for which only two entries were received. Introduced in 2013, the literary criticism prize is a yearly award and carries a monetary value of N1 million.”

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A Chapter in Literary Wonderlands

literary wonderlandsI’m thrilled to announce that I am contributing a chapter to the book “Literary Wonderlands”, a book that “seeks to bring together the greatest ‘created’ worlds of literature in one beautifully designed and illustrated single volume.” More about the project here

The book is being edited by Laura Miller (co-founder of Salon.com), and contributors include Adam Roberts, Julia Eccleshare, Lev Grossman and Lisa Tuttle. It will be published by Elwin Street Productions by November 1. You can pre-order it here.

My chapter is on Nnedi Okorafor’s “Lagoon“, the only African novel in the list of 100. The novel examines a post-apocalyptic Lagos during and after an alien invasion. Here’s a summary from Amazon:

“After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.”

 I interviewed the author about it a while ago for The Guardian here.

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Invisible Borders: Interview with Emmanuel Iduma and Emeka Okereke

By now you must have heard about the Invisible Borders TransAfrican project and a proposed trip around Nigeria starting from May 12. I catch up with the two leading members of the trip for a quick chat. Emeka Okereke (EO) is a filmmaker and photographer while Emmanuel Iduma (EI) is a novelist and art critic. They discuss what we should expect from the trip, their motivation, how we can help, among others. Enjoy.


Let me start this way: How did your paths and intentions cross, the two of you? One of you is a photographer and the other is a writer. How did you meet and how did the relationship bring you here?

cnnphotoEI: I met Emeka first in 2009, in the company of Qudus Onikeku, Sokari Ekine, Dominique Malaquais, Tèmítáyọ̀ Amogunlà, and others. A workshop on contemporary African dance criticism—actually that was my introduction to art writing. It was a quick meeting. But in 2011 I wrote to him again, asking if I could participate in the road trip of that year. He thought I was a good fit. Our relationship has been part-friendship and part-collaboration. Emeka is very important to my trajectory as a writer. I credit him as one of those who is teaching me to see.

EO: In addition to Emmanuel’s answer above, I would add that from the onset, I have always seen in Emmanuel the future of critical writing from a Nigerian and African perspective. His trajectory (and indeed the man himself) is representative of this needful hybrid between the literary world and that of art criticism. Over the years, we have learnt to tap into our affinity for understanding imagery and its possibilities, our quest to find a new voice inspired by our everyday realities. On the other hand, he reminds me of my vigour when I was younger – with the added incentive of his much calmer constructive temperament.

Let me ask you, Emeka, as the founder of the project. What started this whole idea of traveling around the world and documenting stories? How long did it take to mature from the early stages to where it is now?


Emeka Okereke

EO: I have always been of the belief that there is no life without movement – there you go, my personal philosophy summarized in one sentence. Growing up, I lived a life whereby the only way I could find solace was in the conviction that life is full of unimaginable possibilities, that it is not as rigid as a singular story. The best thing that happened to me therefore was to become an artist, with the only limitation to my self-expression being my medium, my thinking and the art world! Invisible Borders came therefore out of that belief in perpetual movement to escape stagnation.

The more I delve into the history of Africa, the more I realise it’s a history of an incredibly mobile energetic people stifled by the advent of imperialism and Occidental hegemony. After so many centuries of oppression and suppression, of defining Africa only by her limitations, such projects as Invisible Borders propose that we readjust our mindset and perspective to that which breaks away from an enclosed definition of who we are, and harness the positive attributes of our diversity to create hybrids of multifarious forms of existence. This is what we mean when we say Africa is the future. But how do we attain this future when we are so divided amongst ourselves? Therefore the work begins with a Trans-African exchange.

Travelling, especially around Africa, has presented a surprising amount of challenges. You’d be surprised at how more expensive it is to go to Kenya than to go to London. Travelling by road is even worse, with visible borders, bureaucracies, security challenges, and all. How do you hope that this project changes things for the better?

EO: The most urgent need beyond how expensive or cumbersome it is to travel is to get people to imbibe the perception and attitude of Trans-African exchange. I believe that with this as the foremost, the challenges will be met. We are basically talking economics here with most of the practical and logistical concerns. We have in the past emphasised on the actual infrastructure – the Trans-African highways, the indispensability of road as a tangible conduit and facilitator of this exchange much the same as the artistic interventions. Over the past year, we have seen how our project has inspired many other Road Trip endeavours across Africa. Just recently, a group of Nigerian artists took to the Road, from Lagos to Dakar sponsored by the Goethe Institut Nigeria. Besides it being glaring that this project was modelled after the Invisible Borders project, it is a route we have travelled in 2010. Such projects and many more is an indication that our work is impactful. We shall keep at it for a very long time, and until we have inspired the many agents of change – the artists, cultural administrators, and individuals – in the course of this century.

I have known you, Emmanuel, as a fiction writer and publisher (and later as an art critic). But somewhere in-between, you became a travel writer as well. Could you enlighten me about the transition (or the epiphany, as the case may be)?


Emmanuel Iduma

EI: There is a rich twilight between those forms, at least for me. A lot of my work depends on restlessness, or what I fancifully call peripeteia. The idea for me is to constantly think of what’s possible in my writing, and to put the essayist in me in conversation with the novelist in me. I have been thinking a lot about two statements. One is what Barthes wrote: “A critic should be a novelist in disguise.” The other is something one of my heroes said to me: “Crystallize your vision as a writer in such a way that it becomes ennobling and edifying for others.”

I like the liminality you propose. “Somewhere in-between, I became a travel writer.” But to be honest, I have not yet considered the idea of working in mainstream travel writing. I haven’t been able to match my ambition for my travel recollections with the form of more traditional travel writing. In my recent writing, especially after the road trips, the way I remember the journeys is not linear. There’s no narrative arc. It’s like a dog sniffing a field. Dogs don’t follow a straight line. They follow their noses and go all over the place.

So, yeah, the transition isn’t complete.

Travel is a fascinating enterprise. I remember talking to you about joining one of these trips (I believe it was the one of two or three years ago). But travel is also quite a physically and mentally tasking experience, needing 100% of attention and dedication. What interests you, both, in this experience, and what have you gained the most from past editions?

EI: After each trip I usually swear I won’t participate in the next one. My friends are quick to mock how easily I renege on that promise. I want to constantly go afield. The idea of being a stranger in a place, scarcely having the audacity and permission to relate with locals, fascinates me. I mean, much of our travels have been in Francophone Africa. And I can’t make a sentence in French, or Wolof, or Bambara, or Moghrebi Arabic. What does that incommunicability allow? What does it eclipse? This is why I haven’t been able to say no to traveling more with Invisible Borders. The other reason: I can’t separate art from art-making. I can’t distinguish what the head imagines and what the hand does. To see real bodies struggle with art-making, as a writer interested in images, is a gift.  

Invisiblebordersparticipants2014EO: I think for me, it’s about the notion of constantly inhabiting a space of transition, the Middle Ground like Chinua Achebe called it. He went on to explain this as “where everything is allowed to play a role in coexistence, and whatever cannot survive this space is expunged by the same process by which they became a part of it. It is the process by which foreground and background comes into being; it is the core of social formation”. The Invisible Borders is exactly this space or distance of transition sandwiched between preconceived notions and freshly acquired perceptions, between mystery and meaning. Over the past five years we have constantly inhabited this space, and by that generated reflections which to my belief are useful aberrations to the prevalent African narrative. It is a highly charged creative space – I think this is what keeps pulling us back to it.

Specifically, which ones of the earlier editions of this road trip delighted you the most and why?

EI: My first, in late 2011. There was something valuable about my naiveté, and the fact that a lot of the clarity I’m now gaining about my work wasn’t available to me then. Also, I was traveling out of Nigeria for the first time.

EO: The first impression is always the best! So I will say the 2009 edition. But in the way of valuable experience, I will go for the 2014 from Lagos to Sarajevo. After that trip, I feel invincible, there is really nothing we can’t do!

How did you choose the participants in this edition, and what do you look forward to the most?

EO: It has always been the norm since 2011 to make an open call. But this year, we thought it wise and more effective to go by internal research and handpick certain artists whose work we have been following. We always try to experiment with the different kind of artists we bring on board. This year we have gone with a lot of young and budding artists because we try to position the reflections around the Nigerian Road Trip in the frame of the present/future generation, it is really a project that looks at the future. But again, we are focusing very much on the history of how Nigeria came to be. You understand that we cannot talk about the future of Nigeria in detachment from history because history is the ground under our feet.

If I speak with any of the currently selected participants, what do you think would be their responses to a question like “What is your biggest fear about this trip?”

invisibleEO: It’s simple: going to the North from the South. And this fear has a history. Today, it’s due to the violence from Boko Haram, but it all began with that Amalgamation in 1914. Since this time caution has always preceded the South-North transitioning. But we are Nigerians, and off we go!

The trip, the poster says, will go from Lagos to the South-South, then northwards through the heart of one of the most dangerous parts of Nigeria in 2016. What are you hoping to find out, and how do you think the findings would impact on the public?

EI: How about we investigate what makes the northeast dangerous? The lives inscribed within this danger, what do they look like? I am constantly aware that Nigeria as we know it, from the time of its naming until now, is constructed. So we know as little as we have been told. This is not to say Maiduguri is a safe place, or Enugu for that matter. For this trip we’re outdistancing the stereotypes we’ve been given about northern Nigeria—especially since a number of us have lived mainly in the south. A work of art brings closer what has been kept afar. I am hoping that in this trip we can add our voice to the chorus of all that is sublime and nuanced, and even paradoxical, about Nigeria. There’s a great sentence in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, now framed in my mind: “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.”

EO: Emmanuel nailed it. there couldn’t have been a more perfect answer!

Emeka, as a photographer, and Emmanuel as an art critic and writer, what do you, individually, look for when you walk through a crowd of people, particularly in a place you’ve never been before? What images gives you the most feeling of ‘this is highly significant!”

aaEI: I’ll go back to the image of a dog sniffing a field, which is a metaphor Tacita Dean uses in relation to her research method, quoting the great Sebald. “You allow yourself to be interrupted on your journey and led elsewhere by whatever you encounter,” she said. I believe in this very much. If an art critic must be as intelligent as possible, that intelligence is ultimately the possibility of testing the fitness of my instincts. I learn a lot from the language of improvisational dancers, especially those who allow the energy of an audience shape their movement on stage. This is a roundabout way of saying I have a vague sense of what to look for when I walk in a crowd as a stranger. My goal is to forget my assumptions. To listen.

EO: The image is always a precipitate of a lived experience. Part of preparing myself for the trip is to divorce myself of any idea of an image that I would like to have. There is something funny about images: there is a thin line between an image which limits perception and that which liberates it. Rather than talk of an image, I would reflect on the kind of encounters we hope to make. I look forward to meeting Nigerians from all walks of life – from the farmer, the mechanic, the trader in the market to the business tycoon, politician, advocate of human rights, nurses, doctors, you name them –  listen to their unique stories, share their moments with them, learn from our exchange. It is only after then that the camera comes in, to bear witness or emblemize the occasion.

One more question that i’ve always wanted to ask photographers, Emeka, what actually happens to all the images you take over many years? I sometimes look into my records and wonder what I should do with photos taken which at some point meant a lot to me. I assume that many of them are shown at exhibitions. Do you ever duel with yourself as to which to keep and which not to, which to exhibit and which not to? What helps you in making those decisions?

EO: We are all asking ourselves the same question. Especially at a time of digital proliferation of images. Selection of images is part of the daunting process of image making, so it comes with the profession. Beyond that, the biggest challenge at the moment is figuring out methods of archiving. I have always said that for every click we make in and about the African continent, history is made. So while we meticulously chose images for exhibitions and presentations after the road trip project, we throw nothing into the bin. We always thinking of posterity, some of these images need to age – like fine wine.

How can the public help this trip?


EO: We have reached out to the public, asking for their contribution in the way of knowledge about the historic and contemporary narratives of the states, cities and regions we are scheduled to visit. We really want this project to be about profound encounters, and doing so through assistance of well-meaning indigenes of these places is the most productive way to go.

What should we look forward to at the end?

EI: A solid amount of images, film, and writing. A body of work from each of the participants. Because there’s so much to make sense of in Nigeria, I don’t think there will be an excess of responses.




Still to come: interview with other participants in the road trip.


Photos from OkayAfrica, CNN, and Google Images.

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Bloody Morning: The Ukpabi-Nimbo Massacre

Guest post by Chijioke Ngobili

On Monday, 25th April, 2016, just before it was 7am, the unarmed indigenes of Ukpabi-Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani LG of Enugu State, South-eastern Nigeria were attacked with machetes, guns and other dangerous weapons. It was a bloodbath. The news filtered in and pictures of mangled bodies were shared on social media. My Facebook newsfeed began giving me snippets of the carnage around 1pm on 25th April, 2016. I read and searched out more information on it and I was embittered by what I read—some false, some exaggerated and some compellingly true. But then I had begun considering a travel to Nsukka.

On 26th April, 2016, by 6.20pm, I was at the Bishop Shanahan Hospital, Nsukka situated along Enugu Road. I asked the security men that I be directed to the ward where the victims of the Fulani massacre were, and they did. On entering this very ward, anguish and sorrow greeted me with their smell and wisps. One must have to double his guts to endure the sight of blood, deep cuts and wounds. I did before I entered a particular partition of the two wards.

The doctors, nurses were very busy and proactive in managing an overwhelming situation. The victims and their caregivers looked at me with suspicion. They were very careful and looked traumatized. I spoke in Igbo immediately and introduced myself mentioning my place of work so as to douse the growing tension and discomfort. I realised that it would be wise if I limited my speaking to one or two persons as not to attract the attentions of the doctors, nurses and other people in there, else I may be unable to extract any information at all since I’m no journalist by profession.

Nimbo 1 (1)

Samuel Uzoh – one of the victims.

Samuel Uzoh (pictured above) was the first victim I tried speaking to. He had a fiery temper. He understandably barked at me when I tried asking him questions directly: “So, when you get the answer, what will you do with it?” When I tried to explain, he ignored me and continued eating the food his sister was feeding him. It was this sister of his—who declined giving her own name—that told me her brother’s name and gave me a sketchy report of the horrendous incident before withdrawing from saying more when she saw me getting out my phone to record some of the things she said. Despite his massive wounds, Samuel’s mouth remained sharp and mind alert. You need not know that he engaged the herdsmen who wielded machetes and guns, and paid for it. This was his brief story: He is a farmer. He was going to early morning farming around 6am when the marauders attacked him. He refused to submit to death. Instead, he fought and lived to sustain the wounds on his head and right arm.

When I looked to my left, on the other row of the hospital beds, I saw a much younger man laid on the bed with a young woman of his age looking over him. I approached them. The young lady was more friendly and welcoming. She struck as more exposed and educated judging from her response in good English and the unexpected courtesy she showed me after I had introduced myself. 

Celestine Ajogwu (pictured below) was the name of her brother. I had asked if she was Celestine’s wife. “No. We are siblings from same father but not same mother. He is Celestine Ajogwu while I am Chioma Ezugwu”, she said. His brother’s left palm was cut with a machete by the Fulani herdsmen as can be seen in the picture. His head and jaw were equally hit with a machete as he lost three teeth in the process. Celestine managed to say a few things to me despite the badly hurt mouth that affected his speaking. His sister, Chioma, helped him to narrate to me how it all happened in their town of Nimbo in the wee hours of April 25th, 2016: “I was in Onicha, Anambra State where I live when they called me to come home; that our community was raided”, she said. “I didn’t even know that my brother was among the victims until I saw people being carried out of the vehicle. I was shocked to speechlessness on seeing him in his very bad condition”.

Nimbo 1 (2)

Celestine Ajogwu – one of the victims.

Chioma then took me down memory lane as far back as 2006 when their traditional leader of Nimbo community naïvely thought that Fulani herdsmen could be pacified with money as to leave his people in peace, only for them to tell him how they desired to acquire more lands. “The man who is our Igwe (name withheld) was away from us for a long time. He returned from Abroad (maybe US/UK) and became the Igwe following some traditional succession”, Chioma revealed. “In 2006 or thereabout, after he had been deluged with complaints from our people on the destruction of farmlands by the Fulani herds of cattle, he invited the Fulani herdsmen and asked them how much he can give them as to vacate from our community entirely and in peace. The Fulani Cattle breeders asked for 10 million naira and our Igwe raised it and gave them, only for them to return to their excessive grazing with the claims that we have a wide expanse of lands”, Chioma told me. Since that year 2006 when the Igwe made that offer and before then, “…it has been endless conflicts between our people and the Fulani cattle breeders”, she emphasised.

Recently, the Fulani herdsmen wrote a letter to the Igwe, informing him with untold bravado, of their intention to revenge the clash they have been having with the men of the community on the issue of excessive grazing. On learning that, the Igwe alerted the State and Local authorities. Policemen were mobilised to the town and stationed to protect the people. But something suspicious and conspiratorial mixed up to birth the eventual misfortune.

Celestine Ajogwu told me himself: “I had slept the night before seeing the policemen around our community and so felt relaxed. Early in the morning, around 6am, I had woken to move out. I saw unusually numerous men dressed in black thinking they were the security men I saw the other night. But when I noticed they were blindfolded, I grew afraid and ran back to my house not knowing they had seen me. Some of them came to my house and struggled with me before dragging me out to butcher. In the process, I fell down to the ground pretending to be dead. That was when they left me alone thinking I had died”.  Chioma took over to straighten the wavy mix of how the indigenes managed to save many lives by escaping an army of numerous marauders. “These Fulani had planned not to raise dust in the killing which is why you can see that many of the victims were mainly butchered and were barely shot with a gun. They planned a smooth ethnic cleansing such that no one around would know what is happening until they are done with the cleansing. But it took one of our men who had woken much earlier to shout out when they struggled with him. The man was coming out with his bike when he saw something unusual about the people they thought were protecting them. With his shouting, people scampered for safety and the killers managed to kill the much they could. My brother, though badly hurt, managed to alert other people he could alert using his phone”.

Nimbo 1 (3)

Chioma Ezugwu—my main source of information and resource person—with people milling around in the hospital ward.

I also gathered that the Catholic parish priest in the town earlier escaped the carnage even when the killers approached his house and found no one. In all these, something is significant but rarely noticed: The women were barely part of the victims. I checked the five patients in that ward and noticed that they were all men. Chioma had brought this to my attention saying: “Even if women are gathered in hundreds, they would just pass by and leave them. They said it’s the men they are looking for; that it’s our men that have offended them most and refused them on our lands”. On asking the actual number of deaths so far, Chioma said she had been able to count nine dead bodies brought to the morgue with her own eyes despite the conflicting figures thrown about the media. She pointed at a bed adjacent to theirs: “This evening, the man here died and was taken to the morgue. He was old and couldn’t endure the pains of the deep wounds he sustained”. Chioma didn’t clarify to me if the recently dead man added up the dead bodies to 10 or completed them 9. She also reminded me that there were other victims taken to the General Hospital in the same Nsukka; and definitely, other dead bodies will be there too, plus those who may have equally died in the process. She told me how Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of their State, visited them and gave them each a hundred thousand naira each, just as the Senator representing Nsukka Senatorial Zone, Chukwuka Utazi gave them fifty thousand naira each; making it a hundred and fifty thousand naira each. (They were 5 patients in that very ward as at 26th evening of April, 2016). Also according to Chioma, the governor paid their bills and informed them that they’d be transferred to University of Nigeria, Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozalla between that evening and the next morning.

Celestine and Chioma, in a nutshell, believed that there is a conspiracy somewhere which resulted to the bloodbath. They believed there was an insider who facilitated it even though they refrained from mentioning the people/group they might have suspected. They are right! The constant pulse in that suspicion is this: An enemy served you a threat. You provided a security to avert it, yet the threat became real. So, what actually did the security agents do after all? Why did they leave their station only for the enemies to surface in a space of few hours? Were where those enemies all along? In the bush? Or did they use the same roads you guard to assess the community of Nimbo? Too many questions begged for answers in my mind.

“We can’t even wait for morning to come, so that we can be transferred to Enugu”, Chioma said resolutely. “This place doesn’t seem safe judging from two of the victims in the other ward who couldn’t speak Igbo when the doctors and nurses asked for their names. I am afraid of their body languages and facial expressions so far. They can possibly be informants who consciously got wounded as to keep penetrating our people further”. I left them at 8pm after showing them some little financial gestures. I assured them that I would keep checking on them and that if anyone who gets to learn of their story from me offers anything for them, I’d surely make it reach them. 


Chijioke is a musician, writer and freelance journalist. He wrote from Nsukka.


Photo credit: Chijioke Ngobili

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Partnership With Invisible Borders

Today, I’m glad to report to you on a collaboration with the guys at Invisible Borders Project. For the next few months, this blog will bring to you news, interviews, blog posts, and reportage from this beautiful travel project of the Invisible Borders: The TransAfrican Project. For those not familiar with them, for a couple of years now, this small organisation has organised trips across long distances, taking along writers, photographers, and other artists to document the human, social, literary, and cultural landscapes from one point to another, giving the reader a chance to journey across spaces they’d never otherwise traverse through the eyes and thoughts of the travellers.

This time, they would be travelling across Nigeria! (Read more about the 2016 trip here). Nigeria

Hear more: “In a period of accumulating upheaval across Nigeria—the recurring threats of Boko Haram fundamentalists in the northeast, and pro-Biafra agitations in the southeast—a trans-Nigerian road trip will elucidate the ambiguities of contemporary Nigerian existence. The Nigerian experience we seek to question is contemporaneous and global. In the absurdity of their rhetoric and the severe consequences of their violence, Boko Haram and the Islamic State are products of artificially constructed maps and policies – an indictment of the colonial project so to speak.” (See the map of the trip around Nigeria here).


  • A Team of 10 participants – 8 artists (4 photographers, 2 film makers, 2 writers) and two administrators (a driver and a project manager)
  • participants will travel together in a van, all the while, living, working and interacting with each other.
  • Participants are expected to develop concrete bodies of work in the form of photography, short films, and essays.
  • Outcomes and experiences of the project will be shared online, on a daily basis via a dedicated blog/app. See example from our 2014 Road Trip:http://app.invisible-borders.com/.
  • A Book articulating the photographic works as well as essays shall be published at the end of the project in conjunction with a feature-length documentary film.
  • The duration of the project is 46 days from May 12 – June 26, 2016.

The participants in the trip are Zaynab Odunsi (photographer), Emmanuel Iduma (writer), Eloghosa Osunde (photographer/writer), Yagazie Emezi (photographer), Yinka Elujoba (writer), Uche Okonkwo (writer), Emeka Okereke (Filmmaker/ photographer), Innocent Ekejiuba (Project Manager), and Ellen Kondowe (Head of Communications). You can read more in-depth profile of them here.


At KTravula.com, we will follow the trip, serving interviews, photos, thoughts, blog posts, and other artistic input from participants of the project. All these will come along with the usual posts from guest posters, and other updates from my pedestrian trips around Lagos and its environs. Keep a date.

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