Handshake Across History? By Wole Soyinka

Those who organized this encounter hopefully bear that cautionary tale in mind, side by side with their motivations lodged in optimism. The initiative itself, which is a progression from the earlier HANDS ACROSS THE NIGER, indicates that they have taken the pulse of the nation and come to the conclusion that the nation is a sick patient, very sick, and in dire need of healing. The theme in full speaks for itself, implicitly throws out a challenge for constructive thinking to a chronically improvident nation. I have not physically met any of the organizers, but I do know that, very active among them are ‘off-shore’ Nigerians – that is, domiciled outside their homeland, some with their families, earning their livelihood externally, enjoying occupational fulfilment, self-sufficient, without any obligation to their original homeland, and without owing any moral duty to that homeland – except by choice. In other words, like hundreds of thousands, even millions of Nigerians abroad, they are in a position to forget totally that nation space called Nigeria. Nevertheless, that entity exerts a pull on them, and a need to assure themselves of the survival of that portion of a natural entitlement that comes with birth. I see them mulling over the totality of that entitlement day after day, wondering if they can salvage something from, or contribute something to, what they see as an expanse of chronic wastage.

Perhaps they have also come to accept, and move to fulfill, a need for an anchor in some other place than their current abode, some other place that they can decidedly call theirs, so that if, at any time, they are made to feel, for whatever reason, merely tolerated, marginalized, subjected to abuse, denigration, collectively, even nationally or racially insulted, they can at least look outward and say, without any need to apologize for that alternative, that they have a place that will not turn them back, and on which they will not turn their backs when, on arrival, the condition they encounter provokes instant recoil, and their instinctive response is to do a one hundred and eighty degree turn screaming: Take me back. Anything is better than this!