If in 1903, Theodore Herzl’s Zionist group had accepted British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to give 5,000 square miles of the Mau Plateau in East Africa to the Jews as a homeland, the history of the world would have been different today. But at the sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, the offer divided the Congress. Some felt that accepting the land would make it hard to later establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Some however explored the offer more. They sent a delegation to the mountainous area and found its temperate weather conducive for European returnees. But they also found the land already occupied by Maasai people and large numbers of lions and cheetahs and other wild animals, so they declined.
If Adolf Hitler had not been elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933… if he had not unleashed the Second World War and annihilated over six million Jews, chances are that there would not be a state of Israel today. And if there was no state of Israel, the Jews would still be facing persecution around the world as it were before the founding of the state of Israel.
In our own time, if the US Supreme Court had not stopped the recounting of votes in Florida in 2000, if Al Gore had been president instead of George W. Bush, chances are that even with September 11 terrorist attacks on America, that Saddam Hussein would still be alive today and that the War in Afghanistan would have been over and that Hosni Mubarak would still be President of Egypt and Muammar Gadhafi would still be alive in Libya. It also meant that Barack Obama might not have been President of the United States.
If John McCain had been President of America in 2008 instead of Barack Obama, we can say with some degree of certainty that America would have been at war in Iraq, Syria and maybe, Iran, all at once.
If after Obama drew a red line and said that should Syria use chemical weapon that America would respond, and Syria used chemical weapon, if anybody else but Obama were president, America would have been in Syria now fighting. It would have meant fighting it out with Russia and the rest of the region would have been up in flames.
Just for a moment, imagine that it was Donald Trump who drew a red line in the sand and it was crossed. Whether it was crossed by those he drew the line for or by those who wanted to drag him into another war, his ego would not let him pause to assess things before plunging America into another war.
In Nigeria, there are so many alternative histories that could have led to different destinies. If Lord Lugard had not amalgamated the Southern and Northern protectorates, if his then girlfriend had not called it Nigeria, if the constitutional conferences had gone in a different direction, we would have had a different Nigeria now. What if the First Republic was not aborted in a military coup, what if the coup had gone a different way, what if the civil war was averted; what if the outcome was different; what if the Second Republic did not fail? What if?
Coming to Nigeria of recent time, when Gov. Wike of River State revealed that former Gov. Rotimi Amaechi used N82 million to host the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, a charge Amaechi denied, it made me imagine our alternative history of Nigeria where Goodluck Jonathan had won the 2015 election. I could see Rotimi Amaechi in exile, like Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke is now. I could see Wole Soyinka visiting Amaechi somewhere in Europe. I wondered if in that meeting Soyinka would have asked Amaechi, “Is it true that you used N82 million to host a dinner for me?”
In the same alternative history, I imagined Sambo Dasuki still Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, still dishing money to political actors at the scene. With less and less money available and more and more people stretching their hands to grab some, I wondered where else they would have dipped their hands to satisfy the itching hands of our political class. I wondered how much Patience Jonathan’s dollar account would have grown in the last 18 months. I wondered if Musiliu Obanikoro would have become our substantive minister of defense. I wondered if the Chibok girls so far released by Boko Haram would still be in the forest with their captives.
A Donald Trump sitting in the Penthouse of his Trump Tower and tweeting away is not dangerous. A Trump sitting in the White House surrounded by mad dogs and mad men raises concern. But the actual Donald Trump that is dangerous is one whose fragile ego is bruised by political actors around the world.
And they are many now. If you look at the chessboard of the world, you will see the unique alignment of the pieces. Somehow, without Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world looks more dangerous than ever. The irrational tribal forces are rising in a world that is meeting itself more closely in economic and cultural sense. In doing so, it is upstaging traditional boundaries and rattling those who were once comfortable. Fear always exists. So does evil. But exaggerated fear has a way of inspiring evil. In that mix we are desensitized about the humanity of others and others’ connection to us.
What the world needs now are steady hands that will help it navigate the perils of this transitional era until it gets to a more stable period where the fears of many are doused by unthreatening reality. But unfortunately, what we have is an increasing group of leaders and followers waving flags, singing anthems and wearing hats that proclaim slogans that melt when exposed to the same sunlight that all of humanity depends on for life.
It is often hard to appreciate things that could have happened but did not happen. Even things that made us say, “I almost died” weigh very little in the scale of things days after. We don’t dwell on them as the demands of life ensure that we move on to the current things that confront us.
It is hard to appreciate what we have today without allowing ourselves to conjure up what could have been. Alternative history is also important for us to fully understand how a misstep of today could easily lead to a devastating outcome in just a short while.
But if we pause, we will arrive at the conclusion that actions have penalties. Elections have consequences. But, most importantly, that Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion still governs the affairs of man – that action and reaction are equal and opposite.