If there was a universal cult for bearded leaders, both could have being members, they were as well as controversial as they were colourful men, who brought panache into their styles of leadership. Both indeed were passionate about the causes they chose, both sacrificed much and even to the point of death, both were vehement in their beliefs.
Fidel Castro, was the Cuban leader who shot the small island nation, formerly known only for its cigars and exotic drinks to world limelight, taking the global stage on several occasions to the chagrin of major world powers and the cheers of the smaller ones. Ojukwu, on the other hand also shot the Nigerian nation into limelight by becoming the second leader to forcefully break away from the original borders assigned to African nations by their colonial masters, the first being Moise Tshombe of Katanga.
Both were children of circumstances, with fate and events playing tricks on what choices or options were offered to them; none intentionally set out on the paths
history was to reckon them with. For example, Castro was never Communist in any term nor was he a believer in the use of revolutionary force to attain change. Likewise Ojukwu, secession was never on his cards, when he joined the military and rose to the ranks of colonel and the office of military governor of the Eastern Region. Even with the many cavalier-like provocations by the Yakubu Gowon junta, secession was not considered a full option until the Aburi fiasco.
Both stood up to world powers, Castro played the Soviet Union against the United States risking a nuclear World War between both super powers in 1962 as well as fighting proxy wars on behalf of the Soviet Union in Honduras, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), Angola, Nicaragua and Honduras. Poor Ojukwu and his heroic Biafrans had to contend with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, while the United States stood aloof, it is to Ojukwu’s credit that Biafra did not collapse earlier than the 32 months it stood out as nation on its own.
Both men, be it in life or death, have continued to inspire generations of their own people. Offering a much-frenzied account of leadership, the likes of Castro and Ojukwu were able to work out miracles in their own time. Castro turned Cuba from a poverty stricken, illiteracy populated nation to one with one of the highest per capita income, a high literacy rate as well as a model for the provision of qualitative healthcare. Ojukwu’s Biafra did far better, producing arms such as rockets and tanks, one’s imagination hums much rendition on what Biafra or Nigeria may have become had the secessionist republic broken away or had Nigeria injected such wonders into her numerous challenges.
Both were intellectuals in their own right, who, in their thinking, proffered jaw-breaking thoughts to the problems each faced in his own part of the hemisphere. Castro’s books such as, “How Far We Slaves Have Come”, “Fidel and Religion” and “Che” are best sellers anytime any day. Ojukwu’s three books, “Because I am Involved”, “Biafra” and “Ahiara” make good reads, sadly, Ojukwu I think, disappointed a number of us when he failed to bequeath to our generation his own account of events that led to the war and its prosecution, that said, he was a note worthy writer whose thoughts would continue to shape my generation’s thinking.
How can one forget their oratory, both men could arouse stones with their words, one was rabid and reeled out his speeches with revolutionary fervour, the other being Ojukwu was more calm, calculative and at ease with his words. One writer, John de Saint Jorre in his book, “The Brothers War” (The Nigerian Civil War was its UK title) much described Ojukwu’s style of speaking as Othello’s Orsone Welles playing Orsone Welles. Nevertheless, both charmed crowds and spurred men into action, even to death.
Finally, despite the loftiness with which men like us would seek to paint these men with, we must still acknowledge the fact that both men were also human and not infallible. Both for sure made countless mistakes as any human would, both perhaps regret a couple of actions they believe they rashly or wrongly took; for Castro, perhaps the executions, detentions and abuse of human rights. For Ojukwu, perhaps his stubbornness to end the war and a couple of other mistakes. However, let us ask, what options were before them?
If we must fault Castro for his few mistakes, then we must praise him for his numerous achievements, most notable of them are the liberation struggles, which saw Cuban soldiers help roll back Colonialism and Apartheid rule in Southern Africa, likewise Ojukwu, whose efforts to give the Easterners then sanctuary from the senseless massacres that continued to reoccur. I so submit!