By Nehru Odeh
Fredrick Forsyth indeed saw tomorrow. An English novelist and journalist, he is famous for bestsellers such as The Day of the Jackal. Odessa File, Dogs of War, The Devil’s Alternative and The Biafra Story.
Still, he is legendary for covering the Nigerian civil War for the BBC throughout the time the war lasted, for establishing a very strong relationship with the late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu for keeping his company throughout his years in exile and also for accompanying him on his triumphant return to Nigeria
In August 2015, Forsyth revealed that he was an informant for MI6 during the war, a relationship that continued for 10 years. Though, according to him, he was not paid.
Forsyth and Ojukwu were so close that on 26 November 2011, the day the Igbo leader’s body was interred, not only was Forsyth at the graveside he also paid a glowing tribute to him.
However, a remarkable thing about Forsyth short but powerful oration is that 10 years on, what he said about Ojukwu still holds true, what with the late Igbo leader assuming a legendary status, the agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra by Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra – ., a cause Ojukwu championed in the 60s and which led to the Nigerian civil war- assuming new dimensions
According to Forsyth though Ojukwu is dead yet he lives. “You can bury a man, you can bury a body but you cannot bury a legend… My friend Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu has become a legend,” Forsyth said.
The British writer also gave reasons he considers Ojukwu a legend, saying that in spite of the fact that “he was rich. He had his father’s immense fortune. He had mansions in Lagos, many properties, an assured income ….” yet he made a lot of sacrifices and fought for the liberation of his people.
50 years after the end of the civil war, the cause that Ojukwu led and fought for has taken on a new intensity that not only validates him but also legitimizes the cause he fought for.
Here is Forsyth’s speech:
“It has been almost almost forty years since the first shots were fired in what became known as the Biafra War. A man would have to be almost sixty to remember that day…. Yet, many of you gathered here are not yet close to that age; yet, you have come. Why?
“…..It is because you can bury a man, you can bury a body but you cannot bury a Legend. And for the people of what was once Eastern Nigeria, my friend Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu has become a Legend….” Forsyth said.
“Again I ask, Why?”
“It is because back then, after the horrors of the slaughters of the Igbo in the summer of 1966 it would have been easy for him, as military governor of the Eastern Region, to have withdrawn and left you all to your fate.
After all, he was rich. He had his father’s immense fortune. He had mansions in Lagos, many properties, an assured income….Yet he stayed. He stayed to try to represent you; to speak your cause, To negotiate on your behalf….and when that failed, to fight with you,
This is why he remains Ikemba Ndi Igbo, the man who speaks for his people… So, I, who was his Friend, say this to you…..
When you speak of him, talk softly,
When you write of Him, carve his name with PRIDE.
God bless you all.”