Who Would Ever Hurt a Cripple? by Martins Agbonlahor

Alika Ogorchukwu’s fame suddenly rose like a meteor. He hadn’t won a coveted prize or scored a brilliant goal à la Maradona. On the contrary, the gruesomeness of his recent murder, which had assailed the consciences of all lovers of humanity, brought him to our television screens. He had been strangled to death in the most heinous manner, his offence being that he was a cripple begging for alms. This, again, has brought Italy to the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

Ogorchukwu, 39, was a factory hand before a ghastly car accident mangled his otherwise muscular limbs and left him on crutches. A well-known individual in the city of Civitanova, Marche, in Italy, he was addressed as ‘the gentleman on crutches’, as he begged for alms to feed himself. He was at it again on Friday, 29 July, 2022, when a certain Filippo Ferlazzo, 32, set upon him, beating him to a pulp with his own crutches. Bless his soul!

But who, in his right senses, would ever hurt a cripple? Worse still, the cold-blooded murderer allegedly stole his mobile phone, as he lay, gasping for his last breath — an act grotesquely synonymous with robbing a prized ring from the only active finger of a leper. And, that the gory scene was swarming with Italians who did absolutely nothing to intervene and stop the murderer, beggars belief. Not even a whimper was heard among them. Who knows whether Ogorchukwu wouldn’t be alive today had one or two of these onlookers taken a bold step to stop Filippo in his utter madness?

Now, like a free-for-all fight, every manner of Italians, many bloated with extreme jingoism, are all out to defend their erring compatriot. I can only tentatively infer that some of them are merely seeking cheap relevance. But from the death of a fellow human being? They contend that Filippo had “mental health issues when the act was committed.” And two relatively obscure lawyers amongst them are parroting that stance to the entire world. Put succinctly, they are pleading the concept of Diminished Responsibility on behalf of their co-national. When this plea succeeds, as extrapolated from Section 2(1) of the Homicide Act 1957, the offender shall not be convicted of murder if he was suffering from an abnormality of the mind which had impaired his mental responsibility for his acts while doing or being a party to the killing.

Should impairment of the mind be proved, I’d say that Filippo will be looked after and well cared for in a hospital. I believe that anyone who claims to be vulnerable must be taken at face value and without any iota of doubt. This is because only the sufferers know how it feels, and there are, more often than not, no physical tell-tale signs to prejudge. In fact, it behoves all lovers of humanity to show total, unalloyed empathy towards those having mental health issues. But what of those teeming onlookers who had stood aloof when Ogorchukwu was being strangled, resorting instead, to filming the blood-curdling scene for their Twitter and social media platforms? Were they mental health sufferers too?

My stance has always been that Italy opens itself to multiculturalism like some other countries in Europe, and stop blaming the immigrants for their internal woes. When xenophobic pronouncements are uttered carelessly by well-known politicians, because they want to score cheap political points, they forget that such pronouncements can shape the reasoning or mould the opinion of the common Italian in the street, causing them to formulate the wrong thoughts or carry out the wrong actions against immigrants.

The murder of Ogorchukwu, which I believe, despite the perpetrator’s claims, had some racist undertones, made me contact my bosom friend and renowned lecturer in the faculty of Law in the Sapienza University of Rome. His belief is that Italy has to “solve its own problem first” before opening its doors to others. Most Italian politicians, incidentally, have this same view: a mindset that encourages paying heed to mere rashes while the contagious pimples are left untreated. Put succinctly, immigration, regional bigotry, corruption and nepotism — amongst others — are shelved or pigeonholed till goodness knows when. Nigerian leaders, too, are guilty of this. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, when told point-blank by an American journalist, appalled by our underdevelopment, that Nigeria is a rich country, replied that Nigeria is only “potentially” rich. We have been “potentially” rich even before I was born, and I will be six decades on earth by this time next year! When shall we jettison this brazen deception and harness our country’s actual resources for the betterment of us all?

It would appear, in the mode of their Nigerian counterparts, that Italian leaders and the elite are not genuinely willing to change the country for the better and transcend the current one-step-forward-two-steps-backward approach to national issues, be it the economy, immigration, regional allegiances, and the ever-persistent political imbroglios. I would concur with authors Andrea Mammone and Giuseppe Veltri in their exposé, Italy Today: The Sick Man of Europe, that the country is still struggling between modernity and backwardness, and between the need or will to change and the fear of losing some local or specific privileges.

With an election coming up on 25 September, and the far right, anti-immigrant Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) poised to win, it is a foregone conclusion that immigration will be put on the back burner. In spite of the political shenanigans of Italian politicians, however, let’s not forget to pray for the sweet repose of Ogorchukwu’s gentle soul.

Martins Agbonlahor is a criminologist, journalist, and author based in Manchester. His new novel, Unsilenced – the Struggles for Feminine Rights in Nigeria, is available on Amazon and all online bookstores.

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