Sometime in the year 1993, a malnourished little girl, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in a worn-torn country, decided, like the Biblical four lepers, to take a leap of faith to reach a United Nations feeding center about a half mile away instead of starving to death. Unknowing to her, whilst she feebly trudged, a vulture lurked behind calmly waiting for her to drop dead.
Every step she made sapped her fleeting strength greatly. She eventually collapsed! Coincidentally, a young photojournalist appeared on the scene. How relieved she would have felt, but it turned out that the man had a different mission in mind. Captivated by the incredible imagery before him, the journalist careful not to disturb the bird, waited for about 20 minutes until the vulture was close enough, took a photo of the two creatures and went his way. He did absolutely nothing to assist the helpless child. Reacting to this conduct, the St. Petersburg Times remarked: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”
Sadly, the above horrific incident was re-enacted only a few weeks ago. Precisely, on Friday, July 29, on the main street of Civitanova Marche, a beach town on the Adriatic Sea in Italy, a 39-year-old Nigerian, Alika Ogochukwu, was gruesomely murdered in broad daylight. Ogochukwu, a physically challenged street vendor, merely tried to sell his wares to a white Italian man, Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo, and his fiancé. It remains a mystery how such a harmless gesture could have infuriated Ferlazzo to the extent of snuffing life out of the visibly disabled man. The footage of the incident shows how Ferlazzo mercilessly and ferociously knocked down Ogochukwu and strangulated him. More worrisome is the fact that the entire incident played out before several locals who never made any physical attempt to intervene. In the words of a mourner, “the fact that no one tried to stop the attack is the most shocking element.”
Even though the Italian authorities have refuted any racial undertone, however, it is beyond arguments that the unprovoked cold-blooded murder could only have stemmed from deep-seated hatred; hence racism cannot be completely ruled out. Also, the widespread indifference and inaction of the Italian passersby did little to erase any belief that Italians are racists.
The passive role played by the bystanders is just as reprehensible and repulsive as the unprecedented murder. Some of the onlookers stood transfixed like voyeurs, while others, like the photojournalist, captured a human life being unlawfully taken with their phones without interfering! What a people! Their inaction cannot be excused on the ground of not wanting to endanger their lives as not only was the assailant unarmed, he was clearly outnumbered. The lack of empathy exhibited by the locals defines a society that can stand by and watch evil being perpetuated as long as the victim is a black person. As rightly pointed out by Patrick Guobadia, the Vice Secretary of an association representing Nigerians in Italy, ”if it had been two Italians, things would have turned out differently; someone would have intervened to separate them.”
Commendably, Nigerians in Italy staged a protest to register their collective grievance while demanding for justice. Also, the Nigerian Government has condemned the act and called on the government of Italy to bring the perpetrator to book without delay. Joining the fray, the Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, stated that the deceased’s lawyer will be working with the Nigerian Mission in Italy to ensure that justice is served in this case.
However, the Federal Government should match its words with appropriate actions. Verbal vituperations without more are neither here nor there. Ogochukwu deserves justice, and justice Nigeria should ensure he gets. The Minister of Foreign Affairs ought to have summoned the Italian Consul General in Nigeria by now. Similarly, the Attorney General of the Federation is expected to constitute a team of legal experts to represent the interest of Nigeria in the case. The literal interpretation of the above statement of Dabiri-Erewa raises the question of whether the Federal Government intends to commit the legal battle in the hands of one man. Nigerian legal team should take charge! They should be the ones working with the investigating and prosecuting authorities and liaising with our embassy mission in Italy. If the National Assembly could hastily assemble a legal team to defend their own in the United Kingdom, Nigeria as a matter of urgency must rise to the occasion in ensuring that justice is seen to be served in the instant case.
Interestingly, there are already indications that the suspect may be given a soft landing. Reports of his purported mental illness have now infiltrated the public space. Specifically, Italy 24 News reported that Ferlazzo has been suffering from bipolar disorder which had led to his mother being assigned as his legal guardian by a court. Also, playing the insanity card, his lawyer, Roberta Bizzarri, insisted that his client would have still “committed that very ugly gesture” had his victim been of a different race. Re-echoing this position, Fabian Anselmi describes Ferlazzo as “a person that wasn’t in full possession of his mental abilities.” These statements were made by persons who are not in possession of any medical report that suggests that Ferlazzo is mentally ill to justify their assertions. This excuse has become characteristic of some people with dubious motive because they know that a defense of insanity excludes criminal liability.
Consequently, it is incumbent on the Nigerian government to closely monitor the case in ensuring that the same is determined upon proved facts and not mere conjectures. A dastardly and inhuman act of this magnitude should not be swept under the carpet. White privilege should not be allowed to prevail over evil. If the culprit can commit the crime, he should be made to do the time in accordance with the applicable laws. Also, the other ‘vultures’ on the scene should bear some criminal, apart from morality, burden for failing to prevent the murder. A crime is an act or omission which is made punishable by law. A criminal omission is based on the theory that failure to perform a legal duty when one has the capacity to do so is a substitute for the commission of a defined offense when the harm done is the same. Section 515 of the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria provides that: ”Every person who knowing that a person designs to commit or is committing a felony, fails to use all reasonable means to prevent the commission or completion thereof is guilty of a misdeamenaour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.” Whether or not the Italian criminal law has a similar provision, the bystanders deserve some form of penal sanctions to serve as a deterrent to others.