A photograph of Hon Evance Ivwurie, Delta State legislator, appeared on Facebook a couple of years ago that uncannily emitted a tangible glimmer of hope out from the groundswell of the intractable political despair that grips Nigeria. The photograph showed Ivwurie vigorously searching for Fulani Herdsmen menacing the area, completely unarmed in the bush of Abraka (Delta State) with the unassailable expression of much physical energy, genuine indignation, utter fearlessness and a hint of finality. This article not another declamation about the terror of Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria but grounds for the possibility of a necessary shift in the attitudes of elected officials towards adopting “Toe-to-Toe politics”.
The magic of photographs can never be denied nor underestimated. In Ivwurie’s Urhobo language there is a saying, “Ogba vwabor diodi ra ghwe ofovwi” (meaning “A warrior does not fight battles empty-handed”). It is an extraordinary thing to stand up to the dreaded Fulani Herdsmen without equivalent or superior weapons. The legislator certainly trusts himself. Ivwurie very convincingly looked like he was risking his life to deal with a heinous local problem involving violence, murder and harassment of the constituents he represents in the Delta State House of Assembly. It was a thoroughly refreshing image of a Nigerian politician. Unfortunately, the original picture is no longer available.
Action speaks louder than words is an inescapable truth most politicians in the land neatly abhor. Legislators churning out political speeches in assemblies to colleagues and a public that neither trusts nor appreciate them is both the beginning and end of ‘lip service’. It is true that democracy is government by discussion but action-less democracy is no different from spoken pornography.
My late father used to classify politicians such as Ivwurie as seen in the photograph as “Toe-To-Toe Politicians” as derived from fighting toe-to-toe with one’s opponent in the boxing ring. Toe-to-Toe politicians are those who as a matter of routine duty deal with the everyday problems of their constituents (1) by being physically present where needed in the constituency, (2) by tackling constituency governance problems toe-to-toe as if they were opponents to be certainly defeated when and where necessary, and (3) by sincerely sharing in the risks and difficulties of their constituents. The Toe-to-Toe politicians benefit from such practices by winning the trust of the people enduringly and knowing how to meet their real needs. This what Hon Ivwurie has done consistently and skillfully using astute political means to address the Fulani Herdsmen and other important problems in his constituency.
Toe-to-Toe politicians and leaders are not new. Nevertheless, in our neoliberalised world in which politicians increasingly substitute practical personal experience and presence in their constituencies with the fancies of consultants and advisers; Toe-to-Toe politicians have become a dying breed, emerge accidentally or are the rare exception. “Creative data” and the introduction of mechanically superimposed concepts do not answer the needs of voters or even politics itself. Do Nigerians trust their politicians? Is the widening distance between politicians and their constituents the reason?
The indulgence of state and federal capitals are the preferred terrains of operation of present-day politicians, not their local constituencies and constituents. The norm for Nigerian politicians is governance in the settings of executive luxury and avoid both risk and responsibility where possible; “avoided costs”. “Comfort-and-convenience” politicians they should be appropriately called.
Nigeria urgently needs a new crop of youthful politicians elected to serve in office by coming out in person to the front-line of political (and other) challenges. It can be done and will certainly help in tackling local problems arising in their constituencies, practically and with the necessary leadership. It would also thrust an inescapable sense of personal responsibility on politicians. That is what Nigerian voters really want and expect of their elected representatives in government but too few of them ever do even for one day in their entire tenure in office. Imagine such a phenomenon happening on a national scale.
Many say a photograph can say more than a thousand words and Confucius further said a single action can spurn countless words. Right here what is said are words conjured by an image of a Toe-to-Toe politician, Hon Ivwurie, in action as evidenced from a photograph then investigation. Most other photographs of Nigerian politicians simply show us that they are in office or launching projects that would never be completed.