Skip to main content

The Politics Of Shoes In Nigeria

October 5, 2011

Recently, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual awards dinner in Washington, D.C, President Obama charged the Black leaders to remove their bathroom slippers and put on their marching shoes. Marching shoes? The Obama shoe-speech represents a conundrum for the Nigerian political space.

Recently, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual awards dinner in Washington, D.C, President Obama charged the Black leaders to remove their bathroom slippers and put on their marching shoes. Marching shoes? The Obama shoe-speech represents a conundrum for the Nigerian political space.

Ah! Did the black leaders come in bathroom slippers to the dinner? Or have they been seen in their tailor-made suits slopping their way in their bathroom slippers along the corridors to the chambers of the Congress? Marching shoes ke? Did he mean matching shoes and bag? Or mashing shoes?

We have no marching shoes in Nigeria. Where on earth do we want to march? Here, we talk of matching shoes and bags. This is a Nigerian specialty – ask any young Nigerian girls. She will gleefully reel off to the pleasure of her parents, which shop in Ibadan, Abuja, Kano or Port Harcourt has the best Italian and Spanish matching shoes and bags for women. And the men, in order not to be left behind wear matching shoes and wallet; and recently matching shoes, suits, wallet, wristwatch strap and fedora hats.

In our environment, the political rulership (civilian and military) does not like marching shoes. Indeed they abhor it.  Why on earth will a well-paid politician want to wear marching shoes? He will be the laughing stock of his colleagues. And any Nigerian senator worth his salt does not want to be out-dressed in the haut couture parade of the National Assembly and Abuja nightlife. After all, he is the plenipotentiary ambassador of his constituency in the Federal Capital Territory and must exhibit the impeccable matching dress sense of his community. He does not need to march to anywhere. He has already marched from his village to Abuja. He has arrived! Political vision on our shores is not about marching! It is about outdoing your colleague in wardrobe wealth, where delicate matching accessories and lots of spare change are fundamental.

And our security service men do not have the couture finesse of our politicians. They cannot afford matching shoes, wallets and bags. They wear mashing shoes. These are not necessarily iron-studded punk shoes; neither do they have the brilho of Gestapo boots. Indeed, in many cases, they wear what Obama advises against – bathroom slippers in all shades and colors. These made in China, or made by Shina the corner cobbler, which have in most cases seen better days, contrast sharply with whatever uniform they are supposed to complement. The more the contrast, the more ominous their dark power. Mashing does not require any vision; neither does it require any finesse. Mash is smash, and any shoes will suffice. And crush they do. Police mash citizens, soldiers crush civilians, navy smash women, Airforce harass villagers, police pound soldiers, and soldiers squash the police. Very often, our politicians temporarily put aside their matching designer outfits and wear mashing shoes to deal with their opponents, real and imaginary. And our judges wear mashing shoes when sentencing small time criminals, and don matching attires with big time political thieves and corporate economic saboteurs.

Nigerians happily alternate between matching paraphernalia and mashing shoes. When in a small or big dispute, a Nigerian says, “I will deal wit you”, he means he will change his matching shoes and suit for mashing shoes to pound his opponent into submission physically or spiritually. And this does not have anything to do with the level of education or qualification. When it is time to display their mashing shoes, it may be difficult to differentiate a motor park tout from a doctor, a pastor, an engineer or a university professor. And the Nigerian womenfolk are not to be underestimated in the display of raw mashing power. Their mashing shoes have sharp stiletto heels.

Known as a nation of mashing and matching shoes and suits, foreigners living in our midst have learnt the trick of deft switching of mashing and matching shoes. They keep their marching shoes, which brought them to our country in the recesses of their wardrobes and join in the mashing fray. The staff of big and small embassies in Nigeria smash and crush visa applicants and information seekers physically and electronically. Telephones are either not functional or unanswered. Their e-mail addresses which are largely 419 addresses do not function – mail enquiries are not answered. And if ever the telephone is answered or the mail replied to, it comes in the form of crushing and smashing rudeness. Those, who have had to stand in long queues in front of some of these embassies or in their unwelcoming reception halls to be interviewed or to obtain information know first hand what it is like to be pulped under the mashing shoes of these foreigners.

And in the evenings, when the embassy officials and our rulers are done with mashing and smashing, they don their matching shoes and suits and invite each other to dinner. While the embassy officials are discreet about the victims of their mashing, our rulers spill the beans on each other - Who is mashing whom? Who has the best crushing boots? Who is funding the pulping boots? They have no limits. They talk to show their appreciation for the invitation. They feel privileged to be wearing the same matching shoes and suits with their hosts, even if just for a few hours.

Nigerians working in factories and companies owned by foreigners in Nigeria have a long experience of being crushed under the shoes of these “investors”. The Nigerian Labour Inspection Units at different levels go barefoot when on inspection visits to these factories and companies and leave with matching shoes, bags and suits or their equivalent in Naira or foreign currency. And these inspection units do not leave the factory of company premises without polishing the mashing shoes of these foreigners. The Nigerian worker does not have any hope for respite. They learn with time to resign themselves to their fate of forever being something under others’ shoes.

Nigerians living abroad or just visiting barefoot or in designer wears are not spared from their hosts’ mashing boots. The crushing boots hound them as they seek to make enough money to buy matching shoes, suits and bags to outdress everyone at home on their “glorious” return. They are pulped for the smallest of unintentional misdemeanors for which other nationals may get a slap on the wrist. And not surprisingly, many of them will happily give up their Nigerian nationality to obtain acquire the nationality of their host countries. They think (and they may be right) that this new nationality is a passport and visa to escape the vicious mashing boots set to crush and smash Nigerians in many countries of the world.

Nigerians are victims of shoes in their country and abroad, because the leadership is yet to learn that marching shoes are better than mashing and matching shoes and suits.

We can only hope that President Obama will, sometime soon, accept to visit Nigeria to speak about shoes. He must however remember to bring along some marching shoes for our politicians and compel them to wear them. We have had enough of matching shoes, bags, belts, babariga and suits.

Abimbola Lagunju is a writer and author of several books
[email protected]

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content1'); });

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('comments'); });

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content2'); });