Shoes are far more important than the things you wear on your feet. They have built and destroyed reputations and legacies, ruined businesses, and aided or abetted political careers. And as we saw last week, despite the Nigerian’s short attention span, a man’s shoes were at the center of the discussion. And it won’t be the first time shoes have taken center stage in the country’s recent history.

As French fashion designer Christian Louboutin said, “A shoe has so much more to offer than just walking in it.” Perhaps there is no great philosophy in what Louboutin said since his profession is to manufacture and above all to sell shoes.

We’ve learned there’s a politics behind Senator Kashim Shettima’s shoe choice for the NBA Conference, a choice that sparked widespread backlash and “#Shettimachallenge” on Twitter.

At first, I wanted to dismiss this malice on Shettima’s shoes as just the usual flippancy with which Nigerians approach issues. Not just because it’s not unusual for a man to wear a suit over sneakers – it’s actually all the rage now – but mainly because Shettima and his manager, Bola Tinubu, are seeking the mandate of rule Nigeria for the next four years and I thought one should pay more attention to his choice of words than his choice of shoes.

On reflection, it becomes apparent that there is a lot more to ride on these shoes because the shoes have had a way of leaving larger than life imprints on the faces of nations.

Take the Philippines for example. Ferdinand Marcos ruled the country from 1965 until 1986, when he was ousted by widespread protests. Marcos holds the Guinness record for the “greatest government theft” in history. Yet somehow his wife, Imelda Marcos, surpasses the late president in notoriety. To her credit, Imelda has beautified her hometown and Manila, the capital. She founded the cultural center and built the lavish Coconut Palace, which she offered as a guesthouse to Pope John Paul during his 1981 visit to the predominantly Catholic country. The pope deemed the palace too opulent to live in, especially given the high levels of poverty in the country, and found himself more modest accommodation.

Yet when the “people power revolution” forced the first family into exile and protesters stormed the presidential residence, it was not the priceless paintings on the walls, the velvet cushions or the golden furniture that annoyed them the most, not even Imelda’s collection of irreverent jewelry. It was the discovery of rows and rows of size 8.5 shoes, or 3,000 pairs, belonging to Imelda Marcos.

“I didn’t have 3,000 pairs of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty,” Imelda said. But no one wanted to listen. To this day, in the eyes of the world, she remains Imelda of 3,000 shoes.

These shoes became the symbol of the decadence of the Marcos regime and the subject of numerous articles and documentaries. It defined this family’s legacy and more than three decades later, when his son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, ran and won the election for President of the Philippines (don’t ask me how), these are the 3,000 shoes from Imelda that formed the basis of reviews.

Shoes can cause all sorts of problems, I tell you. Not removing them in certain places could also cause trouble. Do you remember when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was running for president and ran, figuratively, into a mosque still wearing his shoes? A few days later, he was photographed in the bedroom of the late President Yar’adua’s mother, his legs still swaddled in his shoes. Remember, part of the population took umbrage, called the vice president irreverent and cursed him. Some even said he wouldn’t get their votes because of it. There could be other issues at play, but at least they based their decision on his shoe policy. He didn’t put his best foot forward, if you get the pun intended.

Shoes may have made people hate Imelda Marcos and curse Osinbajo, but for someone like President Goodluck Jonathan, shoes, or the lack thereof at some point in his life, helped him win a election for the very first time. When Jonathan stood in front of a crowd in Eagle Square to declare he had no shoes growing up, Nigerians put their hands over their hearts and fainted. Of course, he said other things that no one particularly remembers, but even his radio campaign jingles started with this quote and “I had no shoes!” has become the mantra of hope for dreaming Nigerians.

Kenya’s President-elect William Ruto also had no shoes growing up and made sure he used them to win over Kenyans and win the votes that propelled him to power.

Louboutin was right. Shoes aren’t just for walking. They can also be effective tools of political protest and criticism. One of the most powerful protest statements of all time was not made with words, books or a documentary. It was made out of a pair of shoes when Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, threw his shoes at then-visiting US President George W. Bush to protest the invasion and destruction of his country.

Al-Zaidi went to jail for assaulting a visiting president and all that. He worked for years as a journalist and probably published some important stories in his life, but it’s the story of his shoes that will be remembered the most. In Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, there is a giant bronze shoe statue erected to represent the one Al-Zaidi threw at Mr Bush.

Do you see how powerful shoes can be as a tool of protest or political statement?

Shoes also represent other ideas. We also talked a lot about the two pairs of shoes of Peter Obi. There’s a video of the Labor Party presidential candidate showing someone this pair of shoes he bought at Mark and Spencer for 49.99.

“People wrap them up and put them in their homes. Everywhere shoes, everywhere watches,” Mr. Obi said in the video. “You don’t need it.”

A conversation between Mr. Obi and Imelda Marcos would indeed be very interesting.

Yet while for Mr. Obi his shoes are a statement about financial frugality, for Senator Shettima his were a political statement in and of themselves.

Kashim Shettima, whose shoes have thrilled the country and his social media space, is far from the fashion ogre that people try to portray him. He is actually a smart politician, a cultured and articulate person. During a visit to Maiduguri a few years ago, I marveled at the “mega schools” he built as a “snub to the insurgency”.

If there was anything wrong with his style of dress at the NBA conference, it wasn’t wearing sneakers, but wearing a tie and not unbuttoning his suit when seated. . In videos of him speaking at the conference, he looked smart, but this unflattering photo put him in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

Apparently his decision to wear sneakers to the NBA conference was a political statement. A deliberate choice to counter the anticipated hostility of the conference crowd – the same scholarly people who would later smash furniture squabbling over memorabilia from the conference.

“When I was told it was a hostile mob, I’m a banker, trained by one of the best bankers in the world. I’m a Jim Ovia boy – I purposely wore sneakers to snub them,” Shettima said.

Either way, Nigerians had a blast on Twitter with the #Shettimachallenge. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t take shoes or shoe politics seriously, because they could change their lives. Ask Cinderella or ask GEJ. It’s all about having fun. Life is too dark anyway.

But what is at stake is far too serious to be played with persistence. The NBA conference was the first time the top three contenders, including Atiku Abubakar, engaged with Nigerians and addressed the Nigerian situation. It is possible to play shoe politics and gauge candidates by what they can do by their career footprints and what they actually say. The candidates said meaningful things that Nigerians should engage and wonder with. Unfortunately, the focus was on the shoes rather than the issues.