You Will Not Believe The Shocking Reason Why British Colonialists Did Not Allow Nigerian Soldiers Wear Shoes In The Past

The Nigerian Army is the largest component of the Nigerian Armed Forces and it has a very long and eventful history. Today, a typical Nigerian soldier is easily identified with the combat or camouflage uniform and heavy but perfectly-shined boots. But it was not always like that.

There was a time when British colonialists did not allow Nigerian soldiers wear shoes. If you observe archival photos properly, you will see that many Nigerian soldiers of that period were without shoes. Why? Let us go back in time. The year was 1916 and a British soldier named Frederick Lugard was in firm control of the Nigerian military forces (being the First Commandant of the West African Frontier Force, WAFF) even if he was still very busy with the recruitment after insisting he wanted mainly Hausas or Hausa speakers to be conscripted into the army. But an event would happen at the same time, one that needed to be attended to.

The British forces had finished fighting the Anglo-Ashanti Wars in Ghana and one of the observations the British generals made was that it was quite difficult when operations were carried out in areas without roads or uninterrupted rail services. So they decided there had to be a carrier group. On the 28th of December, 1916, by the order of the Army Council, a carrier corps was set up and their initial work was to support the operations and military efforts of the British Empire in East Africa. As the name implies, the carrier corps will have to transport the entire load across the rugged and hostile terrain by themselves, especially where there were no roads or trains. The recruitment started and people were drafted into the carrier corps primarily from Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

FIGHTING FOR THE BRITISH CROWN WITHOUT SHOES: These are Nigerian soldiers with Maxim guns, very popular during the early expeditions they carried out for the British. Notice that none of them had shoes.

According to the British army policy that set up the carrier corps, the corps had to be maintained on a budget that was as low as possible. Therefore, no operational shoes were provided. Although the British commanders themselves were always meticulously kitted in boots, they said that Africans move faster when they were not wearing shoes or boots. Therefore, expenses were slashed, shoes were not bought and the Nigerian and Sierra Leonean soldiers had to haul everything on bare foot. Records from the archives show that compared to their French and German counterparts, the equipment for those recruited by the British were the most horrible.

All that did not bother the commanders, they ordered the recruits into action and the Nigerian soldiers were shepherded into the Cameroon and East African Campaigns but the results were devastating. The soldiers of the Nigerian Regiment suffered from all sorts of foot disease and in the Cameroons, life was totally miserable for the Nigerian soldiers with jigger fleas. Also called chigoe fleas or sand fleas, jigger fleas are parasitic insects and the smallest known flea, measuring just 1mm. They embed themselves in the skin of the host and lead to various sensations and can cause serious discomfort or disfiguration of the feet. See the photo below of a foot infested with jigger fleas.

THE END RESULT OF NO-SHOE-ISM: Chigoe flea infested foot – treatment at ‘Coast Jigger Campaign 2013’, Kenya. This was the fate of Nigerian soldiers that time.

The fleas, found in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the globe, live few centimetres below the sand meaning if you enter their territories without your shoes, you are toast. But in 1916, British colonialists felt it was better to save money than use it to buy shoes for Nigerian soldiers fighting for British causes.  So when you see a Nigerian soldier gallantly striding along in those shiny boots, remember there was a time when those in authority felt they would perform better without shoes.



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