The adage, “A fool at forty is a fool forever” is not indigenous to Nigeria but we have adopted it and even use it more than many of our native wise sayings. In most cases, this proverb is used to address and refer to people, who did not meet up to societal expectations. These expectations usually border around financial independence, marriage and family life, and general conducts. By this saying, a person, who fails to measure up to what is expected of him as an adult, is indirectly referred to as a failure or, worse, a fool.
Ordinarily, in our society, a young man is expected to achieve financial independence and wealth before the age of thirty. He is expected to set up a thriving business, build a house in the village and in the city, buy an exotic car, and then, marry a young damsel, who will help him to manage his wealth. All these should be in place before he clocks thirty. If he is still struggling or has no job or source of income at the age of thirty, know it that his village people will believe that he is an “efulefu” (a fool or a useless person). That is an ideology in an Igbo society. And believe me when I say that it is still present and that it positively and negatively influences our young men. Of course some of them meet up to these expectations, some genuinely, some fraudulently, while others don’t. Those that couldn’t meet up feel out of place.
Like I stated earlier, this ideology still exists in Igbo society as of date. But if we trace its origin, we will find out that it started when an Igbo man doesn’t have to wait for someone to employ him before he starts earning a living. It started in the days when young men grew up and picked up professions, such as farming, hunting, fishing, healing, and the rest of them. In those days, life was simple. So tell me why a young man shouldn’t have his own “obi” before he is twenty?
Some decades ago, young Igbo men still “hit” it early. But then, most of them go into apprenticeship at ages as early as nine or ten. They will stay with their “masters” for about seven years, so that by the time they are like eighteen years old, they are already managing their masters’ businesses as well as planning towards setting up their own. In those days, most Igbo boys own their own businesses before the age of twenty. I know this because while we were in the university, our age mates that “dropped” out of school after primary education were already “Big Men”. Then, they used to drive their exotic cars to UNIZIK to look for wives while their mates struggled to write assignments and jump buses. But, is the society still the way it was then? Your guess is as good as mine.
Now, formal education is the in thing. Everybody wants his children to become graduates and work in banks or telecom companies. People want their children to become doctors, lawyers and accountants. They no longer think that trading, mechanics, welding, and the rest are commendable professions. Things have changed and it has affected everything. This is why I said that a fool at forty is not a fool forever.
Some people do not realise that it does not take time before one attains the age of forty. A person that graduates from a higher institution at the age of twenty to twenty-two years may have to sit down and wait for his result to be processed before he heads for his NYSC. By the time he is done with NYSC, he would have been around twenty-five years old or more. By then, he still sees what his mates have seen. He will start jumping from one interview to another. If he by chance finds a job, he will face the fact that salary cannot even pay bills. Now, this is the young man that should build a house, buy a car and marry before he is forty. That is unfair.
The essence of this article is not to encourage laziness among those that are looking for excuses not to hustle. It is not to say that it is impossible these days to make wealth genuinely before the age of thirty. And it is certainly not to scare the youths into believing that they can’t make it before the age of forty. This post is targeted at those who felt that they have failed because they couldn’t meet up to laid down expectations before their fortieth birthday.
Most of us have crossed that line before we even found ourselves. Most successful people in the world did not break through before or during their thirties. People like Col. Sanders found themselves at the age that Nigeria retires people. But he was in society, where he was encouraged and, at the age of 62, he founded KFC, which is in different countries of the world today. People say that age is nothing but a number; that philosophy should also be applied here. That a person wasn’t fortunate to break through before he got into his forties doesn’t make him a failure or a fool. He still has all the time in the world to find himself, if he truly wants to.