Nigerian Thief Proverb


Stanley Kalu was raised in Nigeria. Since then, he and his family have lived in various African countries. He currently studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is a friend of mine, and he has often told me stories about growing up in Nigeria. I asked him for folklore, and without even needing to ask for Nigerian folklore, he offered up several pieces, including two proverbs. When I asked why he gave me two proverbs, he said that his mother often said them to him, and that mothers and their proverbs are so infamous that there are meme websites dedicated to them that he visits when he feels homesick. Stanley provided the proverb in English.


Stanley: This is a great Nigerian proverb. “Every day is for the thief. One day is for the owner of the house.”

Owen: Could you explain what this proverb means to you?

Stanley: It means that while you can do all the crimes that you want, every day, one day you will get caught and you will get found out.

Owen: Did someone used to say this to you repeatedly?

Stanley: Nah, my Mom just said it one time.


This is a great example of a proverb that makes little sense to an outsider. When he told me the proverb, I could barely guess what it meant. It is his following explanation that is necessary for understanding. It was also interesting that I had to ask him for the explanation–he stated the proverb so obviously at first.