100 African / Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings

Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings

Here is a collection of African and Nigerian proverbs and idiomatic expressions, explain their meanings, and provide examples of their usage

Here is a Nigerian proverbs and idiomatic expressions along with their meanings and examples of their usage:

Proverb: “When one finger touches oil, it spreads to the others.”
Meaning: This proverb emphasizes the influence and impact of a single person’s actions on others.
Example: If one family member achieves success, it often motivates and inspires other family members to strive for success as well.


Proverb: “A chick that will grow into a rooster can be spotted the very day it hatches.”
Meaning: This proverb suggests that certain characteristics or traits are evident from an early stage, indicating future potential.
Example: The teacher noticed the student’s exceptional talent for mathematics in elementary school, and now, he is a renowned mathematician.

Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings.

Proverb: “The lizard that jumps from the high Iroko tree says he will praise himself if no one else does.”
Meaning: This proverb conveys the idea of self-confidence and self-assurance, even in the absence of external validation.
Example: Despite facing criticism and skepticism, the young entrepreneur remained determined and successfully built his business empire. As he often says, “I praise myself when no one else does!”

Proverb: “The goat that is destined for a feast does not fear the knife.”
Meaning: This proverb suggests that when something is inevitable or bound to happen, there is no point in worrying or being afraid.
Example: As the final exams approached, instead of being anxious, she stayed calm, saying, “The goat that is destined for a feast does not fear the knife.”


Idiomatic Expression: “To put one’s mouth in what doesn’t concern it.”
Meaning: This expression refers to someone involving themselves in matters that are not their business or that they have no right to be a part of.
Example: John had no idea about the project, but he decided to put his mouth in what doesn’t concern him and started giving unsolicited advice.

Idiomatic Expression: “To have a skeleton in the cupboard.”
Meaning: This expression signifies someone having a secret or a hidden shameful past that they do not want others to discover.
Example: The politician always avoided discussing his personal life, leading people to speculate that he had a skeleton in the cupboard.

Idiomatic Expression: “To kill two birds with one stone.”
Meaning: This expression means to accomplish two tasks or goals with a single action.
Example: By attending the conference, she managed to network with potential clients and learn from industry experts, effectively killing two birds with one stone.


More Nigerian proverbs and idiomatic expressions with their meanings and examples of their usage:


Proverb: “A child who washes his hands clean dines with elders.”
Meaning: This proverb emphasizes the importance of good behavior and responsibility, which leads to recognition and acceptance.
Example: The young student who consistently demonstrated excellent manners and discipline was invited to dine with the school’s principal and teachers.

Proverb: “No one can give you a clean cloth without stitching it.”
Meaning: This proverb signifies that success or valuable things are achieved through effort and hard work, rather than receiving them effortlessly.
Example: To become a skilled musician, he had to practice for countless hours. As they say, “No one can give you a clean cloth without stitching it.”

Proverb: “The eagle does not feed on dead chickens.”
Meaning: This proverb implies that individuals with great potential and ambitions do not waste their time or energy on insignificant or unproductive activities.
Example: As a highly motivated entrepreneur, she focuses her efforts on ambitious projects and does not waste time on minor distractions. After all, “The eagle does not feed on dead chickens.”

Proverb: “If the wind blows, it exposes the hen’s nakedness.”
Meaning: This proverb suggests that unfavorable circumstances can reveal vulnerabilities or weaknesses that are otherwise hidden.
Example: The financial crisis uncovered the company’s underlying issues and weaknesses, leaving the management scrambling for solutions. As they say, “If the wind blows, it exposes the hen’s nakedness.”

Idiomatic Expression: “To have a long leg.”
Meaning: This expression refers to having influential connections or being in a position of advantage.
Example: She managed to secure a job at the prestigious company because she had a long leg in the industry, thanks to her uncle who was a senior executive.


Idiomatic Expression: “To have ants in one’s pants.”
Meaning: This expression describes someone who is restless, unable to sit still, or constantly fidgeting.
Example: The little boy had ants in his pants during the long car ride, unable to stay seated for more than a few minutes.

Idiomatic Expression: “To hit the nail on the head.”
Meaning: This expression means to precisely address or identify the core issue or problem.
Example: The consultant hit the nail on the head by identifying the primary reason for the company’s declining sales: poor customer service.


Still on old Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings. 

Proverb: “When one finger touches oil, it spreads to other fingers.”

Meaning: This proverb signifies that the consequences of an action or event can affect more than just the immediate participants.


Example: If a corrupt politician is not held accountable, it will encourage others to engage in corruption as well.


Proverb: “The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree said he would praise himself if no one else did.”


Meaning: This proverb emphasizes the importance of self-confidence and self-praise in the absence of recognition from others.

Example: Even if no one acknowledges your achievements, you should still acknowledge and celebrate yourself.



Proverb: “No matter how dark the night, morning always comes.”

Meaning: This proverb expresses optimism and hope, emphasizing that difficult times will eventually pass.

Example: Even in the midst of challenges, we should remember that there will always be a brighter future ahead.


Proverb: “A child who washes his hands clean dines with the elders.”

Meaning: This proverb highlights the importance of good behavior and responsibility in earning respect and privileges.

Example: If you consistently show maturity and good manners, you will be treated with respect and given more responsibilities.


Proverb: “The moon moves slowly but it crosses the town.”

Meaning: This proverb signifies that progress may be slow, but with persistence, success can be achieved.

Example: Even if your progress seems gradual, keep going, and eventually, you will reach your goals

Proverb: “A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.”

Meaning: This proverb suggests that certain qualities or potential can be recognized from an early stage.

Example: Observant parents can identify the talents or abilities of their children from a young age.


Proverb: “A single broomstick cannot sweep a whole compound.”

Meaning: This proverb emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teamwork in achieving a common goal.

Example: To successfully complete a project, everyone must contribute their skills and efforts.


Proverb: “The stubbornness of a goat does not prevent it from being eaten.”

Meaning: This proverb warns against the negative consequences of being stubborn or resistant to advice.

Example: No matter how strong-willed or stubborn someone is, they will still face the consequences of their actions.


Proverb: “If the wind blows, it exposes the hen’s nakedness.”

Meaning: This proverb suggests that certain circumstances can reveal hidden or secret things.

Example: During times of crisis or pressure, people’s true nature and intentions are often revealed.


Proverb: “A roaring lion kills no game.”

Meaning: This proverb indicates that making noise or boasting alone does not guarantee success.

Example: Talking about your plans and ambitions is not enough; you need to take action to achieve them.

African proverbs and meanings.

African sayings about life and death have helped many people make the right choices. Here are some of the most common Nigerian proverbs and their meanings.

  • The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said it would praise itself if no one else did.

Meaning: This is one of the most known African proverbs on leadership. It means a person must always stay happy about their achievements even if nobody cares.

  • Lizard that ruined its mother’s burial, what did it expect others to do?

Meaning: This is a famous African proverb about life and death. In African culture, the mother’s funeral is an individual matter. None cares about the way you plan it. This saying means that if you disorder any activity that worries you, you should not believe others to do otherwise. Nigerian people use this proverb if they want to caution somebody about his approach to planning.

  • He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone; who knows how she breathes?

Meaning: You should never interfere in someone’s issues, particularly when you do not know anything about them.

  • Anger against a brother is felt on the flesh, not in the bone.

Meaning: You should forget and forgive anything your relatives did to you.

  • Maize bears fruits once and dies because it is not rooted in the ground.

Meaning: You will never get to the top and stay prosperous without a good foundation.

  • He who will swallow the ‘udala’ seed must consider the size of his stomach.

Meaning: ‘Udala’ seed is an apple seed. It is never digested in the stomach. This proverb means that you must always think about all possible consequences of your actions.

  • The fly that has no one to advise him follows a corpse into the grave.

Meaning: You will fall into a trap if you do not have good advice or refuse to take one.

  • When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.

Meaning: It is one of the common African sayings about friendship. It means that you should always be watchful when an unfamiliar person is too acquainted or when you are being made fun of.

  • He likes burial ram’s meat but recovers when sickness visits him.

Meaning: Someone who wants other people to spend for him but is indisposed to spend.

  • White anti chews’ Igbegulu’ (palm stem) because it is lying on the ground; let it climb the palm tree and eat it.

List of Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings.

Meaning: ‘Igbegulu’ is a palm stem. The proverb tells about a situation when people will abuse you when they do not realize who you are and find yourself in everyone’s mist.

  • When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.

Meaning: It is another famous African proverb on leadership. When a great leader passes away, many people lose their way in life if they do not find a successor.

  • No matter how long a log stays in the water, it does not become a crocodile.

Meaning: You will always be who you are regardless of how long you fake your character.

  • The little bird that hops off the ground and lands on anti-hill may not know it but is still on the ground.

Meaning: You may think you have achieved greatness but have yet to start. Wise people in Africa use this proverb to caution an arrogant person.

  • A common snake, which a man sees all alone, may become a python in his eyes.

Meaning: It is never enough to judge anything on one man’s version.

  • The very thing that killed a mother rat is always there to ensure its young ones never open their eyes.

Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings that everyone need to read. 

Meaning: The wicked people are at work all the time.

  • A boy who perseveres in asking what killed his father before he has enough strength to avenge may be asking for his father’s fate.

Meaning: You should never start a battle if you are either not ready for or old enough to become a winner.

  • The man who belittled the sickness a monkey suffered must ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from bl*wing his sick fire.

Meaning: Before you disrespect other people’s difficulties, always think of the effects it has both on them and their families.

  • When death wants to take a little dog, it prevents him from perceiving even the smell of excrement.

Meaning: It is another great African proverb about life and death. You will never heed wise advice when you are fated for bad luck.

  • A man who sees a hen scattering excrement should stop it. Who knows who will eat the leg?

Meaning: It is one of the most known African proverbs about marriage. Any time you see a girl misbehaving, warn her, for you never know who will marry her. It is always might be either you or a member of your family.

  • If that rat cannot flee enough, let it make way for a tortoise.

Meaning: If you cannot do something, just let other people try to do it. No one has complete knowledge or power.

South African proverbs and their meanings.

Proverbs were utilized in everyday communication in South African communities, particularly among the elderly and younger generations. Below are some of the best South African proverbs you can share.

  • You cannot beat a drum with one finger.

Meaning: You have to give all your energy and attention to anything you do.

  • White fowl with beautiful feathers.

Meaning: This proverb tells about either thing or person that is good for nothing. A good-for-nothing person or thing. This proverb is commonly used when discussing a beautiful woman with an evil character.

  • Look for a dark goat first in the daytime because you may not find it at night.

Meaning: You should always order your goals and follow them before it is too late to accomplish them.

Still on Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings.

  • What an elder saw while sitting, a youth could not see it standing.

Meaning: Elder people always have more knowledge and wisdom than young people.

  • The day I need a wife, the market is filled with mad people.

Meaning: When you want something, you will never get it. It is a widely used proverb depicting bad luck.

  • When a man makes a fence, you will know his level of wisdom.

Meaning: Your knowledge always reveals in your activities.

  • A fowl does not forget who trims his feathers during the rainy season.

Meaning: A person will never forget the help rendered to him during the duration of hard times. Raining season in Africa has always been difficult for fowls since it is tough for them to hunt for food while their feathers keep growing.

  • To break a palm-knell nut for a fowl.

Meaning: This proverb is used when a person grieves in vain for something.

  • Send your child where he wants to go, and you will see his pace.

Meaning: Passion must always drive our actions.

  • A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam, which his mother puts into his hand.

Meaning: No matter what, your inheritance will never kill you.

  • A chick that will grow into a rooster can be spotted the very day it hatches.

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Meaning: There is a sign to every situation where it tends at the early stages if you look judgmentally.

  • When two elephants meet on a narrow bridge, they cannot go anywhere until one of them lies down

Meaning: Sometimes, people need to give way and help others succeed.

  • When you are crying for rain, you are crying for mud too
wise nigerian proverbs

Meaning: Good situations come with consequences; if you are looking for one, be ready for the consequences.

  • Knowledge is like a garden: If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.

Meaning: If you don’t make efforts to acquire knowledge, then you would not expect to have it, and if you do not put the knowledge you have to use, you cannot expect to gain anything from it.

  • A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.

Meaning: What goes around, comes around, so whatever you sow, you shall reap.

  • Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.

Meaning: What defines a man is his character which is inseparable from him and follows him wherever he goes.

  • It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Meaning: Society is responsible for the moral characters it creates. Everyone in a community should be responsible for helping to train a child irrespective of who the parents are, offering correction where they are needed.

  • Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.

Meaning: Do not insult someone who is capable of taking your responsibility or taking care of you.

  • If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended, forgive.

Meaning: This is as simple as it sounds: If you upset someone, apologize to them. If someone upsets you, forgive them because what goes around comes around.

  • Don’t set sail using someone else’s star.

Meaning: Avoid copying someone else. Just because someone has been successful in what he/she does should not be what will make you do the same thing and expect to be successful.

Funny African proverbs and meanings

If you are looking for some amusing African proverbs to brighten your day, check out these amusing sayings that will have you cracking up.

  • You don’t expect to find a v*rgin woman in a maternity ward.

Meaning: You can never get pregnant without having intercourse. So you are the major cause of some of your problems right now.


More on African / Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings.

  • A man who always says the truth will find himself being expelled from 9 villages.

Meaning: The truth hurts, and everybody feels uneasy about being told life realities that concern them. This explains why some people do not always trust those who tell the truth.

  • If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent the night with one mosquito.

Meaning: No one person is bigger than another person; we all have the potential to do something spectacular if we believe in ourselves.

  • Dying poor and long is better compared to dying rich and young

Meaning: The proverb addresses matters concerning getting clean money that is not associated with illegal jobs or businesses. If you earn your wealth in a clean manner is always the best than earning it from illegal means like theft.

  • An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.

Meaning: This proverb means that your mind will judge you when you are guilty of some crime, and it is being said now.

  • He who sleeps with an itchy an*s must wake up with smelly fingers.

Meaning: There is nothing dirty that you do privately that won’t come out.

  • If life has beaten you severely and your face is swollen, smile and act like a fat man.

Meaning: In life, you should always try your best to make the best out of it, no matter the circumstances that you are going through.

  • Hot anger cannot cook yams

Meaning: The Nigerian proverb means that no matter how much you feel someone has angered you, it will surely come down. It is better to learn to forgive those who wrong you because you will also one day need forgiveness from them.

  • The frowning face of a goat cannot stop its owner from taking it to the market.

Meaning: No matter how much you think a person is unable to do something, maybe because of a disability, you will be shocked with their victory one day. It means you should not take one’s disability as their inability because one day their hard work will pay them.

  • If you cannot look ahead, you will always remain behind

Meaning: The proverb means that you should always know what you want to achieve in the future to work on achieving it. If you don’t have any objectives for your life, then others will succeed as you are left in the same position.

Final Thoughts on Nigerian Proverbs and their meanings.

There are hundreds of African and Nigerian proverbs and meanings. The above are some pieces of ancient wisdom which are worthwhile mentioning. You can share them with your friends and family.

These proverbs and idiomatic expressions provide cultural insights and colorful language expressions commonly used in Nigerian contexts. Use them appropriately to enhance your communication and understanding of Nigerian culture and language..



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