By Pat Amobi Chukwuma
The economic condition of our country, Nigeria, often bites me without mercy. When I have no money to purchase fuel for my car, I engage myself in miraculous prayer, so that my petrol tank meter will not go down. As I was travelling one cloudy afternoon, I prayed and prayed, but all to no avail. The meter was fast going down, such that it reached the red alert level. Hence I was compelled to enter an attractive petrol station along my route to top my car's tank with the meager amount in my pocket. Three vehicles were ahead of me. I joined the queue. The vehicle in front of me was an old Land Rover about to be sent out of traffic world. The driver was also an old man. Imagine an old man driving an old vehicle. Old man plus old vehicle =? An attractive reward awaits the correct answer.
Now it was the turn of the old man driving the old vehicle to get fuel. The salesgirl was delaying because she was counting a roll of five thousand naira in twenty naira denominations paid to her by the outgoing vehicle driver. The salesgirl was very young, tall and plump. The old man was impatient. He shouted on top of his voice, “Okuko Agric (Agric fowl), common put fuel for me before heaven falls now! I have no time to waste!” The salesgirl looked at him from head to toe and retorted, “Old Layer, stop insulting me because of fuel. Take your fuel and get out of here with that expired vehicle.” The old man asserted with fury, “Idiot, close that your dirty mouth before I slap sense out of you!” He moved some steps forward to actualize his threat, but he was stopped by two young men. Verbal bombshells started falling both on the side of the Old Layer and the Okuko Agric. The tensed atmosphere forced the Manager of the station to come out of his office. It took him time to calm the Old Layer and the Okuko Agric. He served the old man fuel by himself. Then the Old Layer drove out angrily. I prayed God to take control, so that the angry Old Layer may not cause accident on the road. An angry man is a temporal mad person. It is a traffic offence to drive with anger. A temporal or permanent mad person should not handle the steering. There are many mad men and women driving on the highways today. No wonder accidents continue to claim lives of innocent commuters here and there.
In the normal parlance, an old layer is an agricultural hen which has passed the age of laying eggs. It is just like a woman who has entered menopause. Menopause is a biological condition whereby a woman can no longer conceive and bear children. In other words, it is the cessation of a woman's menses. It is the same thing with old layer in a poultry farm. An old layer is only good for consumption. Its meat is hard to eat. It requires a long time to cook it well.
One certain day, I went to the market to buy some old layers for a feast. When I reached there, I saw a cluster of old women. They were six in number. They were sitting in a semi-circle. I saluted them. One of them waved at me and asked, “What are you looking for?” I replied, “I am here to buy some old layers for a feast. The old women stood up in unison and asserted, “Look at us well. We are old layers looking for husbands. We are not for meat, but for marriage. Will you marry one of us or all of us?” I couldn't help laughing. One of them shouted, “Stop that! It is not a laughing matter. We are old layers for sale. Kindly make your choice.” Out of curiosity I asked them, “Are you joking? I need old layers for meat and not for marriage.” One of them said, “Oga, you can buy and use us for meat if you want. But be ready to bear the consequences.” I replied, “God forbid! Please, old mothers, my faith forbids the killing of human beings. Therefore do not put me into temptation.” They shouted, “Then if you cannot use us for meat, then give us money to manage ourselves.” I inserted my hands into my pocket and gave them a substantial sum of money. It was at last that I understood that the poor human old layers utilize this tactic to get their daily bread.
From the little research I made in the poultry farm, I learnt that there are six stages in the life of chicken. The first stage is the egg development and hatching. Generally, it takes a hen's egg twenty-one days of favourable incubation to develop and hatch. When the developed egg hatches, it comes out as chick. It is tiny with all the parts of its body in developing stages. At this stage, it depends on the mother hen for food and protection in local method. The mother hen takes care of it from this stage to the time of granting it independence. When it can go and feed on its own, it enters the adolescent stage. The teenage chicken shows some visible changes. New primary feathers and a developing pecking order become noticeable. This stage completes from five to fifteen weeks. The male adolescent is called cockerel while the female adolescent is known as pullet. The laying of eggs begins from 16th or 17th week. When the female adolescent starts to lay eggs, it enters the adult stage and becomes a hen.
When a hen passes the age of egg-laying, it enters the Molting period. At this time, the hen sheds old feathers and skin to make way for new growth, if at all. The feathers become less in quantity. Often the skin is featherless. Such hen is normally classified in my area as “okuko abuke.” When a woman is aging, it seems as if dowry was not paid during her marriage. Molting is the age of retirement. The Nutritionist Patrick Bigg, Ph.D, says: “One day, a time may come for the veterans of a flock to take a vacation and retire from egg-laying. Although a laying hen will stop laying eggs as she ages, she still has an important place in the flock as a steady companion who brings joy to the entire family.” It is a chick that later turns into an old layer. That's why it is said, “The child is the father of the man.”
I am gradually hitting the hammer on the nail. Therefore, do not be confused. The women of Abagana area of Igboland often sing a dirge which goes this way: “Ndi otu gwongworo, anyi aputabanu! Onye mechaa agboghobia, o banye n'otu gwongworo! Onye mechaa okorobia, o banye n'otu gwongworo!” This means that after the youthful age, one must enter into old age. A pleasure car like Volvo in young age later ends up as a lorry. There is no remedy for ageing. Even if you apply all the cosmetics in the world, you must get old. Even you undergo the best plastic surgery, you must get old. Even if you dye your hair every day, you must get old. As you are ageing, you may appear to be young in appearance, but old age has dug a foundation in your body system. Some men and women who bleach their bodies in order to remain young often look like spirits. If a child was called 'Boyoyo' in boyhood, should he retain the nickname in old age? I think he should rather be called 'Payoyo'. A group of adults who went to school in a particular school when they were young are known as Old-boys or Old-Girls. Does a boy still remain a boy at old age? No, he becomes an old man. A girl at old age becomes an old woman. For me it sounds better to say Old-Men or Old-Women of this or that school.
Old age is a blessing. Yet some men and women don't want to be called old man or old woman in the evening of their lives. Some time ago, I travelled as a passenger in a commercial bus. As we were taking our seats, there was an old man among us. The lady about to seat beside him politely said, “Please old papa shift a little for me.” The old papa started boiling. He was furiously shouted, “Idiot! When you reach home, call your father old papa!” Everybody was surprised. It was not disputable. The man was old in every part of his body. Why was he angry for being referred to as old papa? Personally I controlled my laughter. But when I disembarked from the bus, come and see me laughing. The passersby were wondering why I was laughing alone at a lonely place.
The old layers in our society today should accord themselves respect and give chance to the young ones. Many old layers in our country Nigeria refuse to retire from active service, thereby making the youths jobless. No wonder some of the youths engage themselves in nefarious activities like kidnapping, cultism, armed robbery and terrorism. There are no vacancies in the labour market because the old layers refuse to retire. Even in governance at different levels, the old layers sit tight and are unproductive. The Not-Too-Young to Rule Bill has been passed and signed by the President. In essence it has not been actualized. How many of our youths are occupying seats as governors and lawmakers? What of the Presidency? That is a- no-go-area. It is regrettable that the old layers occupying power in our Land today have nothing new to offer. The youths who have something new to offer are not given the opportunity. Often they are scared by huge sums of money involved in politicking, which they cannot afford. Even in political appointments, the old layers are fronted. Old layers in the Military instead of retiring home metamorphose into civilians and struggle for political power. When they get to power, they use the military energy in them to mesmerize their constituents or citizens. A dictator remains a dictator. Change of uniform is an artificial phenomenon.
Anybody who becomes an old layer should be grateful to God for the special grace. In the poultry, the old layers retire and go to market. In our human society, the old layers should retire, go home and become models for the young ones. How I wish I shall attain the age of old layer as a priest. I shall retire honourably and prepare for my eternal exit. Some who are close to old layers do not want to hear that word 'Retirement.' Not everyone is privileged to reach the age of retirement (old layer). Do you observe the rate at which young ones die nowadays? They die in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties. Only a handful of privileged ones die at sixties, seventies or eighties. When a young one dies, it is termed “Painful Exit.” But when an old layer dies, it is classified as “Glorious Exit” or “Celebration of Life.” Human beings make these classifications. For God, there is no difference between dying young or dying old. What matters is not how long one lived, but how well he or she lived. As adolescents and old layers, we should always prepare for death. All mortals must die. The ultimate question is: Where will you spend your eternity - in Heaven or in Hell? Whatever seed one sows in this world, is what he or she will reap in the world to come.