Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with diverse ethnicities. Many foreigners, and even Nigerians belonging to majority ethnic groups, have little to no knowledge of the various minority ethnic groups that proliferate the nation. What comes to mind when they think of Nigeria is that there are only the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa ethnicities. This view is sustained because the Nigerian constitution recognises only those three ethnic groups as the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Every other ethnic group is treated as a minority ethnic group.
The concept of a minority ethnic group is quite faulty in the Nigerian context. Some ethnicities that are deemed to be minorities have well over 2 million people (a minority ethnic group in the real sense should have a population of 1 million or less). However, within the Nigerian context, if you are not Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa, you are a minority. The big three (WaZoBia) have always been at the centre of Nigerian politics and history. Only a few enlightened persons know much about Nigeria's other 250+ ethnic groups. Even those who know them have various misconceptions about the ethnicities. The situation is so bad that many Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos and even those from minority groups, assume that the minorities in the South are all Igboid or Igbo sub-groups, while those in the North are all Hausas or Hausa sub-groups.
This thread will attempt to state some facts about Nigeria's minority groups as a means of educating Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. My focus will be on the minority groups in the South-South geo-political region and parts of the middle-belt region of Nigeria (both regions were created exclusively for minorities). There are also many minorities in Nigeria's North but they deserve another thread entirely.
1. The Urhobo ethnic group occupy Delta Central/South senatorial districts and is the most dominant ethnic group in Delta State. They share the same culture and worldview with the Isoko of Delta State (both are regarded as one group by many persons).
2. Ijaw is regarded by many as the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria with Urhobo coming as 5th (contested claims). Efik-Ibibio also claims to the be the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria. The Tiv are also regarded by some as the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria. No proper and current census has been done to validate the many population claims.
3. Itsekiri is a Yoruboid ethnic group whose ancestors were migrant fishermen of Ijebu, Ikale and Ilaje sub-groups of the Yorubas. However, their monarchy is of Bini descent and this created a hybrid culture with elements from Yoruba, Bini and their neighbours, Urhobo and Ijaw.
4. The first person to get a university degree in Nigeria was an Itsekiri king. His name was Dom Domingos (Atuwatse I). He graduated from Coimbra University, Portugal, in 1611. He also married a Portuguese woman. The Itsekiris are among the first group to make contact with the western world and due to their hospitality and warmness, that early contact favoured them quite well.
5. There are more than 20 ethnic groups in Cross River Central and North that are not related to Efik. Many of these ethnic groups speak languages that are regarded as Bantoid (from Bantu). Some of them are Ejagham (Ekoid), Boki, Bekwarra, Bette-Bendi, Ikom, Leggbo, etc.
6. The ethnic groups in Cross River South and Akwa Ibom form a cluster known as the Akwa-Cross cluster. All of the languages in the cluster are related and mutually intelligible to speakers. However, they are all regarded as separate ethnicities. Efik is spoken in Cross River South (Calabar and environs), Ibibio is the largest ethnicity in this cluster and it is spoken in Akwa Ibom (Uyo and environs), Anaang is spoken in Ikot Ekpene and environs, Oron (Oro) is spoken in Oron town and environs, while Ekid (Eket) is spoken in Eket, Esit Eket and environs.
7. The Andoni ethnic group of Rivers and Akwa Ibom is related to both the Ijaw and the Ibeno (Ibibioid) ethnic groups. Andoni people occupy the coastal areas of Rivers (Andoni LGA) and Akwa Ibom States (Eastern Obolo LGA).
8. The Isoko ethnicity of Delta State used to be regarded as Eastern Urhobo until 1958 when James Otobo moved a motion for a separate Isoko province. This marked the beginning of a separate Isoko political identity. Isokos share the same culture and worldviews with Urhobos but they speak a different dialect that many Urhobos cannot understand.
9. The Ogoni ethnic group of Rivers State occupy 4 LGAs (Tai, Eleme, Khana and Gokana). They all speak different dialects of Ogoni language. Eleme in particular claims to be a different ethnicity from the Ogoni.
10. The Idoma people of Benue State trace their history to the Kwararafa confederation of the Junkun, in modern day Taraba State. They have historical and cultural ties with the Igala.
11. The Baruba people of Kwara State are split into Nigeria and Benin Republic. They are a very reserved people and have strong Islamic values.
12. The Gbagyi people are the most populated ethnicity indigenous to Abuja, Nigeria's Federal Capital. They also occupy Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarrawa and Niger States. They are called Gwari by the Hausa-Fulani people. Nigeria's former military ruler, Gen. Babangida is a Gbagyi man.
13. The Nupe people occupy Kwara and Niger States. They are predominantly Muslims and have an emirate known as Bida Emirate. Nupe people are reserved, agrarian and peaceful.
14. Islam was introduced to the Etsako people (Auchi and environs) of Edo State by the Nupe people.
15. Epie-Atissa (Yenagoa) people, Engenni (Rivers), Degema (Rivers), Urhobo-Isoko (Delta), Esan, Bini, Etsako, Afenmai, and others in Edo State are all Edoid groups. Their ancestry can be traced to Benin and they speak loosely related and mutually unintelligible languages. They are all regarded as different ethnicities, with the exception of Epie-Atissa which has joined the Ijaw confederation.
16. The Anioma people of Delta State (Delta North- Asaba and environs) speak related Igboid languages. Anioma is an acronym for Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika, and Oshimili (subgroups comprising what is regarded as Delta Igbo). However, these groups are constitutionally acknowledged as different ethnicities and they speak different dialects, apart from the Enuani (Aniocha and Oshimili) who speak a dialect of Igbo very close to Onitsha dialect.
17. Ikwerre, Ekpeye and Ogba (Akalaka brothers) speak loosely related Igboid languages. They trace their history to Benin like the Edoid groups. Ikwerre is the dominant ethnic group in Rivers State.
18. There is no language known as "Ijaw" language. Ijaw is an ethnic marker for the confederation of ethnicities that chose to identify as Ijaw. The main language many of the core Ijaw people speak is called Izon, with Kolukoma-Opuk**a regarded as the standard written dialect. Other languages spoken by the Ijaws include Nembe, Ogbia (a Cross River Language), Epie-Atissa (Edoid language), Kalabari, Okrika, Nkoroo, Defaka, etc. Nigeria's former president, Goodluck Jonathan, speaks Ogbia, while his wife, Patience Jonathan, speaks Okrika.
19. The standard variety of Urhobo is Agbarho dialect while that of Isoko is Uzere dialect. Other dialects in the Urhobo-Isoko cluster include Uvwie, Okpe, and Erhowa.
20. Itsekiri has no dialects. The language is the same in all Itsekiri locales. It is one of the few languages in Nigeria with this feature.
21. The Tiv (Benue), Junkun (Taraba), and Kuteb (Taraba) people were once together in a federation known as the Wukari Federation. The fall of this Federation marked the outwards migration of the constituent groups, especially the Tiv.
22. The Ebira people of Kogi State trace their history to the Kwararafa Federation, the Junkun successor to the Wukari Federation. They are predominantly Muslims. They occupy Okene and its environs.
23. The Igala people of Kogi State have historical and cultural ties with the Igbo people but they speak a Yoruboid language. A few scholars claim that the Igalas migrated from Umueri. Other scholars claim that Igalas are a hybrid of Idoma and Yoruba.
24. There are over twenty ethnic groups in Plateau State. Many of them have shared beliefs, religion and world view. Among them are the Berom (Jos and environs), Tarok, Afizere, Kofyar, Jarawa, among others. They speak loosely related languages and many use Hausa for inter-ethnic communication. Christianity is the dominant religion among the minorities in Plateau State.
25. There are over twenty ethnic groups in Kaduna State. Many of them have a largely Christian heritage and are dominant in Southern Kaduna. Among them are Gbagyi, Gwong, Atuku, Bajju, Atyab, Gure and Ninkyop. Many of the Southern Kaduna people can speak and understand Hausa.
26. The Oluk**i people of Delta State are Yoruboid and they are surrounded on all sides by the Delta Igbos (Aniochas). Most of them are coordinate speakers of Igbo and Oluk**i (a Yoruboid language). They are the micro-minorities of Delta State and their language is faced with extinction.
27. There is no ethnic group known as "Edo". Edo is a word that describes a variety of ethnic groups with a common origin although many use it to refer to the Bini people. Edo is actually the name of a slave which an Oba appropriated to his empire after the slave saved his life. The ethnic groups that are described as Edoid have only little in common. Their languages are not mutually intelligible and their cultural beliefs are quite distinct. The ethnic group occupying Benin City is the Bini people.
28. The Ikas and Ukwuanis of Delta State trace their origin to modern day Edo. According to their myths, their ancestors were migrants from Benin. However, they speak Igboid languages, not Edoid languages.
29. Some minority languages are taught at the primary, secondary and university levels in Nigeria. The languages that are taught at the university level include: Urhobo (Delta State University, Abraka), Izon (Niger Delta University, Amassoma and University of Port Harcourt, Choba), Ikwerre (University of Port Harcourt, Choba), Bini (University of Benin), and Efik-Ibibio (University of Calabar and University of Uyo). Many others are taught at the College of Education level.
30. All of Nigeria's commercial crude deposits are within the territories of minority ethnic groups in the South-South region of Nigeria. The highest producers of the nation's crude include the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo-Isoko, Eket, Oron, Ikwerre, Ekpeye, Ogba and Ukwuani. Small quantities of crude oil can also found in Ondo (Yoruba), Abia (Ukwa East & West -Igbo) and Imo (Egbema & Oguta). Lagos State (Yoruba) has recently joined the league of oil producing states in Nigeria and oil has been discovered in the Lake Chad Basin (Kanuri) of North Eastern Nigeria.
Bonus: Apart from crude oil, Nigeria's minorities are blessed with intellectuals (Urhobo, for instance, is said to have one of the highest concentration of Professors, Medical Doctors and Lawyers in Nigeria), mineral resources (Urhobo also has the highest gas deposits in Nigeria, gold is present in Plateau State), rich culture (the Ijaws and Itsekiris have various boat regattas and amazing festivals), historical monarchies (the Bini monarchy, the Itsekiri monarchy, the Calabar (Efik) monarchy, the Igala monarchy, the Nupe monarchy, the Jos monarchy, etc), tourist attractions (Calabar Carnival, Port Harcourt Book Festival, Ox-Bow Lake in Bayelsa, Oba of Benin's Palace, Confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue at Lokoja, etc) and many other natural and human resources.
These are only some of the interesting facts about Nigeria's various minority ethnic groups. Do you know of other interesting facts? Kindly comment and keep the thread moving. You may also comment if you spot any error(s) or misconception(s).
- Written by Iroro Orhero (literarymathy[at]gmail.com).
- Do not copy without acknowledging the writer and/or the source.