The Rich Cultural Heritage of Nigeria: A Look at Its Major Ethnic Groups

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The Rich Cultural Heritage of Nigeria: A Look at Its Major Ethnic Groups
Omolola Akinyemi
Written by Omolola Akinyemi
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Nigeria is indeed a blessed nation, a giant in its own right. Notwithstanding the internal squabbles between ethnic groups and religious establishments who historically, were only brought together to form the geographical entity called Nigeria by former British overlords. It is established beyond doubt that the cultural heritage of Nigeria is rich, diverse and full of ancient history. 


All of that history and cultural heritage put together contributes to how Nigeria as an entity has been shaped out today. The historical interactions and conflicts between these ethnic groups of Nigeria have had a profound influence on the evolving  socio-political and economic life of the nation.

The Cultural Heritage of Nigeria: Facts and Statistics 

Nigeria comprises over 250 distinct ethnic groups, and over 500 indigenous languages. Ancient recorded history of Nigeria also dates back to some hundreds of years. At least 25 centuries of rich cultural heritage is on record, sourced from different ethnic groups. 

Some of these ethnic groups had established great civilizations in the past. And their influence on Nigerian society and politics are still strongly felt today. The Oyo-Yoruba empire, the Bini kingdom, the Kanem-Bornu empire, the Hausa-Fulani states are the notable ones. 

However, ethnic groups of the Middle Belt, the Niger Delta tribes, South-South and South-East tribal groups and Igbo clans also have unique stories to tell. Especially about their origins as nation-states. The high level of cohesion within each ethnic group could not seriously be overcome by any attempt to create nationalism. The divisive tribalistic actions of the political elite are not helping matters either. 


And that is quite separate from evidence of ancient human dwelling sites here and there. These date back even further by some thousands of years, according to archeological discoveries. Nigeria and its culturally diverse population are ancient people indeed. 

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Blessed with many significant human and natural resources, the largest black nation on the earth is still a regional and global force. A force to reckon with in certain quarters that should not be ignored. 


The Rich Cultural Heritage of Nigeria: Exploring the Major Ethnic Groups

The three most prominent and largest ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba ethnic groups. 

Igbo Ethnic Group

At around 20 million strong, the Igbo people comprise about 17% of the Nigerian population. They are mostly found in the South-East region of the country. Being hardworking, merchants and travelers at heart, Igbo people can be found in practically every nation on the Earth today. They also reside all over the Nigerian landscape and West Africa in large numbers. They are primarily concentrated in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Ábíá, and Enugu states (with a sizable number of them in Edo, Delta and Rivers states). 


It is strongly believed that the Igbo people originally came from an area roughly 100 miles towards the north of their present location. And that in ancient times, there were close connections between the Igbos and surrounding tribes such as the Yorubas, Binis, Idoma and Igala people up to around six thousand years ago.

The vast majority of them practice Christianity in the modern day. Nevertheless they have deep respect for culture and traditions. Their traditional religion is anchored on the existence of an Almighty Creator (Chineke), the Earth goddess Ala, and a host of lesser supporting deities and ancestral spirits. 


Hausa-Fulani Ethnic Group

The Hausa and Fulani are two ethnic groups with intertwined histories and way of life. They occupy the northern part of Nigeria, and are reputed to be the largest ethnic group in the nation with over 20 million people. They are mostly concentrated in Sokoto, Kano and Katsina states. 

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It happened that the nomadic Fulanis were settlers that conquered the already established Hausa states under the leadership of the renowned Usman Dan Fodio. The Fulani subsequently reorganized the Hausa city-states, tradition and religion, and also brought Islam into the Hausa nation. 


The nomadic Fulanis are cattle rearers with the reputation of traveling far and wide, settling in other lands and quickly learning the host communities’ language. Thus they are spread all over West Africa. Hausas in turn are exceptional  traders eager to travel to other lands as well. And they establish distinct cultural trading centers in each host community – appointing their own religious and cultural rulers, and the majority openly practice Islam. 

Yoruba Ethnic Group

The Yoruba people occupy the south western region of Nigeria, particularly the states of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo and Kwara. There are roughly 20 million of them as we speak. We can find some Yorubas in other West African nations, especially Benin and Togo.  


Yorubas were believed to have migrated from somewhere in the east around the lower Niger river about a thousand years ago. They have settled in the south west of Nigeria for several centuries now. Yorubas are acclaimed to be the most urbanized ethnic group before the British colonization. They formed into well-organized towns and kingdoms each ruled by an ọba (or baale). The most prominent and powerful of these kingdoms in ancient times was the Oyo empire. Oyo dialect was largely adopted as the official Yoruba language over the centuries, without compromising the various other dialects still in use today. The Yorubas also believe in the town of Ile-Ife as their ancestral home and the origin of creation, according to traditional mythology.

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The kingdom of Oyo and its neighboring Yoruba towns suffered a decline due to inter-tribal wars and subsequent invasion by the Dahomey and Fulanis. But the traditional rulership institutions are still in existence, albeit in a weaker form. 




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About Post Author

About the author

Omolola Akinyemi

Omolola Akinyemi

A Computer Science graduate of UNILAG, I hail from Ekiti state of Nigeria. An astute teacher, learner & admin assistant of many years experience. I love technology, innovation, and Nature. A problem solving mentality is important to me. The future is only seconds away, and I believe I can define the future now. You can also.