Nigeria has been referred to as "The Giant of Africa," due to the large population and distinct economic achievements in comparison to countries that surround this land. Nigeria is found in West Africa and borders Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Nigeria is a fascinating country; in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, there are over 500 ethnic groups and over 500 languages spoken! Explore the eight largest ethnic groups in Nigeria below:
The Hausa are the biggest ethnic group in Nigeria. With estimates of their population reaching 67 million, Hausa make up approximately 25% of the Nigerian population. The Hausa culture is homogenized, meaning, throughout Nigeria, the Hausa culture is extremely similar. Hausa are known for raising cattle and other stock, growing crops and trading. Hausa are also recognized for practicing Islam as their main religion. Being the largest ethnic group in Nigeria, Hausa have always been some of the main players in Nigerian politics since Nigeria was granted independence from Britain in 1960.
Individuals who designate themselves as Yoruba make up approximately 21% of the population of Nigeria, making them the second biggest ethnic group in the country. Yoruba are usually identified as Christian or Muslim, although a lot of Yoruba still uphold traditional aspects of their ancestors' religious practices and beliefs. This ethnic group upholds many cultural traditions, including music and culture festivals, traditional Yoruba art, and conventional architecture. The Yoruba culture has historically relied on large populations in a centralized location and an Oba (King).
The Igbo people of Nigeria make up approximately 18% of the population. They have long been opposed to Sharia law in Nigeria, with most Igbo identifying as Christian. Igbo society, unlike the Hausa and Yoruba, is non-hierarchical and not reliant on a centralized society. The Igbo are an essential part of the oil trade in Nigeria's southeastern region. In 1967, Igbo fought with the Nigerian government to achieve independence. This was a two and a half year battle in which Igbo people were subjected to brutal conditions, many starving to death during this time. Since this war, Igbo have been reintegrated into Nigerian society; a lot Igbo still feel marginalized by the status quo in Nigeria.
The Ijaw live in the Niger River Delta area of Nigeria and constitute around 10% of the population of the country. The Ijaw have historically had tensions with the rest of the Nigerian population. The lands in which the Ijaw inhabit are extremely oil-rich. This is bittersweet for the Ijaw people, as oil exploration has subjected their land to ecological vulnerability. Mismanagement of these oil revenues has kept a substantial amount of the wealth from returning to the Ijaw community. Goodluck Jonathon, the Prime Minister of Nigeria from 2010 to 2015 identifies as an Ijaw, and his election to the highest office in Nigeria was a proud moment for Ijaw people.
The Kanuri people are found in northeastern Nigeria. Their population is believed to be around 4% of Nigeria (approximately 4,000,000). The regions in which Kanuri live are largely impractical for outsiders to reach. Kanuri people are predominately Sunni Muslims. Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group in the North of Nigeria, are mostly of Kanuri descent. This group seeks to express many of the Kanuri grievances towards the Nigerian government. Although the Kanuri culture is rich with tradition, Boko Haram are using their lands as a base for operations, and innocent Kanuri people have been subjected to violence and Sharia law.
Since the Fulani War (1804-1808), the Fulani people have been intertwined with the Hausa of Nigeria. This is largely due to intermarriage and Fulani living among the Hausa population. Fulani and Hausa together make up approximately 29% of the population of Nigeria. Fulani adopted Islam early, and a large section of the Fulani people are recognized as excellent Islamic clerics. Along with the Hausa, Fulani people have also been a dominant presence in the sphere of Nigerian politics since independence in 1960.
The Ibibio, mostly found in southeastern Nigeria, have a rich oral history passed down through generations. These people have lived in this part of Nigeria for several hundred years. This ethnic group numbers approximately 4.5 million which is equivalent to 3.5% of the population of Nigeria. Ibibio people in the region also inquired (with the British Crown) to become their own sovereign nation within Nigeria (pre-independence). Today, Ibibio predominantly identify themselves as Christian. Ibibio has an amazing artistic culture, most known for creating intricate wooden masks and carvings.
The ethnic group known as Tiv are well known for their agricultural produce and the trading of this produce. This is one of the only sources of income for the group. The Tiv people all trace their ancestry back to an ancient individual also named Tiv, who had two sons. Some Tiv people identify as Christians, even less as Muslim. The traditional religion of Tiv, based on manipulations of forces by humans who have been entrusted by a creator God, remains strong within the Tiv populace. Tiv only make up 3.5% of the Nigerian population, making them one of the smaller ethnic groups within the country.
Other Ethnic Groups in Nigeria
The remaining ethnic groups in Nigeria make up 12% of the Nigerian population. These groups include Ebira, Edo, Gwari, Jukun, and Igala, to name a few. The middle belt of Nigeria is well known for its diversity, with many of these remaining groups living in this part of the country. Although Nigeria is rich in her diverse ethnicity, many of these groups mentioned above live segregated from others. Most ethnic groups in Nigeria have formed illegal vigilante or militia groups, protecting their interests from other groups within the country.
What are the Biggest Ethnic Groups in Nigeria?
The Hausa is the biggest ethnic group in Nigeria, making up 25.1% of the population.
Largest Ethnic Groups In Nigeria
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About the Author
Justin has a Bachelor's degree (Honors) in Political Science and Media and Communications, specializing in modern Middle Eastern politics. He has been writing for World Atlas since September 2016.
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