Top Largest Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

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 consists of 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. This large coverage has seen that there are over 250 ethnic groups, 361 tribes, and over 500 indigenous languages spoken, making Nigeria one of the most diverse, multicultural, complex countries in the world. In this post, we weigh in on the top largest ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Largest Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

Below are the top largest ethnic groups in Nigeria:

Hausa

The Hausa are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria. With estimates of their population reaching 67 million, the Hausas make up approximately 25% of the Nigerian population.

The Hausa culture is homogenized, meaning, throughout Nigeria, the Hausa culture is extremely similar. The Hausas are known for raising cattle and other stock, growing crops and trading. Hausas 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.

Hausa states in Nigeria are Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna.

Yoruba

The Yoruba ethnic group is the second-largest ethnic group in Nigeria with approximately 21% of the population of the Nigerian population.  They are usually identified as Christian or Muslim, although some still uphold traditional aspects of their ancestors’ religious practices and beliefs.

Of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Yoruba ethnic group is the most sophisticated and well enlightened. Prior to the arrival of colonial masters in Nigeria, the Yorubas, as a people, had started developing their region. The ethnic group embraces education more than other ethnic groups in Nigeria and is the second most influential ethnic group in Nigeria, politics-wise.

The Yoruba ethnic group can be found in states such as Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, parts of Kwara and Kogi State.

Igbo

The Igbo people of Nigeria makeup approximately 18% of the population and are the third-largest ethnic group in Nigeria. They have long been opposed to Sharia law in Nigeria, with most Igbo identifying as Christian.

The Igbo society, unlike the Hausa and Yoruba, is non-hierarchical and not reliant on a centralized society. The Igbos are an essential part of the oil trade in Nigeria’s southeastern region.

In 1967, the Igbos 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, with many of them starving to death during this time. Since this war, the Igbos have been reintegrated into Nigerian society; a lot of Igbos still feel marginalized by the status quo and are considered the least influential of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria.

The Ibo ethnic group can be found predominantly in southeastern Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo), and a part of Delta State.

Ijaw

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 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.

Ijaws can be found in Bayelsa, Rivers, some parts of Delta and Edo State and Ondo State.

Kanuri

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 is using their lands as a base for operations, and innocent Kanuri people have been subjected to violence and Sharia law.

The Kanuri people are predominantly found in Bornu State.

Fulani

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.

Ibibio

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.

Tiv

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.

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