Hidden Facts About The 3 Major Ethnic Groups in Nigeria Unveiled

Nigeria which is popularly known both by foreigners and citizens as the giant of Africa has diverse ethnicities. There are over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria. This fact makes it difficult for even the citizens to know the ethnic groups in their own country. However, according to the constitution, only three ethnic groups are recognized as the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. 

These groups are the Igbo, the Hausa, and the Yoruba ethnic groups. Aside from these, every other is considered a minor ethnic group. Leadership and occupying high positions in Nigeria are in the hands of the three major ethnic groups. The three ethnic groups are like the face of Nigerian ethnicity and every other ethnic group has somewhat of a resemblance to them. 

These three major ethnic groups also have characteristics that show both similarities and diversities. This shouldn’t be a surprise because these groups have coexisted in the same defined territory for decades. Today, we will be looking deep into some of the hidden facts about the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria that you may or may not know. Let’s dive in.

The Igbo Tribe 

The Igbo tribe of Nigeria is said to be the most industrious and friendliest people in Nigeria. They are very adventurous and even though their homeland is in the Southern part of the country, the Igbos occupy every part of Nigeria. 

They have unique characteristics that stand them out wherever they go and they are always willing to do anything to adapt to any environment they find themselves in. The Igbo make up at least 18% of Nigeria’s population and they can be found in any nook and cranny of Nigeria. 

They are cultural people and like to associate their culture and traditional beliefs with their everyday life. A typical Igbo man would not go a day without saying “Ndi anyị kwụsị na…” which translates to “Our people said that…”. Proverbs are a strong part of the Igbo culture, but that is not all there is to them. 

Here are some interesting facts about the Igbo tribe:

Facts About the Igbos

1. Number of States

The Igbo tribe is composed of 7 states in Nigeria. These states are all in the Southern part of Nigeria and are closely located to one another. The states include Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi states. 

2. Cuisine

The cuisine of this tribe consists of different mouth-watering dishes. The Igbo tribe is known for its soups. Oha or Ora soup (depending on the dialect), Nsala soup, Egusi soup, Onugbu soup, Ofe Akwu (which is soup obtained from palm fruit extract), and many more. These soups can be eaten with pounded yam or Garri (Cassava flakes)

3. Religious Beliefs 

You can not separate the Igbos from religion, no matter how hard you try. The Igbo’s are the biggest practitioners of religion even before colonization. Before colonization, the Igbos worshipped gods like Amadioha, Chukwu, and the rest. They represented their gods with handmade sculptures. 

However, when Christianity was brought into Nigeria, the Igbos were the first to accept and practice it. Now, the Igbos’ main religion is Christianity.

4. Age of the Igbo Tribe

The Igbo tribe is believed to be the oldest tribe in Nigeria, dating up to 900 BCE, the Igbos are believed to have migrated from the central area. They were also known as “Ibo”, “Heebo” or “Ebo” by the foreigners who struggled to give the correct pronunciation of the “gb” sound. They are known as “Ndi Igbo” amongst themselves which translates to “Igbo People”

5. The Language

They speak the Igbo language. Yes, their language is called Igbo, just like their name. But like most languages, they have dialects and what they call the general or central Igbo (Igbo Izugbe). Because some dialects are more complex and difficult to understand than others, Igbo children are taught Igbo Izugbe In schools and their native dialect at home. 

In this way, they will be able to communicate with their fellow Igbo people who do not speak their native dialect.

6. Their Calendar

The Igbo’s have a special type of calendar called the Ògụ́àfọ̀. The calendar is made up of 13 months in a year, 7 weeks in a month, and 4 Igbo market days (eke, orie, afo, nkwo) in a week. The calendar also has one extra day in the last month of the year.

7. Method of Greeting

Like every other tribe in Nigeria, the Igbo people place great value on greetings. They believe it’s a sign of love, respect, and a good upbringing. When you meet your elders, the Igbo male is expected to give a little bow, and the female is expected to give a little curtsy. They do this while saying “otutu oma”, “ndewo” or “ká” depending on the dialect. 

When greeting their age mates, they are expected to bring out their hands for a handshake. A handshake is a major form of greeting in the Igbo land. Igbo’s greet their elders with handshakes as long as they are supporting their shaken hands with their other hand while curtsying or bowing. 

If an elder extends his hand for a handshake, a junior must accept it with two hands (one for shaking and the other to support it) as a sign of respect.

8. The Osu Caste System

The Osu Caste System is a form of discrimination practiced in the ancient Igbo land. The “Osus” are separated and segregated from the “Freeborns” because they are believed to belong to the gods. The Osus cannot get married to any Freeborn both inside and outside their community. 

The Igbos go through a lot of investigation when it comes to marriage and even if a freeborn is in love with an Osu, it is considered an abomination for them to get married. If they eventually do, both they and their entire generation will be considered Osus and will never be able to coexist peacefully with the Freeborns.

9. Hospitality (The Use of Kolanut)

The Igbos are known to be very hospitable. They have a tradition of welcoming every visitor with kola nuts. It is called Oji. They use the phrase “let me get Oji” In the ancient Igbo, they made use of only kola nuts as Oji but in recent times anything can be used as Oji. The tradition entails that every Igbo household must present something, a welcoming gift to their visitor no matter what it is.

10. The Igbo Alphabet

The Igbo Alphabet looks slightly like the English alphabet except it is pronounced as sounds, not words. The Igbo Alphabet comprises 36 letters consisting of 28 consonants and 8 vowels.

11. The Igbo People’s Industrious Nature

It is common knowledge to anyone who knows the Igbo people that they are natural hustlers with a strong will to do whatever it takes to make money. Their love for money makes them industrious and flexible.

12. The Igbo People are Travelers

Due to their insatiable thirst for wealth and greener pastures, the Igbo people are ever willing to leave their comfort zone.

13. High Regard for the Extended Family

The Igbo people have great respect and value for the extended family. In a typical Igbo household, most serious decisions are not taken until the extended family is consulted.

14. Marital Rites

The Igbos go through a long process of marriage preparation. In ancient times, the bride and groom were investigated by the opposite families to see if they were from an Osu lineage or if there were any negative records of them and their families before the marriage could take place. This investigation involves both medical and societal.  It’s the same in recent times. 

The only difference is that in ancient times they only practiced traditional weddings. However, because of the adaptation of Christianity, the Igbos now practice white weddings after the traditional.

15. Superstitions

The Igbos believe in so many superstitions. Even in recent times, some of those superstitions have been subconsciously inculcated into the minds of Kids by their parents. Some of these superstitions include

  • You will sweep away your family’s wealth if you sweep at night.
  • If you whistle at night, you’re summoning evil spirits.
  • It is considered a bad omen to bump your left leg. Bad luck might follow you after it so you should abandon everything you’re doing at that moment to prevent the bad omen.
  • If you step over a pregnant woman’s legs, the baby might end up looking like you.
  • It is believed that if you answer an unknown voice calling your name, you might be answering your creator.

16. Mode of Dressing

In the ancient Igbo land, Igbos had a unique mode of dressing that was eye-catching.  The men were bare-chested and tied rappers on their waists while the women tied rappers on their chest and their waists displaying their stomachs.

The Yoruba Tribe 

This ethnic tribe is located in the southwestern part of Nigeria. It is composed of people who are rich in customs, tradition, and culture. Yoruba people are considered one of the friendliest and nicest people in Nigeria just like the Igbo. They like to party and they have good value for their language and culture.

Facts About the Yorubas

1. The Yorubas Believe They Are Descendants of Oduduwa

According to the Yoruba myth, they believe that they are all descendants of a hero called Oduduwa

2. Language

Just like the Igbos the Yoruba also call their language Yoruba. 

3. Festivals

The Yoruba people are festive. Their parties are always top-notch. Yoruba parties are called “Owambe”. And is usually filled with an abundance of good food and quality entertainment.

4. Religion

Some Yorubas have adapted to Christianity while others still practice Islam just like the Hausas. This means that religion is divided into two among the Yoruba with one half practising Islamity and the other Christianity.

5. Traditional Occupation of the Yoruba people

Traditionally, the Yorubas are also known to be Farmers and fishermen.

6. They Have the Highest Rate of Twin Births

According to a 1970s study, The Yoruba people are confirmed to have the highest number of twin births in the world. Interesting isn’t it?

7. Method of Greeting

In Yoruba land greetings are considered valuable and essential. To greet an elder one must prostrate or kneel on the floor.

8. Mode of Dressing

The Yoruba tribe sees beauty in their mode of dressing. You would always see a Yoruba man rocking his Buba on any occasion. 

9. Drum is a Big Part of Their Music Culture

You cannot separate music from Yoruba culture. Music is a big part of their festival and entertainment and they create melodious sounds by hitting the talking drum which is also a big part of their music culture.

10. Arts and Crafts

The Yoruba people are highly gifted in making handmade crafts. Both woodwork and beadwork.

11. Values the Yorubas are Known for

The Yoruba people are one of the most honest people in the world. They believe in integrity and they make sure to keep the trust of their clients during business transactions.

12. The Money Spraying Tradition

It is a tradition in the Igbo and Yoruba tribes that money be sprayed on the host during an Owambe.

13. The Yoruba Naming Custom

The Yorubas give names to their children based on the meaning of the name and the influence they want it to have on the child.

14. The Yoruba Alphabet 

Similar to the Igbo alphabet, the Yoruba alphabet is written in English letters but Is pronounced as sounds. It is made up of 25 letters and consists of 18 consonants and 7 vowels.

15. Dishes

The most popular food in the Yoruba tribe is Amala and Ewedu soup. Amala is made up of Yam flour and Ewedu is made from the Ewedu leaves. Yam is also an important food for the Yorubas.

16. Music

There is no Owambe without music. Even in movies, the Yoruba people make sure to use their songs as the theme songs due to the great love they have for their music.

The Hausa Tribe

The Hausa tribe is one of West Africa’s major ethnic groupings, with a population of about 30 million people. They are a varied cultural group with comparable homogeneous beliefs and habits found only among their people. Everything you need to know about their variety is right here. Let’s dive in. 

The Hausas are primarily found in northern Nigeria and surrounding south-eastern Nigeria. They also inhabit areas of Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Togo, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and Gabon.

Facts About the Hausa Tribe 

1. Language

In the Afro-Asiatic language family, the Hausa language is the second most spoken language after Arabic.

2. Traditional Occupation of the Hausa People

The Hausas are mostly cattle rearers but they also do all forms of agricultural activities.

3. Religious Belief of the Hausa Tribe

The basic religious belief of the Hausa people is Islam.

4. Hausa Alphabet 

The Hausa Alphabet consists of Latin, Roman, and English letters. It is called the Haruffan Alphabet.

5. Family

The extended family is held in regard in every Hausa household. Dire decisions are taken first; these decisions include marriage preparation, education, family planning, and other necessities.

6. Attire

The Hausa men wear loose flowing gowns and the women wear hijabs and flowing gowns. The Hausas believe in modesty and that a woman’s body should not be opened for any reason.

7. Cuisine

The Hausa’s foods include

  • Tuwo Shinkafa.
  • Masa.
  • Dambu (Dried Meat)
  • Zogale (Moringa)
  • Fura da Nono (Yoghurt with millet)
  • Kilishi.
  • Miyan Taushe (Pumpkin Soup)
  • Tsire (Suya)

The Hausas are the best when it comes to meat-related goods.

8. Marital Rites

The wedding rites of the Hausas consist of lots of steps. But before any of those steps are taken, the groom must first seek his parents’ permission to marry.

9. Method of Greeting

The Hausas do not kneel like the Yorubas, instead, they squat while greeting elders.

10. Level of Hospitality

The Hausa people are very hospitable and they like to ensure the comfortability of their guests.

11. Movie

Like the other two ethnic groups, the Hausas love to display their culture in their movies.

Diversities Between the 3 Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

Although these three ethnic groups have coexisted near each other for decades, there are still some cultural diversities between them. Let’s look into some of them.

1. Cultural/traditional Beliefs 

Traditional and cultural beliefs are what make up a people. The cultural beliefs separate them from each other. 

2. Cuisine

There are little differences in cuisine.

3. Forms of Music and Dance

As much as the music and Dance is an important part of the culture of these groups, their style of dance and music is completely dissimilar. 

4. Historical Differences

There are so many pre-colonial differences between these groups. From their religion, to their type of education to their adaptation to colonization.

5. Jewellery and Accessories

Each ethnic group has their jewelry. The use of this jewelry differs also. The way the Igbos adorn a queen is different from the Yorubas and Hausas. All are beautiful in their way.

6. Family Value and Structure

This can be a similarity and a diversity altogether.

Similarities Between the 3 Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

What brings people together in perfect harmony is not making a list of diversities, but acknowledging the similarities, no matter how little they are. The same is the case for these ethnic groups. Now that we have seen their differences, let’s see what makes them similar to each other.

1. Hospitality

The three ethnic groups are known as hospitable people. It is part of their culture to treat strangers as family 

2. Religion

In this sense, even though they do not share common religious beliefs, they value religion and respect each other’s beliefs.

3. Value for Family 

Each ethnic group has great regard for family and the importance of togetherness.

4. Cuisine

They share some common dishes.

5. Music

They all value music and see it as an important part of their culture.

6. Diversity in Cultures

They all have diverse cultures in their simultaneous tribes.

7. Strong Will 

Each one of these ethnic groups has suffered historical challenges which still affect their present. But their ability to keep on striving to improve all aspects of themselves and their country as well as impact the world positively is highly recommendable.

8. Enthusiasm for Sports

The most popular sport amongst these groups is football. Played mostly by boys, it plays a part in bringing people together.

9. Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Even though the Igbo’s possess the highest level of entrepreneurial skills, every other tribe in Nigeria including the two major tribes has the spirit of entrepreneurship. 

10. Educational Importance

Education is of great importance to these groups.

11. Communal Unity

They all believe in the importance of communal unity and peaceful coexistence.

12. Gender Responsibility

There is this shared belief amongst the groups and even many other groups in Nigeria but especially in the Igbo tribe, that it is the man’s sole responsibility to cater to the family without depending on his wife. This shared ideology has caused many marriages to fail especially when the woman of the house is a career lady and also earns more than her husband. 

The man out of pride insists his wife quit her job and she refuses. This mentality is slowly fading due to civilization, but few people still possess it. Any gender can be the provider and breadwinner for the family. It is not reserved for one gender alone.

13. Similarity in Occupation

Notice that all of them are farmers, rearers, and fishers. Nigeria is blessed with fertile soil so it shouldn’t be a surprise if farming is one of the most popular traditional occupations amongst its inhabitants.


Nigeria is a place where diversity is at its peak with hundreds of ethnicities with diverse cultures coexisting with themselves. Each of these ethnicities has its own story to tell, such as story of struggle, beauty, nature, culture, ideologies, and beliefs. The citizens of Nigeria would not have it any other way because their country is beautiful in its diversity.

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