Top 10 Major Tribes in Nigeria and their Languages

Nigeria is a great African country which is known for its wide expanse of land and its very wide population. Currently, Nigerians are proud of at least some top 10 major tribes in Nigeria and their languages which are not only known to the particular tribe or ethnic group but also have presented their uniqueness the world over.

The country is the most populous country in Africa, and the world’s sixth-most populous country with a population of over 225 million people.

Nigeria has been home to several indigenous pre-colonial states and kingdoms since the second millennium BC, with the Nok civilization in the 15th century BC, marking the first internal unification in the country.

The modern state originated with British colonialization in the 19th century, taking its present territorial shape with the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914 by Lord Lugard.

Top 10 Major Tribes in Nigeria and their Languages

Inhabited by more than 250 ethnic groups speaking 500 distinct languages (all identifying with a wide variety of cultures), Nigeria is a multinational state that has three largest ethnic groups, namely: the Hausa in the north, Yoruba in the west, and Igbo in the east, together comprising over 60% of the total population. The rest of the population form part of the top 10 major tribes in Nigeria and their languages, and these are what we will be listing together with the other ones below.

1. Hausa

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.

Language: Hausa

2. Yoruba

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).

Language: Yoruba

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.

Language: Igbo Nzuge or Ibo.

4. 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 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.

Language: Izon

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.

Language: Manga and Yerwa (Beriberi)

6. 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.

Language: Pulaar, Ful, Fula, Fulani, Fulbe or Peul.

7. Nupe

Nupe people often have tribal marks on their faces. Most of them are Muslims, and a few are Christians and traditionalists. The proximity of the Nupe tribe to the Yoruba-Oyo in the southwest and the Yoruba-Igbomina in the south led to intermarriages, trading, exchange of cultures and conflicts over the centuries.

Hausas call the Nupe tribe Nupawa, while Yorubas call them Tapa. They are the dominant ethnic group in Kogi, Kwara, and the Niger states. There are about 3.5 million Nupe speakers in Nigeria.

Language: Nupe, Gbagyi, Ebira.

8. Ibibio

This also is no doubt one of the top 10 major tribes in Nigeria and their languages. 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.

Language: Ibibio

9. Jukun

Jukun people of Nigeria are in Bauchi, Benue, Plateau, and Taraba states. They are also found in various parts of northwestern Cameroon. Most of them were traditionalists until Christianity and Islam came to Africa. The Jukun tribe is divided into two major groups; the Jukun Wapa and Jukun Wanu.

Language: their language is divided into six dialects: Wukari, Donga, Kona, Gwana, Pindiga, Jibu, and Wase Tofa. The Kona, Gwana, and Pindiga dialects differ but are regarded as one because they are small.

Another one of the top 10 major tribes in Nigeria and their languages is the Tiv ethnic group. It is 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.

Language: Tiv


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