Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD

Odogwu of Ibusa, Delta State

Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

President, International Coalition against Christian Genocide in Nigeria (ICAC-GEN)


Email: [email protected]


The history of Igbo-Yoruba relations is like a whirlpool turning around in a seemingly tempestuous fuse yet immovably held together by the same source of water.

To begin with the obvious, between the Igbo and Yoruba runs a strong force of mutual interactions at multifarious levels which are so deep and strong in socio-economic and religious circles that contest for political supremacy only represents a negligible fragment of disunity. For instance, it has remained a sustainable fact that the Igbo and Yoruba are more disposed to inter-ethnic marriages than both are respectively disposed to inter-marriage with the Fulani.

Records abound of inter-marriages between the Igbo and Yoruba with noticeable pomp and pageantry. Contrarily, it is difficult to ascertain any marriage between either the Igbo and Fulani or Yoruba and Fulani that is not greeted with initial inter-ethnic rancor much more greeted with pomp and pageantry.

On the spiritual angle, between the Igbo and Yoruba there appears to be no record of schism in Christianity based on ethnic identity, as it appears to be the case between the Yoruba and Fulani in Islam. If there is one aspect of Igbo-Yoruba relations in which the latter exhibit profound influence on the former it is Christianity.

Beyond the prominent historic roles of the likes of Bishops Ajayi Crowther and James Johnson in the planting of Christianity in Igboland, contemporary evidence tend to show a strong Igbo presence in such Yoruba-founded high-profile Pentecostal Churches as Deeper Life Ministries, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Winners Chapel and Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries. The same also applies in such Spiritualist Yoruba-founded Churches as the Cherubim and Seraphim and Celestial Church of Christ.

There is therefore a strong underlying spiritual attachment between the Igbo and Yoruba which has remained the gluing substance at the material base. And this spiritual attachment could only be traced to their primordial relationships which self-serving politicians have tended to avoid over time.

In dealing with this remote root of unity between the Igbo and Yoruba, four episodes in history readily come to mind. The first is based on common ethno-historical origins, which goes beyond the myths of Oduduwa coming from Saudi Arabia and the Igbo migrating from Israel. The second has to do with pre-colonial interactions between the Igbo and Yoruba that saw the planting of some Yoruba towns in Igboland. The third points to the pioneering roles of early Yoruba missionaries in Igboland which has earlier been mentioned. While the fourth is one aspect which most Igbo people would not like to mention–the Yoruba achievements as impetus for Igbo rise to prominence in educational and political development in Nigeria.

The Igbo have three theories of origin–– autochthony theory, Niger-Benue Confluence theory and Jewish origin theory.[1] Out of these three theories two–– the first and second are remotely connected Yoruba origin. The first theory points to the claim that the Igbo as a group have continuously inhabited their present habitat for thousands of years before Christ. In other words, they did not migrate from anywhere. This theory is supported by a plethora of evidence from archaeological and allied disciplines. Adebisi Sowunmi in her research findings using palynology affirms that as far back as three thousand years ago, people had settled in this area called Igboland practicing agriculture.[2]

Her position appears to have been strengthened by the appearance of supportive archaeological evidence from both Professors Thurstan Shaw and D. D. Hartle. Shaw’s monumental archaeological excavations at Igbo-Ukwu yielded in uncommon terms what could be described as the iconic evidence of Igbo cultural sophistication and antiquity of settlement.[3]  On his part Hartle’s multiple excavations speak of human activities that go deeper into Stone Age period.[4]  From the stated body of evidence above, it could therefore be assumed that the Igbo as a culture group might appear to be the oldest ethnic group to settle in the greater part of what is today defined as Southern Nigeria. This claim appears to be aptly supported by the traditions of Ife history–– the de facto citadel of the Yoruba cultural nation.

  1. A. Atanda in his opinion agrees with the evidence of pre-Oduduwa settlers of the present Ile-Ife and its environs who might not have been Yoruba-Speaking.[5] But it was indeed the work of Isola Olomola that actually revealed the identity of the pre-Oduduwa inhabitants of Ile-Ife to be Igbo autochthones.[6] Basing his argument on Ife-Ikedu myth Olomola postulated that the present Ile-Ife was inhabited by a group of aborigines who had produced between 93 and 97 kings before the arrival of Oduduwa.[7] He stated further that the original name of Ile-Ife was Igbo-Mokun and that the term ‘Ife’ came into currency during the reign of fourth Ooni of the Oduduwa dynasty–– Oranmiyan.[8]

The term “Igbo-Mokun” no doubt goes further to reveal the Igbo character of the aborigines of Ife. But it was indeed in the third part of the Ikedu myth as explained by Olomola which is quoted at length that the fundamental elements of the evidence are embedded. As Olomola put it, ‘We are thus left with Igbo-mokun. This name has occurred in many folktales of the Eastern Yoruba and among the Ijesha and Ekiti.’[9] Quoting the Ikedu myth he went further to state, ‘The dawn is usually reserved for the most solemn assemblies because, as they say, the dawn belongs to the King of the Igbo.’[10] Quoting further Olomola stated:

In Ife tradition also, reference is made to ‘Kutukutu, Oba Igbo’, that is ‘Early morning, the King of Igbo’ In Ijesha and Ekiti, reference is made to ancient Ife as ‘Igbomokun Akiri’ and, as the aforementioned reference to dawn shows, the people are known as Igbo. Even in Ife tradition the people are referred as Igbo…the wars of vengeance they fought against the new dynasty and the city are referred to as ‘Igbo raids’.[11]

Biodun Adeniran also tries in his own account to establish the Igbo character of Ife through the rituals of the economy of the aborigines basing his argument on the culture of palm-wine tapping, introduction of yam cultivation in Yorubaland and the presence of age-grade system among the people. Making reference to one of the thirteen original settlements of the present Ife Ijugbe, Adeniran wrote:

Each quarter was headed by a priest king (Elejugbe/Obalejude) and it appeared there was division of labour based strictly on the age-grade system. In the settlement, there was a hierarchy of chiefs. The economic basis of this hierarchy may be founded in the names Eteko (farm founder) or Orisateko and Akosuu l’Ogbe (producer of yam in the dry season). The priest king was said among other things, to be in-charge of rain, to have introduced yam seeding into Ife and to have been a palm-wine tapper.[12]

Thus given the ritualized status of yam cultivation, the institutionalization of the age-grade system and the fundamental spiritual roles of the Priest-king (Eze-Ana) among the Igbo, it becomes historically convincing to agree with Olomola that the original settlers of not just Ile-Ife and its environs but much of the eastern Yorubaland were aboriginal Igbo by remote ethnic extraction. This may further explain why the average Igbo feels more at home in any part of Yorubaland than among any other ethnic group in Nigeria. This also explains why Igbo-Yoruba conflicts has never degenerated to the level of senseless spilling of innocent blood as it has always been the case with the Hausa and Fulani.

Again, does this Igbo connection not explain why it is among the Ijebu sub-group of the Yoruba–the closest Yoruba sub -group to the Igbo in orientation that its ancestral city is Known as ‘Igbo’ bearing in mind that the addition of Ijebu as in the cases of Ijebu Ode and Ijebu Remo was a colonial creation? Although some scholars might attempt to disagree with this logic of history perching on the logic of the Yoruba word ‘Igbo’ to mean forest. But then if we decide to come to term with this logic of forest to mean Igbo, how do we then explain the fact that the title of the Oba of Ijebu Remo, one of the many Ijebu towns that trace their origins to Ile-Ife is Akari-Igbo?

This may therefore explain why Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo never agreed in political terms. For it could not have been so much the case of ethnic rivalry as it could indeed have been a case of two ‘Igbo’ captains not agreeing to be in the same political ship. The fact is that within a given time and space, to other Yoruba sub-groups, the Ijebu represents the Igbo mind in Yoruba clothing. In other words, what the wider Yoruba groups accuse the Igbo of today represents the same reason why the Ijebu are resisted by the same Yoruba–– shrewdness in commerce and astuteness in business. Indeed what the Igbo did was to inherit this pre-Igbo stigmatization of the Ijebu once the latter became dominant in commerce.

A.O. Adesoji clearly explains the pivotal nature of Oduduwa’s role in Yoruba history thus.

The arrival of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife can be interpreted as the period of revolution in the Yoruba history. It would also appear that the advent of Oduduwa represented the emergence of a new dynasty in lIe-Ife and the unification of the autochthonous peoples who hitherto were scattered and non-unified. It can therefore be concluded that the coming of Oduduwa rather than being seen as the beginning of a race can be interpreted as epochal revolution which symbolized the beginning of the consciousness of the Yoruba as a people.[13]

But it was the later revelations of the Ooni of Ife Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi that finally broke the sacred parrot egg over the common historical origins of the Igbo and Yoruba. Addressing the Lagos State Chapter President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Solomon Ogbonna, the Yoruba traditional potentate stated at length:

Lagos is part of Yoruba land, we are all one, we are all the same. The history is there, the facts are there, and we should actually put these facts out. Why are we fighting? This is your root. I said it recently, some of our Yoruba kinsmen with ignorance of our history came out with nugatory beratement of my position on the family ties between Yoruba and Igbo people. We have to say the truth and the truth must set us all free, we are blood brothers. We should be inseparable. Please feel at home in Yorubaland and respect your Yoruba brothers and sisters too. We still have House of Igbo right in this palace till date. We call it Ile Igbo up till now. Our ancestors are buried and transfigured there. That is where kolanut was first discovered and nurtured. The Igbos are still the biggest consumers and users of kolanut which is only planted in Yorubaland till date. Can the Igbos do without kolanut?  The ancient Igbo house is one of the most sacred places in this palace till date. One of my brother kings – Aka Arogundabi from Iremo quarters saw the mysteries of house of Igbo (Aka-ri-Igbo). Till date, Akarigbo of Remoland still sees house of Igbo as a common heritage of his forebears.[14]

Based on the foregoing revelations, particularly in the light of the aboriginal Ife thesis, could it therefore be rightly hazarded to say that among most Yoruba people today run substantial pints of Igbo blood? However for those who are yet to be convinced of the veracity of this strand of primordial Igbo-Yoruba relations, a short intellectual promenade to the realms of Niger-Benue Confluence theory may suffice.

The Niger-Benue Confluence theory states that at one point in the remote past a group of people who G. A. Krause in1885 defined as the Kwa, lived as one people spea  king one language in the region of the present confluence of the Niger and Benue River.[15] According to Joseph Greenberg this group include, in the present Nigeria, Igbo, Idoma, Edo, Yoruba, Nupe, Igala, Gwari, Igbira, Bassa, Egede and Igbira among others.[16]

It is believed that with time this kwa-speaking people began to disperse and eventually settled in their present respective locations. And as they dispersed and eventually separated from the other, they began by reason of distance to evolve distinct dialects of the kwa language, which with time gradually evolved into distinct languages. This theory no doubt appears to agree with the existence of diverse Igbo dialects, some of which are slightly unintelligible to the other Igbo sub-groups. In determining the relative age of these languages or better still the point at which each separated from the other, ethno-linguists apply what we call glotto-chronology and lexico-statistics. This calculation according to Greenberg:

Is based on the common sense notion that when dialects have developed in the languages, the more recent the date of separation the greater the resemblance. The percentage of common retention of original words in a standard vocabulary list is used as the measure of this resemblance. This is translated into an absolute chronology on the basis of the rate of change in this list observed in areas such as the Near East and Europe where there are written records.[17]

By means of glotto-chronology and lexico-statistics both historians and linguists are able to determine the approximate age of a given language.[18] Thus through glotto-chronology and lexico-statistics the Igbo and Yoruba are said to have separated from the other about six thousand years ago, the Edo from the Igbo about three thousand five hundred years ago, the Igala from the Yoruba about two thousand years ago and the Itsekiri from the Yoruba a thousand and five hundred years ago.[19]

One can go further to explain these divergences from several dimensions. First is the existence of common root words in their vocabularies. This is explained by some words among the Igbo, Edo and Yoruba which convey similar sounds and meanings. Example is the word for mouth which in Igbo is pronounced onu, in Edo and Yoruba enu. The generalized word for stone in Igbo– okwute is the same with Yoruba okwute. This is also the same in the case of the word for banana and plantain which is ogede among both peoples. Thus just as the Igbo would say onye-ogede (plantain or banana seller), the Yoruba would say oyi-ogede. There is therefore no denial of the fact that Igbo and Yoruba languages have the same root in origin which by similar logic points the two peoples to common remote ancestors.

That the Igbo and Yoruba arising from their common remote ancestral roots are amenable to mutual tolerance is further expressed by evidence of pre-colonial interactions between them. Both the integrating forces of the imperial reaches of the old Benin Empire and the artery of commercial communications provided by the River Niger through the Igbo commercial links with the Igala, Igbira and Nupe particularly with the proximity of Yorubaland to the present Confluence town of Lokoja, were the linking forces of pre-colonial contacts between the Igbo and Yoruba.

But of most profound interest in this pre-Nigeria contact is the presence of six Yoruba towns among the Igbo of the West Niger collectively known as Odiani Clan or Olukwumi, whose indigenous language has remained for centuries Yoruba. These towns include Ukwunzu, Ugbodu, Ugboba, Ubulubu, Idumuogo and Ogodo, all belonging to Aniocha North Local Government Area of the present Delta State. Confirming the historicity of this tradition, His Lordship Justice AYO GABRIEL IRIKEFE – Justice of the Supreme Court in his lead judgment in SUIT NO: SC.85/1982 affirmed thus:

The traditional evidence produced at the hearing shows that the two communities in this case came into existence as the result of migrations by people either from the ancient Kingdom of Benin direct or from AKURE or IFE in the YORUBA Kingdom through Benin. The respondents herein come under the category of those who came from Benin while the appellants represent the second group. While the Benin immigrants now have Ibo as their sole language, the YORUBA immigrants speak both YORUBA and Ibo. There is evidence that the descendants of the YORUBA immigrants refer to themselves as well as their own brand of YORUBA dialect as OLUKUMI. The OLUKUMI settlements as revealed by the evidence are: UKWUNZU, UGBODU, UGBOBA, UBULUBU, OGODO and IDUMUOGO.[20]

Thus the commonplace notion that the Igbo and Yoruba only came into contact with the advent of colonialism therefore fails in this argument. Talking of large-scale contact yes, as it was equally the case between the various Igbo and Yoruba communities, but not necessarily the case of a concrete wall of separation.

On the two other factors, mention has already been made of the historic roles of Yoruba missionaries who were the pioneer Protestant Christian Missionaries to Igboland particularly as represented by Bishops Samuel Ajayi Crowder and James ‘Holy’ Johnson. The excellent works of Professors E. A. Ayandele[21] and F. K. Ekechi[22] are sources of proven evidence in this regard.  Furthermore Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s impression of Francis Adebayo Alaba as a profound source of inspiration clearly underscores the fact that the Yoruba as a people were a great source of inspiration for the Igbo during the colonial days. This is a fact which most Igbo commentators and scholars would always attempt to shy away from but which cannot be denied by the facts of history.


From the foregoing, there is no doubt that Igbo-Yoruba relations transcend the dominant theme of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria which is founded on the shifting-sand political contest and rivalry.  In other words, there are more common grounds founded on historical and cultural commonalities that present the basis of mutual understanding between the two groups within the different levels of contact than the mere contest for political power, which is merely a superstructural manipulation of the few but dominant   political elites of both ethnic divides. In other words, at the  material base level, both groups interact with passionate conviviality at different facets of life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This explains why there hasn’t been any large-scale conflict between them, as in the cases of conflicts respectively between the two and Hausa and Fulani.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         This reason for this non-violent dispositions of the two peoples toward the other is no doubt as a result of the  various forces that underscore the primordial bases of their relationship which are wont to act as soothing balms in any form of conflict.

Historically, there had never been any conflict between the Igbo and Yoruba with a sharp dividing ethnic line without dissenters on both sides. In another way, in spite of the apparently sharp political divide between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo there had always been Igbo supporters of Awolowo and Yoruba supporters of Azikiwe, a feature that never occurred respectively between the Hausa and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Fulani on the one side and the Igbo and Yoruba respectively on the other. Mention may be made in this regard with the exception of the 1979 UPN Senatorial victory in the defunct Sokoto State, but which indeed came as a result of the massive votes of the dominant Christian Zuru Emirate in the present Kebbi State.

It is also within the reach of our historical records that what obtains in the present day as the basis of conflict between the Igbo and Yoruba is still current as the basis of intra-Yoruba and intra-Igbo conflicts. The culture of resentment against the commercially-minded and more successful Ijebu businessmen by the other Yoruba sub-groups is replayed in the same melodramatic resentment of the more commercially-oriented and business-minded Anambra indigene by his other Igbo counterparts. The same scenario equally compares the incessant resentment of the Igbo in Lagos with the same culture of resentment of the non-indigenes of Onitsha, Enugu and Owerri by the respective indigenes.

One is wont to state in a quite theoretical parlance that the Igbo and Yoruba by virtue of their inherent primordial soothing balm of historical connectivity stand out as the most functional vehicle of national integration. Without prejudice to the present seemingly faltering political marriage between the Hausa and Fulani ethnic coalition and Yoruba, the facts speak for themselves, that any political matrimony between the Yoruba and Fulani ethnic coalition is a relationship that is not built on a strong foundation of mutual historical conviviality, and thus only rests on a shifting sand of time.

In other words, the Yoruba political sojourn in the present APC is like the saying among the Igbo, to use the West Niger Igbo dialect, O ji azu baa oshia e jetaho aka (a person who enters the bush with his back does not often go far). Indeed the Yoruba in APC is like one who enters the bush with his back and thus did not go far. It will not therefore be long before they realize the                                 fortuitous character of their sojourn. And when they eventually come out, the thesis will then stand that, the worst Yoruba enemy to the Igbo or the worst Igbo enemy to the Yoruba is better in the long run than their bes Fulani friend




[1] A.E. Afigbo  (1986) An Outline of Igbo History Owerri, Rada Press, 1


[2] Adebisi Sowunmi (1991) ‘Human Ecology in South-Central Nigeria: appraisal’ Seminar on Two Decades of Igbo-Ukwu, 9-10  January, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 4

[3] Thurstan Shaw (1970) Igbo-Ukwu: an account of archaeological discoveries in eastern Nigeria (2 vols.) London: Faber and Faber

[4] D. D. Hartle (1967) ‘Archaeology in Eastern Nigeria’ Nigeria Magazine, No.93, 137

[5] J. A. Atanda (1980) An Introduction to Yoruba History Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 2

[6] Isola Olomola, “Ife before Oduduwa” in I. A. Akinjogbin (ed) (1992) The Cradle of a Race: Ife from the beginning to 1980 Port Harcourt: Sun Ray Publications

[7] Olomola, ‘Ife before Oduduwa’, 52

[8] Olomola, ‘Ife before Oduduwa’, 54

[9] Olomola, ‘Ife before Oduduwa’, 55

[10] Olomola, ‘Ife before Oduduwa’, 55

[11] Olomola, ‘Ife before Oduduwa’, 55

[12] Biodun Adeniran, ‘The Early Beginnings of the Ife State’ in in I. A. Akinjogbin (ed) (1992) The Cradle of a Race: Ife from the beginning to 1980 Port Harcourt: Sun Ray Publications, 44


[13] A. O. Adesoji, (2008) “In the Beginning…Yoruba Origin Revisited”  Osun Defender December 4,

[14] “Igbos, Yorubas have historical ties – Ooni of Ife”

[15] Dietrich Westermann and M. A. Bryan (1952) The Languages of West Africa London: OUP, 76

[16] Joseph H. Greenberg (1970) The Languages of Africa Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 8.


[17] Greenberg (1964) Boston University Papers in African History: history inferences from linguistic research in sub-Saharan Africa vol. 1, Boston, 8

[18] Dell, H. Hymes (1960) “Lexicostatistics So Far” Current Anthropology vol.1, 4

[19] See Joseph H. Greenberg, ‘Africa as a Linguistic Area’ in William R. Bascom and Meville J. Herskovits (1959) (eds) Continuity and Change in African Culture Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; R.G. Armstrong (1962) ‘Glotto-Chronology and West African Linguistics’ Journal of African History Vol. 3, No.2


[20] IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA ON FRIDAY, THE 8TH DAY OF JULY, 1983 SUIT NO: SC.85/1982 Before Their Lordships AYO GABRIEL IRIKEFE – Justice of the Supreme Court, MOHAMMED BELLO – Justice of the Supreme Court, CHUKWUWEIKE IDIGBE – Justice of the Supreme Court, ANDREWS OTUTU OBASEKI – Justice of the Supreme Court, ANTHONY NNAEMEZIE ANIAGOLU-Justice of the Supreme Court: Between OTUAHA AKPAPUNA & 3 ORS – Appellants– (For themselves and on behalf of the people of Idumuokakwu) And      OBI NZEKA II & 3 ORS   -Respondents,

[21] Ayandele, E.A. (1966) The Missionary Impact On Modern Nigeria 1842-1914 London: Longman;  Ayandele (1970) Holy Johnson: Pioneer of African Nationalism, 1836-1917 London: Frank Cass


[22] F. K. Ekechi, (1972) Missionary Enterprise and Rivalry in Igboland London: Frank Cass


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