Ọ̀nị̀chà Mmílí
Port City
From Top to Left to Right: Onitsha Stock Exchange; Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity; DMGS Roundabout; Dennis Memorial Grammar School; Onitsha International Market; Second Niger Bridge; First Niger Bridge; All Saints Cathedral.
Port City, Onitsha(Osha), Otu, Otu Nkwo
Eastern/Nigeria Hub For Economic Activities
Anthem: "With all our hearts, We Pray and ask"
Onitsha is located in Nigeria
Location of Onitsha in Nigeria
Onitsha is located in Africa
Onitsha (Africa)
Coordinates: 6°10′N 6°47′E / 6.167°N 6.783°E / 6.167; 6.783
Country Nigeria
StateAnambra State
List of LGAs
Settled15th century
Incorporated city19th century
 • TypeConstitutional Monarchy, Executive Government, Local Government
 • GovernorCharles Chukwuma Soludo (APGA)
 • LegislatureAnambra State House of Assembly
 • Anambra North DistrictN: Tony Nwoye (LP)
 • Constitutional MonarchyHRH, Alfred Achebe. Obi Of Onitsha
 • Metropolis830 km2 (320 sq mi)
 • Land614.12 km2 (237.11 sq mi)
 • Water0.067 km2 (0.026 sq mi)
 • Urban1,965 km2 (759 sq mi)
 • Metro1,965 km2 (759 sq mi)
 • Metropolis3,553,000
 • Urban7,985,643
 • Urban density4,100/km2 (11,000/sq mi)
 • Metro8,197,540
 • Metro density4,200/km2 (11,000/sq mi)
 • DemonymOnye Onicha (singular)
Ndi Onicha (plural) (Igbo)
GDP (PPP, 2015 int. Dollar)
 • Year2023
 • Total$18,5 billion
 • Per capita$11,400
Time zoneUTC+1 (WAT)
Area code046
National languageIgbo

Onitsha (Igbo: Ọ̀nị̀chà Mmílí or simply Ọ̀nị̀chà) is a city on the eastern bank of the Niger River, in Anambra State, Nigeria. A metropolitan city, Onitsha is known for its river port and as an economic hub for commerce, industry, and education. It is one of the largest metropolitan area in Nigeria with a fast growing population. It hosts the Onitsha Main Market, the largest market in Africa in terms of geographical size and volume of goods. Onitsha and neighboring Asaba on the western bank of the Niger River form a continuous metropolitan area.

As of 2016, Onitsha had an estimated city proper population of 2,080,000 people. As of early 2022, Onitsha has a rising estimated population of 3,553,000. The indigenous people of Onitsha are Igbo and speak the Igbo language. The Onitsha people are referred to as Ndi Onicha, the Onitsha greater metropolis built-up area is regarded as one of the largest metropolitan areas in Africa, the largest metropolitan area by landmass in Nigeria, and the second largest in terms of population, with the largest being Lagos. The continuous urban sprawl or conurbation spreads across separate towns from Asaba Onitsha Obosi Ogbaru Nnewi Awka down to Orlu in Imo state. According to Africapolis, the Onitsha greater metropolis will, by 2050, be regarded as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In 2023, McKinsey predicted that the Onitsha greater metropolis area will double in human development by 2045 with the current expansion rate (citation needed).

Founding and settlement

Obi of Onitsha, Alfred Achebe

Onitsha Ado na Idu was originally known as Onitsha Mmili. The people of Onitsha original lived in communities scattered across Western Igbo (Delta and Edo states) and emigrated to the place called Onitsha today where they established a community.

After their arrival on the east bank (Onicha-mmili, "Onitsha-on-water", see above), the community gradually became a unitary kingdom, evolving from a loosely organized group of "royal" villages (Umu Ezechima) to encompass "non-royal" villages (Onicha Ebo Itenani).

Modern history

The famous Niger River and Niger Bridge defines Onitsha as the gateway to the Igbo heartland.

Onitsha slowly grew to become an important trading port for the Royal Niger Company in the mid-1850s following the abolition of slavery and with the development of the steam engine when Europeans were able to move into the hinterland.

Trade in palm kernels, palm oil, and other cash crops on the coast of the Bight of Biafra increased around this river port in the 19th century.

In 1857 British palm oil traders established a permanent station in the city with Christian missionaries joining them.

In 1900 Onitsha became part of a British protectorate. The British colonial government and Christian missionaries penetrated most of Igboland to set up their administration, schools and churches through the river port at Onitsha.

In 1965, the Niger River Bridge was built across the Niger River to replace the ferry crossing. This has helped to grow trade routes with western Nigeria and created significant economic linkages between Onitsha and Benin City and Lagos particularly.

The Nigerian-Biafran war brought devastation to Onitsha as the city was a major theatre of war for forces entering Biafra from the western front. The subsequent oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a huge influx of immigrants into the city. The result has been hastily constructed and haphazard building which has created a huge number of slums.

People and culture

Onitsha People

Onitsha traditionally consists of nine villages, otherwise known as Ebo Itenani. These are descendants of the progenitor Umuezechima comprising Isiokwe, Olosi, Umuezearoli (Umuaroli, Ogbendida and Ogbeoza), Okebunabo (Umudei, Ogbeabu, Ogbeodogwu, Ogbembubu), Obikporo and Ogbeotu, Awada (Ogbeozoma), Obamkpa (Umuasele, Iyiawu and Odoje Ndugbe) and Odoje (Odumegwu Gbuagu), Ubulu na Ikem (Umuikem), Ulutu, Ubene, Ogboli Eke, Obior and Ogbeotu. Within these groupings, there are six administrative wards namely Okebunabo, Umuezearoli, Ogbeolu, Isiokwe na Ogboli Olosi, Obamkpa and Eke na Ubene.

Umuaroli Ogbendida Ogbeozoma Isiokwe
Ogboli-Eke Ogboli-Olosi Umudei Ogbembubu/Ogbeabu
Ogbeodogwu Obikporo Ogbeotu Umuasele
Odoje Umuikem Mgbelekeke Iyiawu

Onitsha operates a traditional government headed by the Obi, the titular head of the town who is assisted by Ndi Ichie, titled red cap elders or chiefs. Among these are Ndi Ichie Ume, who are the First Class Chiefs. The Ndi Ichie are classified into six, namely: Onowu Iyasele, Ajie Ukadiugwu, Odu Osodi, Onya Ozoma, Ogene Onira and Owelle Osowa, with Onowu Iyasele as the traditional Prime Minister. There are also other Ndi Ichie, who are ranked second class, known as Ndi Okwa and third class, known as Ndi Ichie Okwareze. The Ndi Ichie serve as Council of Advisers to the Obi who solicits their advice in major decisions he makes in the Kingdom.

When the ruling Obi joins his ancestors, the Onowu Iyasele takes charge until a new Obi is enthroned.[citation needed]


Once a year in October the kingdom of Onitsha holds the Ofala Festival which coincides with the traditional New Yam festival held in many parts of Igboland. The Ofala Festival in ancient times offered the people the opportunity to see the king and receive blessings from him. Nowadays, it is a way for the people of Onitsha to keep their culture alive, take stock of the communal activities and it has become a major event that draws visitors from far and wide to the city.


Onitsha lies at a major east–west crossing point of the Niger River and occupies the northernmost point of the river regularly navigable by large vessels. These factors have historically made Onitsha a major center for trade between the coastal regions and the north, as well as between eastern and western Nigeria. Onitsha possesses one of the very few road bridge crossings of the mile-wide Niger River and plans are in place to add a second bridge near it.

Rapid urbanization in recent years negatively affects natural vegetation and local landscape.


Onitsha has two seasons, the wet season, which is warm, oppressive, and overcast, and the dry season that is hot, muggy, and partly cloudy. Over the length of the year, the temperature commonly varies from 19 °C (67 °)F to 31 °C (88 °F) and is rarely below 15 °C (59 °F) or above 33 °C (92 °F).


In the early 1960s, before the Nigerian Civil War (see also Biafra), the population was officially recorded as 76,000, and the town was distinctive in a number of dimensions; the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe (born and raised in the contiguous town of Ogidi) characterized it as harboring an "esoteric region from which creativity sallies forth at will to manifest itself," "a zone of occult instability" (see "Onitsha Matters").

Indeed, Onitsha has played a creative role in the transformation to urban life in Eastern Nigeria famous as the setting for Onitsha Market Literature and as one of the hubs for the financing and distribution of Nollywood films.

However, infrastructure has not kept pace with urbanization and haphazard building practices without zoning regulations has left in its wake a chaotic and congested city rife with lawlessness. The World Health Organization Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution database's 2016 update indicates that Onitsha is the most polluted city in Africa.

In recent times with the encroachment of neighboring communities, the Onitsha people have been involved in disputes over land ownership in the surrounding area with the people of Obosi and Nkwelle Ezunaka. Fegge, Awada, and 3-3 are Onitsha metropolitan areas being disputed by the communities of Obosi and Nkwelle Ezunaka, respectively.

Onitsha Skyline


Harbor Industrial Layout of Onitsha

In 2012 the state government, through a joint venture, attracted SAB Miller to invest in Onitsha Brewery, which started production in August. It was the first large-scale investment in Onitsha since Premier Breweries, makers of the Premier Beer established production in Onitsha in the early part of the 1980s. In January it was announced that upgrades to the value of $110 million would triple the output of beer and malt drinks.


Onitsha is not only accessible by rivers and land, but also by air. The city has an international cargo and passenger airport located at Umueri.

Religion and politics

Onitsha is a predominantly Christian city. People from Northern and Western Nigeria also practice Islam. In February 2006, armed militants killed at least 80 ethnic Hausa Fulani (Muslims) and burned a few Muslim sites, including two mosques. The riots were in response to riots by Muslims in the city of Maiduguri days earlier, where at least 18 Christians were killed, sparked by the cartoon controversy in Denmark.

In Popular Culture

Onitsha Market Literature

It refers to the 20th century genre of sentimental, moralistic novellas, pamphlets and other publications sold at the Onitsha Market in Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of it was written in pidgin English. The Onitsha writings have two distinct characteristics: a fascination with westernized urban life and the desire to warn the newly arrived against the corruption and dangers that accompany it. Typical titles are “Rose Only Loved My Money,” “Drunkards Believe Bar as Heaven,” “Why Some Rich Men Have No Trust in Some Girls,” and “How to Get a Lady in Love.” Sentimental novelettes, political tracts, and “how to” guides on writing love letters, handling money, and attaining prosperity all have achieved great commercial success, and booksellers hawk these cheap, locally produced pamphlets (which are printed on handpresses) at Onitsha.


The amount of waste generation is attributed to the city's high population being a commercial area that draws in people from within and outside Nigeria for business purposes. They generate mostly food waste, polythene bags, paper and its related wastes and metal. Others are pieces of clothes, plastic, tins, bottles and glass materials. In 2016, PM10 levels exceeded the WHO's standard by 30 times. The city's noise levels exceeds the federal ministry of environment stipulated limits of 90 dB (A) and that of NESREA's 70 dB (A) for an 8-hour working period, varying in dry season and wet seasons. The city's vast surface water, shallow subsurface water, and permeable soils put it at high risk of water pollution.

Twin towns

Onitsha is twinned with:

Notable people

The Onitsha people were among the first Igbo to embrace western education, producing notable people like Bishop Alphonsus Chukwuma Onyeabo, Order of the British Empire, 1879–1954, and the main contributor of the English to Igbo bible, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Owele of Onicha, Zik of Africa, and the first president of the post-independent Nigeria.

See also

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