Onitsha History

The history of Onitsha began with the migration of its people from the Benin Empire towards the end of early part of the Sixteenth Century AD. The migration was as a result of a wave of unrest, war and displacement unleashed by the Islamic movement from North Africa.

It was during their passage through the outskirts of Ile-Ife that they acquired the name Onitsha - a corruption of the Yoruba word Orisha and Udo, the famous shrine worshipped by the people. As time went on, the combination of the two words, Onitsha for Orisha and Ado for Udo culminated in the present name , Onitsha Ado.

The people of Onitsha left the out skirts of Ile-Ife and resettled in the Benin Kingdom and soon established themselves as one of the clans in the Benin Kingdom exercising all the rights and privileges attached thereon.

As a result of a long process of acculturation in Benin, the Onitsha people jealously guarded their acquired rights particularly with regard to their revered Shrine Udo.

It was suggested that the reason why the Onitsha people quarreled with Oba Esigie, (1404-1550), of Benin was because of the slight, the Oba gave their shrine-Udo. It was customary for newly installed Oba to pay homage to all important Shrines in the Benin Kingdom by slaughtering a cow in the shrines enclave. Oba Esigie failed to do this at the Onitsha people's Udo-Shrine, hence the quarrel.

It took the Onitsha people several years before they got to Obior and Ilah and finally crossed the River Niger and established Onitsha Ado. They stopped at several places in the then Mid-West now called Delta State, places like Agbor, Issele-Uku, etc. This explains the affinity with the inhabitants of Delta State like Ilah, Issele-Uku, Obbaamkpa, Onitsha-Olona, Onitsha Ugbo, Agbo, Obior, Onitsha Ukwu and so on.


Another version hold that the people of Onitsha were part of the Edo tribe. It is for this reason that Onitsha people fondly call their town "Onitsha Ado N'Idu" meaning Onitsha of Edo Origin. It is also believed that the emigrants were nicknamed "Onitsha" only after their exodus from Benin by people whose territories they marched through, revaging all that stood in their way. The name Onitsha has also been translated to mean dispenser. It reflects the manner the emigrants dealt with obstacles placed on their route by adjourning towns and villages.

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