1. ABIA STATE
As many might have guessed, Abia is an acronym derived from the name of the four main groups of people in the state as at the time it was formed in 1991. These were the: Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato and Afikpo. Former Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu (hin too dey talk joor) is from Bende while Lambert Ndukwe, one of the richest men in Nigeria in the 50s (he imported stockfish from Northern European nations like Norway and exported cotton back) was from Isuikwato. Afikpo now belongs to Ebonyi State and as for Aba, we all know berra…lol! Okay, let’s roll!
2. ADAMAWA STATE
The area that is now Adamawa State was conquered by Modibbo Adama Bin Ardo Hassan, a warrior of the Ba’en clan of the Fulanis, in the beginning of the 19th century. Modibbo is a Fulani courtesy title that means ‘The Lettered/Learned One’ (in Hausa, it is Mallam). Modibbo Adama was also the regional leader of the Fulani Jihad led Uthman Dan Fodio in 1804. That made the Adamawa Emirate a vassal state of the Sultan of Sokoto. He hailed from the Gurin region (now a tiny hamlet) and got the green flag (to lead the jihad) in 1806. A man of humble beginnings (father was a local teacher and mother, a simple Shuwa Arab lady, according to some historians), he later founded Adamawa Emirate in 1809.
A brave warrior of Dan Fodio, he fought at Ngazzargamu (capital of the old Borno Empire now in Yobe State) and was later ordered by his teacher, Dan Fodio, to return home and become the Lamido Fumbina (the Ruler of the Southlands in Fulfulde, the language of the Fulanis) and then carry out the jihad from the River Nile to the Bight of Biafra (shoooo!). He was followed back to his place by Hausa and Fulani (Toronkawa) fighters. Even trainers and instructors came from as far as the Maghreb (now Northwest Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) and the Ottoman Empire -in the light of recent events in Nigeria, does this ring any bell at all? Think about that for a minute. Thereafter, he conquered many areas and regions (including incursions into Northern Cameroon where we now have mainly Fulani Muslims), moved his capital to Ribadu, then Joboliwo and eventually died in 1847 in Yola, which he also founded but not after he had formed his new state which he named after himself. His tomb is in Gurin, Furore LGA till today and at the height of his power, Adamawa Emirate stretched 103,000 sq km as far as Lake Chad and had as much as 1.5 million inhabitants. Expansion towards the south was prevented by the thick jungle and tsetse fly (dangerous to cattle). He also founded Garoua in northeastern Cameroon.
Today, his descendants rule as the Lamidos of Adamawa, and the emirate is like the only one in the north in which Hausa is regarded and learnt as a second language. The current one is Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Musdafa (a former chairman of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) whose father, Aliyu Musdafa, was one of the longest-serving traditional rulers in Africa having spent 57 years on the throne. Adamawa (cattle breed), Adamawa Region (in Cameroon), the 4,000 ft-high Adamawa Plateau called Lesdihosere by the Fulanis (in Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic), Adamawa languages such as Chamba-Mumuye, Kim, Mbum, Wiyaa and Laal are all named after him. Okay, enough of Adamawa before my Akwa Ibom friends start to dey vex…lol!
3. AKWA IBOM STATE
One of the richest states in West Africa and the homeland of my much-cherished Ibibio, Annang, Obolo and Oron friends, Akwa Ibom is named after a river, the Qua Iboe (or Kwa Iboe) River. About 20 miles to the entrance of this river is the popular Qua Iboe Offshore Oil Terminal and the Qua Iboe Onshore Oil Field (Oil Mining Lease, OML, 13) (btw, Oando owns 40% of that).
Translating Qua Iboe itself was not an easy task. Some records indicate that the river emptied itself around a settlement in Ibeno called Aqua Obio (meaning ‘Big Town’) but early European explorers corrupted it to become Qua Iboe. Today, Aqua Obio includes Mkpanak and its neighbouring settlements. The river itself originates from the Umuahia Hills in Abia State and travels for about 150 km before it flows N-S and then empties into the Atlantic Ocean through Eket, Ibeno LGA of Akwa Ibom State. Its maximum depth is about 10 metres.
There are fears that discharges from the effluent treatment plants of the nearby Exxon-Mobil company are poisoning the fish and other organisms in the river with heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and chromium. That’s according to a very detailed study carried out in 2006 by scholars from the Medical Biochemistry, Chemistry and Animal Science of the Imo State University and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. See the references if you are interested in the study. Ok, before I forget, Qua Iboe was also the site of Qua Iboe Mission, the third Protestant Church to arrive Nigeria in 1887. The interesting thing here is that the mission was founded by Samuel Alexander Bill, a British missionary and a Member of the British Empire who devoted his life to preaching to the Efik and Annang speaking people of the area. He is buried at Ibeno on the bank of the Qua Iboe River beside his wife, Gracie and his very first convert, David Ekong. Next!
4. ANAMBRA STATE
Okay, this is pretty straightforward. It was derived from the name of the Oma Mbala (Omambala) River (in Ibo, the native name of the river is Ànyịm Ọma Mbala). Anglicize the pronunciation and you have Madam NAFDAC’s homestate. The river is quite long o, about 210 kilometers, it is a major tributary of the River Niger, the most important below Lokoja. Yep! Let’s keep rolling.
5. BAUCHI STATE
Nicknamed the Pearl of Tourism (check out Yankari). ‘Bauchi’ is Hausa word meaning the southern flanks of Hausaland. Tribes living in the southern parts of the Hausaland were referred to as kasashen bauchi and the area they lived in later came to be known simply as Bauchi. Then, kasashen bauchi included the areas that we now call Bauchi itself, Plateau State, Northern Niger, Southern Sokoto (that includes Yauri and Zuru) and Southern Kaduna (hello to my Barnawa friends). It was a major center for the slave raiders of the day. In another rendition, the state was named for Baushe, a famous hunter who settled there before the 19th century while another states that ‘bauchi’ is Hausa word for slavery since it was a center for slave raiders. You decide.
6. BAYELSA STATE
Famed for being the homestate of our dear President (where the First Lady also known as Mama Ice Cream is also a Perm Sec), Bayelsa is also the place of Samson Siasia and Finidi George. Let’s continue before we delve into football…lol! How the name came about is quite interesting. In the old Rivers State, it was the tradition to use acronyms when naming the local government areas (LGAs). For example, Brass LGA was simply called BALGA, Yenagoa was YELGA while Sagbama was just SALGA. And since it was the people of these three former LGAs of Rivers State that clamoured and fought for the creation of the state forming the State Creation Movement, the name that they finally agreed upon was this:
BA + YEL + SA = BAYELSA. Simple. No long thing.
7. BENUE STATE
It is a word from the Batta language ‘Binuwe’ which means ‘Mother of Waters’. Streams forming watershed from the Adamawa Plateau drain into this mighty river and it has its roots in northern Cameroon. Interestingly, the Benue (La Benoue in French, and it was also formerly called Chadda (Tchadda) River) has many tributaries in the Adamawa Emirate. These include the Beti, Kunini and the Lamorde. During the months of August and September, the river becomes very navigable as it reaches its widest and can stretch up to a mile from bank to bank bringing with it flood plain deposits of fertile soils that has made the state one of the best locations for farming in Nigeria. It reaches its lowest level in March and April and stretching for 1,400 kilometers, it is the longest tributary of the River Niger.
8. BORNO (BORNU) STATE
It has been nicknamed the Home of Peace but you will agree with me that that has to be changed asap! The name was derived from ‘Borno’, an alternative name of the Kanuris who form the predominant ethnic group in the state. Kanuris are also known as Yerwa, Sirata or Beri Beri (known in places like Ilorin as Baruba or Bariba). However, another rendition has it that it means ‘Barr Nuh’, which is Arabic for ‘The Land of Noah’ as it was believed that the Ark of Noah landed there after the Flood. Some historians do not subscribe to this because they believe it is a fancy of some Arabists. You decide.
9. CROSS RIVER
First, it is Cross River State and NOT Cross Rivers State. And yes, it is Rivers State, not River State. Don’t get it twisted. The state took its name from the Cross River (known to natives as the Oyono, and the Manyu River in Cameroon). Flowing through swamps, creeks and inland delta, it joins the Calabar River to end up in the Atlantic Ocean.
10. DELTA STATE
Obviously, it was named for the delta of the River Niger formed as it enters the Atlantic Ocean. The geographical feature formed when a river is about to enter a larger body of water like the sea or ocean is called a delta and there are various shapes.
11. EBONYI STATE
Known for having some of the nation’s finest rice, yams and richest salt deposits, the state was named after the Aboine River which rises from the Enugu Highlands and cuts through Abakaliki, the state capital. It was formed in 1996 under the military junta of the late General Sani Abacha. Geographical name data supplied by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a member of the United States military intelligence community shows the river flowing not too far from Afikpo too, with its main tributary being the Asu River. The river joins Cross River 10 km to the east of Afikpo (see references). During the colonial times, it was known as the Western Aboine River. One of the major activities along and on the river is sand quarrying. Ebonyi is home to the brilliant Nkwa Umuagbogho and the Amasiri-based Ojianyalere Dancers. You need to see their dances to appreciate. Mehn! They are superb dancers! Nigeria is such a rich country, only if we realize this and concentrate on real matters and not the irritating trivialities you see everywhere today. You can enjoy some of the dances here, like the Ahunanyaekwe Dance Group Afikpo, Ebonyi State, Nigeria below:
Let’s go to Benin now…lol!
12. EDO STATE
Hmmmmn, Edo. Initially applied to mean the Bini people (they’ve always called themselves Edo or Iduu, after the progenitor of the Edo race) of the Benin Kingdom (which existed for about 1,000 years before the British conquered it in 1897), Edo today also means the land itself, the culture and the language. It also refers to the adjoining peoples, cultures and languages. The name appears in the royal title of the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo. I must chip it in here that many of the websites of Nigerian state governments were absolutely useless for any form of information gathering. Some were either propaganda pages for the governor or were just too bad -graphics and all. Some states did not even have any website! No online representation or presence at all! In the 21st century, this is a shame. But I must say that a few states have very outstanding websites.
13. EKITI STATE
‘Ekiti’ is a term that is said to denote a settlement of many hills. Hills are common geographical features in Ekitiland and are responsible for the division of Ekitiland into smaller kingdoms and subunits.
14. ENUGU STATE
Also known as Nigeria’s coal city, Enugu derived its name from two local words enu ugwu which means ‘top of the hill’. Amazingly, that itself is a derivative of the village of Enugu Ngwo, which is located just to the west of the city. Enugu City itself is not on the hill, it is actually at the base of a plateau but the village is situated right on top of the hill. I hope Governor Sullivan Iheanacho Chime will triumphantly conquer the particular hill he is climbing right now.
15. GOMBE STATE
Established as emirate during Jihad by Modibbo Buba Yero, a Fulani warrior and student of Uthman Dan Fodio in 1800, the modern-day Gombe State was carved out of Bauchi State. Gombe was known in the 1930s for its groundnuts and for cotton in the 1950s. Today nko? Gombe is mainly populated by Fulanis and the state has been named ‘Gombe’ which is the dialect of Fulani language (Fulfulde) spoken in the area.
16. IMO STATE
This wonderful state is named after the Imo River (Imo Mmiri). Its main tributaries are the Otamiri (a very important river in the state too)and the Njaba, Ulasi, Oramirukwa rivers. According to some, there is a deity (alusi) who owns the river (provides water for fishing, transport and agriculture) and there is a festival for the goddess between May and July during which it overflows its banks. Imo Mmiri is also considered a goddess of fertility and is particularly respected in the Ngwa and Mbaise communities. A bridge crosses the Imo River to connect Rivers State and Akwa Ibom. One of the biggest rivers in Igboland, it starts from the Okigwe/Awka uplands and runs for about 240 km before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
17. JIGAWA STATE
The state was named after its distinctively golden-coloured soil, Jigawa. Jigawa can also be translated to mean sand or sandy in Hausa. The colour is said to stand for the resilience, strength, determination and endurance that comes with living in the dry Sahel and Savanna, in which the state is located.
18. KADUNA STATE
In Hausa language, kaduna means crocodiles, in apparent reference to the ones living in the Kaduna River. Simple. Kada is singular for crocodile.
19. KANO STATE
The legendary Kano Emirate was said to have been established around the AD 999 and it was named after Kano, a blacksmith of the Gaya tribe who settled in the area while sourcing for ironstone (from which iron can be smelted) around the Dalla Hill. Kano itself was initially called Dalla and would eventually be captured by the rampaging British in 1903.
20. KATSINA STATE
Founded in cc. 1100, Katsina was named for Katsina, the wife of Janzama, the local ruler at that time. She was also a princess of Daura.
21. KEBBI STATE
Of all the 36, I find Kebbi particularly interesting and controversial at the same time. According to the Kebbi Chronicles, the state was founded as a kingdom in 600 BCE by refugees escaping from the Assyrian Empire after its conquest by forces from Babylon and Medes. But that is not all o, in the Chronicles, Mesopotamian kings were listed out as the earliest ancestral kings of Kebbi. It was also deduced that Kebbi (Kabawa) was derived from the Holy Ka’aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. You really need to read up the scholarly and extremely detailed work of Dierk Lange to get the full gist (see reference on website).
22. KOGI STATE
The name ‘Kogi’ is a derivation of the Hausa word ‘kogi’ meaning ‘river’. The two biggest rivers in Nigeria, the Niger and the Benue form a confluence in the state. Quite simple, isn’t it?
23. KWARA STATE
Created in May 1967 as the West Central State, the name was changed to Kwara (Kuwara, Quarra or Kowara), which is the local name that the Nupes have given to the River Niger which forms the northern border of the state. In Nupenci (Nupe language), Kwara means ‘Sea’ or ‘Lake’ of the Nupes. The Nupes are some of the most amazing and enchanting tribes in Nigeria and they live on both sides of the River Niger (in Kwara and Niger States). For the Nupes in Niger State, the same river is also called Edu, and there are already agitations for the creation of an Edu State for the Nupes. Some Hausas also refer to the River Niger as ‘Kwara’ or Gulbi Nkowora (River Kwara). At almost 4,200 kilometers, it is the 3rd longest river in Africa.
24. LAGOS STATE
Now to the legend, the smallest state in Nigeria but as you know na, gidigba o shilekun. In 1861, the Oba of Lagos ceded the area to the United Kingdom thus becoming a colony and was named the Settlement of Lagos and Dependencies. The indigenous name for Nigeria’s most popular subregion was Eko (you can add Aromisalegbelegbe if you like) but in the 17th century, the name was changed to ‘Lago di Curamo’ by the Portuguese traders and explorers after a port in Portugal which bears the same name and then finally called it Lagos. ‘Lagos’ means lakes (lago = lake) in Portuguese and it was inspired by the many lagoons, rivers and water bodies in the state. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Lagos in 1472. Till today, the Portuguese/Brazilian influence is still very much visible. Shebi you still remember Joao Esan Da Rocha and his descendants, Fernandez, Cardoso, Faustinho, Vera Cruz, Marinho and the rest na. Make una no go add Aguero for there o grin
25. NASARAWA (NASSARAWA) STATE
There is an interesting story here. The founder of the old Nasarawa Kingdom, Makama Dogo had to form his kingdom before the river because doing so beyond the river would mean all his children would turn pagans. Thus, he cited the kingdom before the river and declared victory (Nasara is the Hausa word for victory) and then named the area ‘Nasarawa’ meaning the ‘Victorious’. Please note: that Nasara (derived from Arabic) is also Hausa word for ‘Christian’ or ‘white man’ but that does not apply in this context. A very interesting dimension to the origin of the word ‘nasara’ is that it came originally from the Greek word ‘Nazaraios’ which meant ‘the man from Nazareth’. Later on, ‘Nazarene’ was the term used to describe the early Christians. This is a direct correlation to the fact that Christ Jesus came from Nazareth, thus the name for his followers.
26. NIGER STATE
The largest of all the 36 in terms of area, the state was named after the River Niger, one of the longest in Africa. Called the nahr-al-anhur or the River of Rivers by the Arabs, the local Tuaregs would later modify the name to become ngereoun meaning the ‘big river’. When the Arab explorer, Leo Africanus wrote, he noted it in 1526 as ‘Niger’ which meant ‘black’ in Latin, like to mean ‘River of the Blacks’. (I hear you o! Exactly what is going on in your mind! LOL!) Especially when you know the meaning of Nigeria….lmao!
27. OGUN STATE
The state of MKO Abiola, Baba Iyabo, General Diya, Professor Wole Soyinka, General Donaldson Oladipupo Diya, Mike Adenuga (rtd), Fela, Tai Solarin, Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Shonekan, Lateef Adegbite, Prince Bola (Bolasodun Adesumbo) Ajibola and many others is named after the Ogun River. The river courses through the state in a north-south direction before emptying into the Lagos Lagoon and it can be troublesome with its flooding. Among the Yorubas, Yemoja is the mother goddess of women (especially pregnant ones) and of the River Ogun. (Yemoja =Yeye Omo Eja, Mother of Fish-Like Offspring). For some, the river is still worshipped.
28. ONDO STATE
The state was named for the Old Ondo Kingdom. The people inhabiting the area were referred to as the Ondo meaning ‘the settlers’. (Kingdoms of the Yoruba by Robert Sydney Smith. P.52, see other references below or on the website).
29. OSUN STATE
The state was named after the River Oshun (or Osun), believed and worshipped by many as the manifestation of Oshun, one of the wives of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder. There is annual Osun Osogbo Festival in honour of the goddess. It draws many from all over the globe and is usually quite colourful. The river itself drains into the Lagos Lagoon and the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean).
30. OYO STATE
It was named after the Old Oyo Empire, one of the strongest in Africa. Now a much smaller kingdom, Oyo is headed by the Alaafin (the Owner of the Palace). Old Oyo was known as Katunga and is now a tiny location along the Kwara-Oyo border (a nice place for historical excursion if you ask me). The exact meaning of Oyo itself is shrouded in so much controversy, some accounts even suggest that the name was a foreign word imposed by the Nupe warrior king, Tsoede, when he conquered the Old Oyo Empire. And that’s where it gets murky.
31. PLATEAU STATE
This extremely beautiful but scarred and injured state was named for the Jos Plateau, one of the most breath-taking in Africa. The Shere Hills form the highest point of the plateau at a height of about 6,000 ft. Rivers Kaduna, Yobe, Gongola and Hadejia all take their source from the Jos Plateau. I pray lasting peace comes to Plateau State and all of Nigeria. As Nigerians, we have all it takes to rule the world, only if we can shed our bestial tendencies and see the humanity in all of us.
32. RIVERS STATE
A state criss-crossed by many water bodies, Rivers State (once again, it is not River State) was named for many of the rivers present in the area. Well, this is not funny at all, looking at the barrage of floods the state has had to face, especially in recent times.
33. SOKOTO STATE
Named after the defunct Sokoto Caliphate, an empire that stretched from Burkina Faso to Cameroon. The Caliphate itself once consisted of more than 30 different emirates. Sokoto (or Sakwatto) is the anglicized version of the Arabic word ‘suk’ which means ‘market’ or ‘place of commerce’. Sakwatto Birnin Shehu da Bello means Sokoto, the Capital of Shehu and Bello, in reference to Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Caliphate and first Sultan of Sokoto. Mohammed Bello was his son and second Sultan. Upon his death, his brother, Abu Bakr Atiku took over.
34. TARABA STATE
The 3rd largest state in Nigeria and the home of the Chambas, Mumuyes, Jukuns, Ichens, Wurkums, Mambilas and many others, the state was named after the Taraba River which rises from the hills around Gashaka flows into the River Benue as one of its largest tributaries. It flows along the southern flank of the state and is called Teraba in German (Germany actually tried to colonize that area and succeeded to an extent). Taraba itself is a word that has been given various meanings by the locals who bear it as a surname: from the Arabic taraba ‘to drink’, to ‘gardener’ or even ‘favoured by God’.
35. YOBE STATE
In a place called Fune in this state, there is the Dufuna Canoe which is 8,000 years old. Discovered in 1987 by Fulani herdsmen, it is the oldest canoe in Africa and the third oldest in the world but that is story for another day. The state was named after Komadugu Yobe (Waube or Ouobe) or River Yobe (or River of Yo). In Kanuri, ‘komadugu’ means ‘river’, ‘a mass of water’ or literally ‘water place’. It is also called River Yo or Yeou because it passes through a town of the same name and it enters Chad at the town of Bosso. Please note that at that time, Yo (or Yoo, Yeou) was the most important town in the region, crisscrossed by caravan traders while Wau (or Ouo) was just a small village to the east. Based on this, many historians believe that the proper name for the river is Komadugu Yobe and not Komadugu Waube. I hope you get the drift…lol!
36. ZAMFARA STATE
Mention Zamfara and the next thing that comes to the mind of many is Sharia…lol! Carved out of Sokoto State in 1996 by General Sani Abacha (the Khalifa), Zamfara State that we know today was once a bustling Hausa Kingdom from the 10th to the 18th centuries. Like Gobirawa, Kebbawa and Adarawa, the Zamfarawa people are one of the ethnic (actually, more of linguistic groups) in the state. Zamfarawa is one of the subdialects of Eastern Hausa linguistic group and that is where the name came from. In the past, the area was known for revolts, rebellions and for conducting extensive military raids into neighboring towns and settlements.
See you o! Tired already? LOL! Ok, just one more. Or you thought I’d forget Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory? No! Nigeria’s capital city took its name from the ancient Hausa emirate of Abuja which itself was in turn named after a fortified settlement near Zuba by Abu(bakar) Ja in 1828 (meaning Abu the Red (or Fair-Skinned like some Fulanis), ja is the word for red or fair-complexioned in Hausa). In 1976, a panel headed by Justice Akinola Aguda selected Abuja as the new capital as Lagos was then suffering from overcongestion. Abuja was originally established by the ruling Hausa dynasty of Zaria in the 1600s. And did I tell you? ABJ is Nigeria’s first planned city. Okay, I guess that’s it!