Nigerian Culture
Nigerian Culture and Heritage

There are about 162.5 million Nigerians (According to the World Bank and United States Census Bureau). This makes Nigeria the 8th most populous country in the world and the largest in Africa. Nigeria has over 250 different ethnic groups, all with their own languages and heritage. The largest groups are the Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo (or Ibo) in the southeast, who account for around a fifth of the population each. The languages of these three groups can therefore be used in government. Other large groups include the Ijaw in the east and the Fulani in the north.

The Yoruba

The South Western part of Nigeria is home to most Yorubas and they are among the group of Nigerian people where culture is still pretty much preserved. They are well involved in arts and have a long history of poetry, beadwork, metalwork, weaving and mask making. The typical artwork of Yoruba is made to honour the ancestors and gods as they believe in a lot of deities. Yorubas, just like the Greeks, have over 400 deities, so there are a lot of artworks and sculptures to be made.

The Igbos

The Igbos occupy the South Eastern part of Nigeria divided into the eastern and western region by the river Niger. Historically, the Igbos originate from Nri community dated back to the stone age. Igbos are known to be highly enterprising and industrious, a trait that has been in the group for a long time. They have a colourful and warm cultural display and all around them are other ethnic groups like Ogoni, Ibibio, igala, Bini, Warri, Tiv, Ijaw, Yako etc.

Hausa & Fulani

Among the Nigerian people, the Hausa/Fulani occupy the northern parts of the country and their population spreads beyond Nigeria, involving other parts of West Africa where they constitute the largest single ethnic group in West Africa with population of over 30 million. In Nigeria, Hausas are often taken as same with the Fulanis. The cultural similarities between the Hausa and Fulani allow for significant marriage and integration between the two groups. This has resulted as in the term “Hausa-Fulani” being used as one entity to depict Hausa of Fulani. The most popular cities occupied by Hausa-Fulani in the Northern parts of the country include: Kaduna, Sokoto, Kastina, Zaria, Jos, Kano, etc.


There are quite a lot of cultural diversities among the people of Nigeria as are many ethnic groups in the country. The official language of Nigeria is English but each ethnic group has its own language. The most common of the native languages are Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. Other major languages include Fulfulde, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Efik, Edo, Ijo, and Nupe.
The most widely used languages have several distinct regional dialects, and in some regions, such as the Jos Plateau and surrounding middle belt, hundreds of small groups make for wide linguistic variations across short distances.
Pidgin English is also a “national” but informal language spoken across the country.


Islam, Christianity, and indigenous religions are central to how Nigerians identify themselves.
In the late 19th century, Christianity became established in southern Nigeria. In the Yoruba southwest, it was propagated by the Church of England, while in the Igbo southeast the Roman Catholic Church dominated. Today, close to half of the south-western peoples and far more than half of the south-eastern peoples are Christians, usually along lines established by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist missionaries. Christianity is also widespread in the middle belt, but it is virtually absent in the far north except among migrant populations.
In recent years, Protestant fundamentalism has grown, particularly in the middle belt. Nigeria also has many independent African churches, such as Cherubim and Seraphim, which incorporate African cultural practices such as drumming, dancing, and polygamy (marriage with more than one wife) into Christianity.

Dominant in the north, Islam continues to spread, especially in the middle belt and in south-western Nigeria. However, Islamic practices such as the seclusion of women and strict fasting tend to be ardently observed only in northern cities. Islamic fundamentalists have increased in recent years, resulting in clashes with other Muslims, with Christians, and with the state. The Nigerian government has achieved great success in reducing such clashes.
Nigerian society varies greatly between urban and rural areas, across ethnic and religious borders, and with levels of education. Still, most Nigerians share a strong attachment to family and especially to children, clearly differentiated roles for men and women, a hierarchical social structure, and the dominance of religion in shaping community values.

Polygamy is widely practiced among Muslims, among adherents of traditional religions, and among Christians who belong to independent African churches. Among northern Muslims and in many more traditional societies, most girls enter family-arranged marriages near the age of puberty. The daughters of more educated populations, particularly in the south, tend to marry when they are in their late teens or early twenties. Men usually marry at a later age, especially if they come from families that are unable to afford the high cost of weddings and bride-price (payment given to the bride’s family by or on behalf of the future husband).

Social life has traditionally revolved around ceremonies: weddings, infants naming ceremonies, and public performances associated with cultural and religious holidays. Young adult males living in cities enjoy going to cinemas, dance clubs, and bars for recreation. Some Muslim women, for example among the Hausa, have their own social institutions revolving around the bori, a cult of spirit possession. Bori ceremonies provide women with a forum for interaction that is relatively free of male control, and offer explanations and remedies that help women cope with problems such as the death of their children.

Clothing in Nigeria symbolizes religious affiliation, wealth, and social standing. Northern Muslim men wear long, loose-fitting garments such as the kaftan, together with colorful embroidered hats or (among traditional officials) turbans. Most Yoruba men also wear elaborate gowns and hats, somewhat different in style. Many Nigerians in the south wear casual Western-style dress. Women wear wrap-around garments or dresses, typically made from very colorful materials, and beautiful head-ties that may be fashioned into elaborate patterns.

Diets vary regionally and between city and country. Grain-based dishes such as tuwo da miya, a thick sorghum porridge eaten with a spicy, vegetable-based sauce, dominate the northern diet. Dishes made from root crops, such as pounded yam and gari (a granular product made from cassava), are more prevalent in the south. Northerners eat more meat, either in sauces or as kebabs known as tsire. Yogurt and soured milk (nono) produced by Fulani pastoralists form an important part of rural northern diets. Modernization has made cheaper bulk food staples such as cassava, maize (corn), rice, white bread, and pasta increasingly important in both rural and urban areas. Muslims generally do not approve of drinking alcohol, especially northern Muslims, who tend to prefer tea and soft drinks. In the rest of the country, it is common to drink commercially brewed beer or traditional drinks such as beer made from sorghum or millet and palm wine. Kola nuts are used widely as a stimulant, especially in the north.

Nigerians, particularly youth, are avid sports fans and participants, and by far the most loved game is soccer, known as football. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, Nigeria’s national team won the gold medal. Several Nigerian footballers have achieved prominence playing professionally in Europe, and all major cities are represented in Nigeria’s highly competitive national football league. Nigerians have also excelled internationally at track and field, particularly in short-distance races, and in boxing. Other popular sports are field hockey, basketball, table tennis and lawn tennis.

Arts and Literature

Nigerian arts reflect African, Islamic, and European influences. In northern Nigeria, Islam has shaped architecture and calligraphy. As Islam traditionally forbids the representation of people and animals, art forms such as ceremonial carvings are virtually absent in the north. In the south, indigenous peoples produced their own art long before Europeans arrived. Portuguese figures first appeared in Benin bronzes dating to the 16th century. Since the dawn of the colonial era, Western influences have challenged, threatened, and in certain ways enriched Nigerian culture.

Nigeria’s modern literature grows out of a tradition of story-telling and historical remembrance that has existed in Nigeria for millennia. Oral literature ranges from the proverbs and dilemma tales of the common people to elaborate stories memorized and performed by professional praise-singers attached to royal courts. In states where Islam prevailed, significant written literatures evolved. The founder of the Sokoto caliphate, Usuman dan Fodio, wrote nearly 100 texts in Arabic in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His prose and poetry examined issues such as good government and social relations from an Islamic moralist perspective. The legacy of this Islamic tradition is a widely read modern literature comprised of religious and secular works, including the Hausa-language poetry and stories of Alhaji Abubakar Imam.

In 1986 Nigerian Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Soyinka is a prolific author of poetry, novels, essays, and plays that blend African themes with Western forms. His uncompromising critiques of tyranny, corruption, and the abuse of human rights have often angered Nigeria’s military rulers. One of his most powerful books, The Man Died (1972), was written while Soyinka was imprisoned during the civil war of 1967 to 1970. Chinua Achebe, whose novels include A Man of the People (1966) and No Longer at Ease (1960), is another Nigerian writer whose work commands a wide international audience. Other important novelists include Cyprian Ekwensi, Nkem Nwankwo, Elechi Amadi, Chimamandia Adiche, Flora Nwapa, and Clement Ogunwa, who write mostly in English. John Pepper Clark, Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo, and Ken Saro-Wiwa are well-known poets.

Entertainment, Music and Dance

Virtually all Nigerian cultures have their own traditions of music and dance, which are central to the way Nigerians remember their past and celebrate their present. Songs and dances are played on drums, flutes, trumpets, stringed instruments, xylophones, and thumb pianos, and are often linked to specific places and events, such as the harvest. Although traditional song and dance continue in modern Nigeria especially in rural areas and on ceremonial occasions, their central place in Nigerian life is threatened by the spread of radios, tape recorders, video cassette recorders (VCRs), and other mass-culture media, especially among youth. Sometimes, however, modern media allow musicians using traditional instruments and forms to reach a mass audience.

Popular music in Nigeria began in the late 1940s with the arrival of highlife music from Ghana. Highlife blended Western sounds ranging from big bands and guitars with African beats and instruments. Among the leading early bands were those of Rex Jim Lawson and Victor Olaiya. During the 1960s and 1970s, King Sunny Ade and I. K. Dairo, among others, established a new style of music known as juju. A rhythmic dance music style, juju blends Western instruments with elements of traditional African music. In the 1980s and 1990s Fela Anikulapo Kuti commanded a large following, both in Nigeria and internationally, with a form of Afro-Beat inspired by funk, jazz, and highlife and accompanied by provocative lyrics in Yoruba and pidgin. Popular music stars of recent years include Victor Waifo, Charlie (Boy) Oputa, Onyeka Onwenu, Christie Essien Igbokwe, Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, Femi Kuti (Fela’s son) and Lagbaja.

Entertainment Industry

Since the 1990s the Nigerian movie industry, sometimes called “Nollywood” has emerged as a fast growing cultural force all over the continent. All over the country, and even increasingly in the conservative north, western music, dresses and movies are ever popular.

Nollywood emerged in 1992 and quickly imposed itself as one of the world’s largest film industries. Today, it comes just behind “Hollywood and “Bollywood”, American and Indian film industries respectively. It is a unifying brand for practitioners in scripting, directing, sound, High Definition (HD) techniques, acting, cinematography, make-up, editing, etc. in Nigeria, Nollywood is the Nigerian national movie industry articulated around a few major production centres like Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, Asaba and Abuja. The distribution of the films also hinge on these same production centres as well as other major distribution points in Nigeria such as Aba.

The movie “Living in Bondage” by Mr. Kenneth Nnebue was the bold step that made a journey of a million miles worth embarking upon. Today, looking behind to its trail blazing achievements, Nollywood with its sister – Nigerian Music Industry, is proud to take the world stage, by identifying its relevance and essence in filling the gap created by the dearth of quality productions in the local television channels and radio stations, Nollywood has established itself as a major cultural and economic force in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. The entertainment industry which they constitute accounted for over 1.4% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 and this figure is fast growing.

Nollywood today boasts an impressive number of star actors and actresses as well as film producers. Suffice it to mention a few names as examples: Pete Edochie, Olu Jacobs, Nkem Owoh (alias Osuofia or Ukwa), Segun Arinze, Francis Duru, the famous duo Chidi Ikedieze and Osita Iheme, Desmond Eliot, Emeka Ike, Ojoho Ouafor, etc. are among the outstanding actors, while actresses who have become familiar house-hold names include Patience Uzokwor, Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Ini Edo, Omotala J. Ekeinde, Ngozi Ezeonu, Mercy Johnson, Stephanie Okereke Linus, Funke Akindele, Uche Jumbo, Joke Silva etc.

The music fact of the entertainment industry has waxed relatively strong, expanding year after year, turning in billions of naira to the economy. There is no gainsaying the fact that music is part of our every- day life and, more or less, an integral part of visual and audio media productions, including soundtracks in both local and foreign movies. With an apparently inexhaustible stream talents and capacity to innovate, the Nigerian music industry is one that can neither be hindered by economic depression nor lack relevance.

Nigerian music has the necessary resources to rule the air waves of not only Nigeria but also the length and breadth of Africa and the world at large. It is noteworthy that the number of stakeholders in the Nigerian music business is ever increasing. The stakeholders include artistes, musicians, producers, promoters, managers, distributors, marketers, etc. In the past six years, interestingly, the growing numbers of new production studios and artistes springing up has paved way for a more vibrant and self-sustaining industry. A lot of Nigerian artistes are already enjoying cooperate sponsorship for their unique talents and achievements. Some have recorded landmark albums sale, sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of copies.

Others have won prestigious awards in international contests and events, hence attracting more and more investments from very many sources. The investments have no doubt aided production of world class quality music as a result of innovations in sounds, rhythms and recording techniques Pace-setters, Nigerian musicians have developed a vast spectrum of music genres, blending hip-hop, rap, rhythm and blues, reggae, gospel, etc. with traditional Nigerian beats and instruments. Some of the popular names include 2-Face Idibia, P- Square, Davido, Timaya, Tiwa Savage, M.I, Bracket, Olamide, Flavour, Wizkid, D’Banj, Kcee, Asa, Skales, Don Jazzy, MC Galaxy, Yemi Alade, Patoranking, etc. A good number have also made name in Gospel music: Chris Morgan, Panam Percy Paul, Yinka Ayefele, Frank Edward, Sinach etc.

Stand-up Comedians on the Rise

Stand-up comedians have come to complete Nigeria’s entertainment landscape. They distill humour and jokes inspired by the every-day life experience of Nigerians to a wide variety of audience, through direct stage shows or recorded VCD/DVDs, in English or Nigerian Pidgin. Among the most popular of these highly talented comedians are: I go dye, Gordons, Klint d’drunk, Basketmouth, AY, Lepasious Bose, Funny Bone, Akpororo, Seyi Law, Bovi, Helen Paul, Chi-girl, etc.

Theatre and Film

Contemporary theatre in Nigeria grows out of a long tradition of masquerades, festivals, and story-telling. Masquerades, which emphasized costume and dance rather than dialogue, were a key instrument of social control and political commentary, especially in traditional southeastern Nigerian cultures. In the southwest, Alarinjo, a court masquerade and professional popular theater, was common, especially in the 14th century Oyo kingdom. The traditional Ozidi dramas of the southern Ijaw took three days and nights to perform, after several years of rehearsal. The theatrical traditions of the northern Hausa, still practiced today, include the performances of traveling minstrels known as ‘yan kama’ and public ceremonies of the bori spirit possession cult. Kwagh-hir, an amalgamation of traditional masquerades, puppet theatre, acrobatics, dancing, and music, is a modern adaptation of traditional Tiv theatre arts.

Arts and Crafts

It is not particularly an easy exercise to draw a straight line of demarcation between arts and crafts. This is usually so because the same artist (genius) who produced the beautiful bronze head, could be involved in the production of ornaments of brass, just as the same carver who produced a door panel could be involved in making stool, comb or ritual drum. It is however accepted that the first product by the same artist from a mould represents an art, while subsequent products from that same mould are classified as craft, though coming from the same artist.

Each product is intended for a specific usage. Generally, climate, geography and religious factors play vital role in art or craft production as the main motive or idea was utility and aesthetic satisfaction. These factors are equally responsible for the decoration of such objects of everyday use, for example granary, door panels, bowls, knife handle, drinking horns, special design of the rulers roofs and walls (interior and exterior), etc.

Nigerian craftsmen have been in their trade for over two thousand years. Their efforts are known to have produced the terra-cotta and iron smelting tradition of Nok, Ife, Igbo- ukwu and Benin bronze respectively. These high quality works of art represent the evidence of early civilization in Nigeria. The works of art enjoy patronage especially from the royal palaces and homes of wealthy personalities in the Nigerian society. Such patronage encouraged the production of state swords, sceptres, royal drums, ivory ornaments, whisks fans beaded handles, crowns and various royal regalia.

Calabash carving is a prominent craft practice with long standing tradition in Nigeria. For instance, Old Oyo is well associated with this practice as well as some communities in Plateau, Bauchi, Sokoto, Adamawa and Bornu states. They produced burnt or engraved geometric designs on calabashes which are widely used and marketed across the country. These crafts now enjoy patronage in many African countries. This craft item is sometimes used as wall hanging, so also are raffia based crafts.

In the area of buildings decorated with arts and crafts, Nigeria has a long tradition of such practice. This is where door panels, wooden and stone objects are utilised as “Installation Art” pieces. It is a common feature these days to see beautiful art displays and expression on edifices across the country. Most of these designs utilise marble materials as “Mosaïc”. There are also giant art works in front of edifices, developed from wood, bronze, Iron and Fibre. An example of this art expression is the giant art work at the defunct NEPA building in Lagos.
In Nigeria, landscaping appears to be incomplete without works of art. This is why most round abouts across the country are adorned with giant art pieces. Some of these works tell the tourist about the dominant cultural activities of the people of the region. For example, a tourist entering Makurdi the Capital of Benue State is presented with an art expression that this is the “Food Basket of the Nation”. These decorations depict Nigerians as lovers of beautiful environment and as people endowed with creativity.

Contemporary Painting and Sculpture

The creative inspirations of early civilization such as the Nok, Ife, Benin and Igbo-Ukwu presented the foundation and platform for the creative evolution of cycles and generations of modern artists in Nigeria. Art traditions which started with traditional carvers have today metamorphosed into contemporary art with “western-trained” artists. Nigeria has since Independence produced five generations of modern artists. What started with people like Aina Onabolu has produced young artists like Samuel Onyilo, Paul Oluwole, etc.These artists were trained in Art Schools in Nigeria.

In the area of painting, their works cover a wide range of colours and expressions. These expressions or art forms use water colours and acrylics to produce wide range of techniques. Some undertake a technique known as wood burning or mixed media. Nigerian sculptors are very outstanding in their art forms and expressions. They produce works on wood, Iron, Bronze and Stones among other features. Their works are found in major galleries and private homes globally, some of their commissioned works adorn major round-about in most cities across the country. The patronage covers private individuals, companies and government agencies.


All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only. The owner of this website makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.