This is a correction of the pre-colonial section of AlbertGoro’s w/u above. There are more than 200 tribes in Nigeria. Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo are just the most numerous in the north, southwest and southeast respectively. In any case, the Hausa (commonly called Hausa-Fulani, explained later) are a majority in the northwestern states and the south of Niger Republic. They are a sizable minority in the northeast and in the central regions. Northwestern Nigeria was made up of independent Hausa kingdoms built around a city which gave its name to the kingdom, sort of like Rome (the city) and Rome (the republic and the empire). In the 18th century, a Muslim scholar called Shehu Usman Fodiyo of the Fulani tribe instigated an insurrection which swept away the Hausa kings, called “sarki” and replaced them with Fulanis, called “amir or emir”. The Fulani were nomadic cattle herdsmen, Islamic scholars and jurists who often married women from subject peoples. Most Fulani retained distinctive cultural markers and are usually the aristocracy in places where they intermarry. The intermarriage was extensive in Hausaland and that is why the 2 tribes are conflated. The emirs were all subordinate to the Sultan who was based in Sokoto. There is one other Fulani ruler in the northeast, the Lamido of Adamawa. His title is just a translation of emir. Thus, the political structure of Hausaland and Adamawa had the Sultan as the spiritual head and the various emirs below him. Today, this area is split into states ruled by elected governors. The monarchs have no constitutional role and are subject to the authority of the governor. Currently, the Hausa-Fulani states are Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara. Kaduna has large minorities that are often not Muslim.
The northeast is today made up of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. The premier pre-modern state was the kingdom of Bornu. Before the arrival of white colonialists, it extended into Chad, Cameroun and Niger republic. Borno was able to repel the Fulani army and retain its political autonomy. The dominant language is Kanuri, although there are scores of others. The political and spiritual head was called the Shehu. The ancient Bornu Empire is currently split into Borno and Yobe states. Yobe state currently has a majority Hausa-Fulani population. Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba are geographically in the lower northeast. However, the Muslim traditional rulers are all Fulani and so allied with Sokoto. Bauchi is historically Hausa and it was conquered by the Fulani. So, culturally, it is part of the northwestern states above. Adamawa and Gombe are mostly Fulani with substantial minorities. Gombe was part of Bauchi state but was carved out for administrative and political convenience. The emir of Adamawa’s title is Lamido, which is just the Fulani word for ruler. There was also a pagan kingdom of Jukun or Kwararafa. They were a martial folk who were never conquered by Muslims. Today, they are mostly Christian. Other tribes here include the Margi, Biu, Bulala, Tangale and many others.
Central Nigeria is today split into the states of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, Plateau and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. Except for Kwara and Niger states, all the others did not have large political units. The more advanced Hausa-Fulani & Kanuri kingdoms in the north used to raid the area for slaves. Kwara is culturally Yoruba, however, the Fulani were able to take over political power and as is their wont, have merged with the people there and are often known as Yoruba-Fulani. They also have an emir who is a vassal of Sokoto. The most prominent tribe in Niger state is the Nupe. In the 15th century, the Nupe established a state that at one time defeated and sacked the much larger and older Yoruba kingdom of Oyo. This victory was short lived. Eventually, the Fulani came in and took political power. The rest of central Nigeria is a hodgepodge of tribes, but the Hausa-Fulani are a majority in some areas and a sizable minority in the rest. Tribes here include the Angas, Berom, Gbagyi, Idoma, Igala, Koro, Tiv and Yoruba. The bulk of the populace of Niger state is not Hausa-Fulani either. However, they identify very closely with them. Central Nigeria is arguably the most linguistically diverse part of the country.
Southwestern Nigeria is currently split into the states of Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Delta, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Osun. The Yoruba are the most in number especially in the ‘O” states as well as Lagos and Ekiti. They also extend into the neighboring country of Benin republic. The pre-modern kingdoms were Ile-Ife which is the spiritual center of Yorubaland, Oyo and Benin. The kingdom of Oyo was a vast one that covered large parts of the area currently inhabited by the Yoruba. It achieved its primacy by force of arms. It subdued the kingdom of Dahomey and Fon. In the eastern part of the southwest, the kingdom of Benin was founded and it was not defeated by any force until the white man came. Benin was founded by the Edo people. Yorubas and Edo are similar culturally, even sharing the same origin myths. When the Portuguese went to Benin in the 15th century, they were astounded by its wealth, order and cleanliness. The other tribes in this region include Etsako, Ibo, Ijaw, Ishan and Itsekhiri. Delta and Edo cover roughly the area of the ancient kingdom of Benin.
Southeastern Nigeria was the least developed politically in pre-modern times. In the western and central parts of the region, the Ibo are dominant while to the east, there is a proliferation of tribes including Akwa Ibom, Calabar, Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekhiri. The states here are Abia, Anambra, Crossriver, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers. There were no large political entities, nor centralized religions amongst the Ibo.
English is widely spoken throughout the country and is becoming a first language for many. Broken English (also known as “pidgin”) is also a sort of lingua franca although it also has regional dialects. Maybe in a few hundred years, most of the languages will be dead and the people of Nigeria will be speaking some sort of patois.