This article is aimed at introducing you to the top 10 most popular languages in Nigeria.
Previously, we shared an article on how many languages are spoken in Nigeria today. And in this one, we’ll go a little bit into the nitty-gritty.
English is Nigeria’s official language and the most widely spoken. However, there remains several predominant native languages commanding millions of speakers nationwide.
Whenever topics concerning Nigerian native languages come into play, the ones that come to mind are Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa.
Those 3 languages are without doubt the most popular in the country.
But aside from them, there are hundreds more — albeit less popular.
Without further delay…
Here are the 12 most popular languages in Nigeria
Hausa is the most popular language in Nigeria, with roughly 50 million native speakers found in the northwestern states (Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, & Jigawa.
Also, several states within the north-central and northeastern Nigeria make use of Hausa as their secondary language.
In estimate, people who speak Hausa as their second language are close to 20 million.
Therefore there are nearly 70 million people who speak Hausa either naively or as their second language.
Yoruba is the second most popular language in Nigeria. It is native to roughly 40 million Nigerians who primarily occupy the south western states. Those states include Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Ogun, and Ekiti.
Apart form those southwestern states, there are native Yoruba speakers in some north-central states, especially Kogi and Kwara.
They are, according to folklore, believed to be descendants of Oduduwa, the son of Olodumare (God).
Igbo is the 3rd most popular language in Nigeria, with roughly 34 million native speakers located primarily in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states.
The Igbos also form parts of Delta, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers state. Aside from that, they can be found on virtually all the 774 Local Government Areas found in Nigeria, as they are mostly merchants always seeking suitable locations for their businesses.
Igbo, unlike Hausa, isn’t spoken as a second language in the entire southern region, which explains why it is taking second place in our list.
There are roughly 15 million Fulani people in Nigeria who speak Fulfulde as their native language. A lot of people in Nigeria mix up the Hausa and Fulani languages, as most Fulanis can be heard speaking Hausa. But that’s incorrect. The native language of the Fulanis is Fulfulde.
In general, there are over 40 million of them spread across the Sahel and Western African regions. Countries the Fulanis occupy in large numbers include Nigeria, Chad, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.
Gbagyi or Gbari is an ethnic group who are predominantly found in the North Central geopolitical zone. They are, in fact, the most populated ethic group in the middle-belt, with over 15 million of them recorded as of 2006.
The name of their language is also called Gbagyi/Gbari — which is, however, further subdivided into two dialects namely Gbagyi and Gbari (Gwari).
The Ijaw tribe boasts nearly 14 million native speakers in Nigeria. It is, however, not really a language.
People from the Ijaw tribe speak nine closely related Niger–Congo languages, all of which belong to the Ijoid branch of the Niger–Congo tree. Izon, locacated in Eastern Ijaw happens to be the the most popular, with over 5 million native speakers.
The Ijaws occupy the oil-rich region of Nigeria.
The Anaang people occupy 8 of the 31 Local Government Areas present in Akwa Ibom state — namely Abak, Essien Udim, Etim Ekpo, Ika, Ikot Ekpene, Obot Akara, Oruk Anam, and Ukanafun. The Anaangs also form part of Obi-Ngwa LGA in Abia State.
Based on estimations from the 2006 national census, there are 8.5 million native speakers of Anaang.
Tiv, found in Benue state Nigeria, is the native language of approximately 7.5 million people. It also forms a minority part of Cameroon.
They, in their own accounts, emerged into their present location from the southeast. Prior to then, they had wandered through southern, south-central and west-central Africa before arriving at the savannah lands of West African Sudan via the River Congo and Cameroon Mountains.
The Tiv language is a branch of Benue–Congo and ultimately of the Niger–Congo phylum. Aside from Benue State, Tivs are also form minority parts of Nasarawa and Taraba state.
Kanuri belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family of languages, found majorly in Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria. Those generally termed Kanuri include several subgroups and dialect, some of whom feel themselves different from the Kanuri.
The estimated population of native Kanuri speakers in Nigeria is above nearly 7 million, making it one of the most popular languages in the country.
The Ibibio people are located in the southern part of Nigeria. With over 5 million native speakers, the Ibibio people are also one of the most popular languages in Nigeria. Furthermore, the Ibibios are closely related to Anaang and Efik, who also occupy southern Nigeria.
Nupe, with over 3.5 Million native speakers spread across the middle-belt, is also one of the most popular languages in Nigeria.
In the 18th century, many parts of Nupe land was conquered by Usman dan Fodio; however, they retained several key cultural practices. Notable among their retained cultural practices is the preferred use of Etsu Nupe in referring to their king rather than the Emir used by most Fulani conquered lands.
The Yorubas, who are close neighbors of the Nupe people, often refer to them as Tapa
12. Nigerian pidgin
After British English (BrE), the Nigerian Pidgin is arguably Nigeria’s second lingua franca. It is, besides English, the only language common among the Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, and every other tribe in Nigeria.
Putting the right statistics together, it wouldn’t be wrong to say the Nigerian pidgin is in fact the most popular language after English.
Pidgin English is also a native language to a certain 5 million people living in the Niger Delta region.
The Nigerian pidgin English is only a bonus inclusion.