The Gap

South-East: History, states, population, injustice and importance to Nigeria

South-East: History, states, population, injustice and importance to Nigeria

The South-East is the home of the Igbo people. Wherever they travel or settle in, whether Kanfanchan, Canada, Dubai, USA, UK, China, Malaysia or as far as Australia, Igbo people always find their way home to the South-East. The region has been in the news for the wrong reasons for a while. IPOB agitations, unknown gunmen, kidnapping, and killing of security operatives, among others, have been in the headlines in this region which was once regarded as one of the most peaceful regions in Nigeria.

The South East is also known to be a highly competitive zone. Igbo people are known for being industrious. This is why one who has lived outside the region will find it somewhat difficult to settle in the South East due to the people’s competitive nature.

What is the South-East zone?

The South-East zone is one of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. According to Wikipedia, the zone is bounded by the River Niger on the west, the riverine Niger Delta on the south, the flat North Central to the north, and the Cross River on the east. It was one of the initial 12 states created before the Nigerian Civil War. After the war, the zone was broken into the present Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River States. Igbo is the indigenous language of the people.

History of South-East Nigeria?

South-East Nigeria came from Eastern Nigeria

As previously stated, the South-East comprises Igbo people. It’s difficult to trace the origin of the people. However, a school of thought has linked the Igbo people’s origin to Israel’s Jewish state. Another school of thought believes the creation myth about Igbo people originating from Nri in the territory of the Umueri clan. The Nri and Aguleri people trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri who has been described as a “sky being” sent by Chukwu (God).

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During colonial rule, the governor of Fernando Po, John Beecroft, became the British consul agent for the Bights of Benin and Biafra in 1849. He was appointed to regulate ports of old and New Calabar and those at Benin, Bonny, Bimba, and the Cameroons between the residents and British merchant firms. The move was successful, and by 1914, British colonial rule had established most of the administrative divisions in the Southern Nigeria Protectorate.

In 1954, the zone became known as the Eastern region. Calabar became the first capital, but it was later moved to Enugu and then, Umuahia. The Eastern region was divided into three new states – the East-Central State, Rivers State, and South-Eastern State. They had the third, fourth and fifth largest indigenous ethnic groups in Nigeria, including Igbo, Efik-Ibibio, and Ijaw. Before the civil war, Southeastern State ( made up of colonial Calabar division and colonial Ogoja division) and Rivers State were created. These two states became states for the minorities of the old eastern region, while the majority Igbo of the old eastern region had East Central state.

Despite the division, the entire region suffered heavily from the 1967–1970 Nigerian Civil War after the region declared an independent state of Biafra. After the war, there was widespread poverty as many Biafrans, particularly Igbos, lost their property, businesses, jobs, and education. As a means of intervention, the Nigerian government introduced a policy where 20 pounds were given to each Biafran to start life afresh.

In 1995, former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, suggested the idea of a six-zone structure for Nigeria at the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja. He presented a paper to the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution, where he proposed a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones. Thus, the South-East was born alongside North-Central, also known as the Middle Belt, North-East, North-West, South-West, and the South-South, popularly known as the Niger Delta.

Today, the South-East is the home of Igbo people, also known as Biafrans. Igbos still feel marginalized despite the war ending over 50 years ago. There have been massive protests throughout the region led by non-violent groups Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and now Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

IPOB has led many protests in the region, including the Monday sit-at-home. There have been clashes between protesters and the Police, with several killed in the process. Also, unknown gunmen are terrorising the region, and many, mostly security operatives, have fallen victim. The leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, is currently in police custody and has been charged in court with various offences, including felony and terrorism.

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South-East Nigeria states

South-East Nigeria states

The South-East is comprised of five states:

  • Abia State
  • Anambra State
  • Ebonyi State
  • Enugu State
  • Imo State

South-East Nigeria population

The South-East is the smallest geopolitical zone. But it is a densely populated region of about 22 million people, around 10% of the country’s total population. Aba and Enugu are the most populous cities in the South-East, and they are also the tenth and fourteenth most populous cities in Nigeria.  Onitsha, Umuahia, Owerri, Nnewi, Awka, and Abakaliki are other cities in the South-East.

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Injustice against the South-East

Biafra agitators from the south-east

The perceived injustice against the South-East is the reason for the persistent insecurity in the region. According to the Special Counsel to Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB, Aloy Ejimakor, “The inherent dangers of an imbalanced security leadership and formations” in the country in which “South-East officers and ranks are significantly redlined from all critical security formations, particularly the ones based in the South-East” is an injustice to the region.

Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the South-East has produced only one President, albeit a ceremonial one, Nnamdi Azikiwe. Since the civil war, the South East has consistently been sidelined from the leadership table. As a result, there is no sense of belonging. This is why secessionist groups, led by the IPOB, have thrived in the region and beyond.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, concerned individuals and groups have called for the presidency to be zoned to the South-East in the name of fairness and equity. So far, the calls have been largely ignored. Only one candidate, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, seems to have a better chance than other presidential hopefuls from the South-East extraction to grab the seat at the Aso Rock.

Why is the South-East important?

  • The South-East may be the smallest geopolitical zone in Nigeria, but it contributes greatly to the Nigerian economy due to oil and natural gas reserves.
  • The region has a population of about 22 million people, which is about 10% of the country’s total population.
  • The South-East also has some commercially viable cities in the country, like Onitsha (the heart of commerce in the region), Aba, Nnewi, Enugu, Umahia, Abakaliki, etc.
  • The people of the South East are highly industrious and contribute to the growing economy in the country.
  • The zone is also known for manufacturing goods and services such as textiles, auto parts, cars, agricultural products, etc.


As the 2023 general elections approach, tensions in the South East have somewhat died down. This is because the region is behind one presidential candidate, Obi. Nigerians are watching. The people of the South-East are also watching. There are fears that the 2023 elections will determine the continued existence of Nigeria.

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of
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