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South-West Nigeria: History, states, population, cities, religion and importance

South-West Nigeria: History, states, population, cities, religion and importance

South-West Nigeria is a mostly Yoruba-speaking region in Nigeria. However, there are different language dialects, even in the same state. The region hosts one of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups and comprises six states.

According to a description on Wikipedia, the South-West stretches along the Atlantic seaboard from the international border with the Benin Republic in the west to the South-South in the east with the North-Central to the north. The region also boasts of rich historical civilisation some of which persists till today. For instance, the ancient cultures of the powerful Oyo and Ife empires have not faded despite Western influence in Nigeria.

Another point for the region is that it hosts some of the biggest commercial cities in Nigeria and Africa. Lagos, Ibadan, and Ogun have entered the annals of history as the bedrock of commercial activities in the country, on the continent, and globally.

History of South-West Nigeria

History of South-West Nigeria

To talk about the history of the South-West, one has to trace the origin of the Yoruba people. The Yoruba trace their origin to their ancient father, Oduduwa, who migrated from the ancient city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. According to the myth, Oduduwa’s father, Lamurudu, and most of their Arabian relatives were Muslims, but Oduduwa was an idol worshipper. So his family revolted against him, and he fled to Ile-Ife, where he settled and had children. As the sons and daughters grew, the Yoruba race expanded and formed peoples and languages, which include egbados, ketu, ijebu, ijesa, ondo, ikale, ilaje, etc.

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These people became kings in all these towns and spread through the surface of the present Yoruba land. For instance, the old Oyo empire and Ife Kingdom were very strong and mighty in those days. These kingdoms boasted of conquest and some of Africa’s cultural heritage and civilisation.

Due to the region’s strategic location, the Yorubas were among the first ethnic groups to come in contact with Europeans. It all started with trading with the Portuguese, who supplied them with guns. Unfortunately, they could not defend themselves from the invasion of Fulani, who pushed much of the Yoruba to the south and introduced Islam to the region.

In the late 1800s, the Yorubas formed a treaty with the Fulani, and in 1901 they were colonised by the British. In 1914, the region was merged with other regions to form Nigeria. After independence, Nigeria was divided into four regions – The northern region, the Western region, the Eastern region, and the Mid-West region. The Yorubas occupied the Western region, and Lagos, which was formed on May 27, 1967, was the capital. Obafemi Awolowo became the first premier of the region.

After Lagos was named the capital, the other remaining part of the region was renamed Western states. In 1976, the western state was divided into three states: Ogun, Oyo, and Ondo. Nigeria’s Head of State, General Badamosi Babangida, carved out a section of Oyo and named it Osun State on August 27, 1991. In 1996, General Sani Abacha created Ekiti State, formerly part of Ondo.

In 1995, the 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. And that was how the South-West was born. Although the region has recorded some of the deadliest political unrest in Nigeria’s history, one cannot deny that it is also one of the country’s strongest economic and political strongholds. The Yorubas are politically oriented and involved and are not afraid to demand and get their share in the country’s leadership table.

South-West Nigeria states

a map showing South-West Nigeria states

The South-West comprises six states, and they are:

  • Ekiti State
  • Lagos State
  • Ogun State
  • Ondo State
  • Osun State
  • Oyo State

South-West Nigeria population

There are an estimated 32.5 million people living in South-West Nigeria, according to data from AOAV. Lagos State remains the most densely populated area in the region with 15.4 million people despite being the smallest state. This is because the state has the biggest commercial city in the country, which has attracted people from all over the world.

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Why is South-West Nigeria important?

  • The South-West is one of the most culturally vibrant regions in the country, which has contributed to tourism in Nigeria. The Osun festivals remain one of the most popular festivals that attract tourists worldwide, thus contributing to Nigeria’s economy.
  • The South-West also has crude oil, especially in Ondo State, which has contributed to the country’s exports.
  • Lagos State is the most commercially vibrant city in Nigeria and Africa. Most companies and businesses are located in Lagos, making the state the richest in Nigeria, in terms of GDP.
  • Ogun and Ibadan are commercially vibrant cities in the country.
  • The South-West region has a large population, contributing to Nigeria’s numerical strength, thus improving international standing.
  • Apart from oil, the South-West also rich in other natural resources like agricultural products, gold, coal, timber etc.

South-West Nigeria economy

Lagos city

As previously stated, the South-West boasts some of the most commercially vibrant cities in Nigeria, Africa, and the world. Lagos, Ibadan, and Ogun have the best commercial cities where local and foreign investors have established their businesses, which have greatly contributed to Nigeria’s economy. Imports, exports, manufacturing, and distribution are part of the greatest drivers of the economy in the South-West region.

Agriculture remains part of the South-West region, though they’re mostly done in the rural areas. Cocoa, yam, cassava, etc., remain the biggest crops to come from the region.

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South-West Nigeria religion

The South-West region seems to be the only region in Nigeria that has blended well with the three major religions in the country – Christianity, Islam, and Traditional religion. A KEO survey published by the Edinburgh University Press shows that Christians in the region have the highest population at 66.7%, Muslims at 31.7%, and traditional worshippers are 1.3%.

Despite the disparity in population, people of the South-West region are not generally known for religious fanatism. It’s not surprising to see many Christians marrying Muslims and vice versa. For instance, APC presidential flagbearer for the 2023 elections, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is married to Remi Tinubu, a Christian pastor. The Adelekes of Osun State are a perfect blend of Christians and Muslims.

Even traditional religion is vibrant in the region, especially in Osun State, where Ifa worship is mostly practiced.

Cities in South-West Nigeria

  • Lagos
  • Ibadan
  • Abeokuta
  • Ogbomoso
  • Akure
  • Osogbo
  • Sango Otta
  • Ado-Ekiti
  • Ondo Town

Largest State in South-West Nigeria

Oyo State is the largest state in South-West Nigeria, with a landmass of 27,848km. Ibadan, the state capital, is the second largest city in Nigeria.


South-West Nigeria is a powerful region in Nigeria in terms of economy and politics. The region also came across Western education first, which boasts of some of the most educated people in the country. Also, the South-West retains its rich cultural heritage, though they’re not as vibrant as before colonialism. The people are peaceful and generally accommodating, which makes the region one of the best places to live in 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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