Onitsha is a city located on the eastern bank of the Niger River, in Nigeria's Anambra State. A metropolitan city, Onitsha is known for its river port and as an economic hub for commerce, industry, and education. It hosts the Onitsha Main Market, the largest market in Africa in terms of geographical size and volume of goods. The indigenous people of Onitsha are Igbo and speak the Igbo language. The Onitsha people are referred to as Ndi Onicha.
In 1900 Onitsha became part of a British protectorate. The British colonial government and Christian missionaries penetrated most of Igboland to set up their administration, schools and churches through the river port at Onitsha. More immigrants from the hinterland of Igboland were drawn to the emerging boom town as did the British traders who settled there in Onitsha, and coordinated the palm oil and cash crops trade.
In 1965, the Niger River Bridge was built across the Niger River to replace the ferry crossing. This has helped to grow trade routes with western Nigeria and created significant economic linkages between Onitsha and Benin City and Lagos particularly. The Nigerian-Biafran war brought devastation to Onitsha as the city was a major theatre of war for forces entering Biafra from the western front. The subsequent oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a huge influx of immigrants into the city. The result has been hastily constructed and haphazard building which has created a huge number of slums.
Onitsha traditionally consists of nine villages, otherwise known as Ebo Itenani. These are descendants of the progenitor Umuezechima comprising Isiokwe, Olosi, Umuezearoli, Okebunabo, Obikporo and Ogbeotu which claim origin from Igala in Kogi state, Awada (Ogbeozoma), Obamkpa comprising Umuasele, Iyiawu and Odoje Ndugbe and Odumegwu Gbuagu, Ubulu na Ikem, Ulutu, Ubene, Ogboli Eke, Obior and Ogbeotu. Within these groupings there are six administrative wards namely Okebunabo, Umuezearoli, Ogbeolu, Isiokwe na Ogboli Olosi, Obamkpa and Eke na Ubene. Onitsha operates a traditional government headed by the Obi, the titular head of the town who is assisted by Ndi Ichie, titled red cap elders or chiefs. When the ruling Obi joins his ancestors, the Onowu Iyasele, as the traditional prime minister takes charge until a new Obi is enthroned.
Once a year in October the kingdom of Onitsha holds the Ofala Festival which coincides with the traditional New Yam festival held in many parts of Igboland. It is a way for the people of Onitsha to keep their culture alive and it has become a major event that draws visitors from far and wide to the city.
Onitsha lies at a major east-west crossing point of the Niger River, and occupies the northernmost point of the river regularly navigable by large vessels. These factors have historically made Onitsha a major center for trade between the coastal regions and the north, as well as between eastern and western Nigeria. Onitsha possesses one of the very few road bridge crossings of the mile-wide Niger River and plans are in place to add a second bridge near it.
Onitsha has indeed played a creative role in the transformation to urban life in Eastern Nigeria famous as the setting for Onitsha Market Literature and as one of the hubs for the financing and distribution of Nollywood films.
However, infrastructure has not kept pace with urbanization and haphazard building practices without zoning regulations has left in its wake a chaotic and congested city life with lawlessness. The World Health Organization Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution database's 2016 update indicates that Onitsha is the most polluted city in the world. However, as Onitsha has been a symbol of urban blight, it is also becoming a poster child of modern-day urban renewal. Significant efforts have been made by the Government of Anambra State to clean up the city and improve security, including the transformation of the formerly lawless Upper Iweka business district and the expansion and fixing of the collapsed federal expressway through Onitsha.
Today, Onitsha has grown into a modern-day urban city in Anambra State with a population approaching a million. Significant efforts have been made by the Government of Anambra State to clean up the city and improve security, including the transformation of the formerly lawless Upper Iweka business district and the expansion and fixing of the collapsed federal expressway through Onitsha.
Today, Onitsha has grown into a modern-day urban city in Anambra State with a population approaching a million.
As the Nigerian economy has expanded, so too has Onitsha played a central role in the trade and distribution of manufactured goods from Lagos and food produce from various northern towns to buyers from all over Eastern Nigeria and across the West African region.
Consequently, Onitsha has grown to become one of Nigeria's most significant market towns and its Main Market, one of the largest markets in West Africa, a center point where billions of naira are transacted every day. Onitsha's role as a strategic gateway for trade and commerce continues to expand and deepen and the Anambra State government has made a conscious effort to encourage industrialization over the past few years through infrastructure renewal and directed investment.
In 2012 the state government, through a joint venture, attracted SAB Miller to invest in Onitsha Brewery, which started production in August. It was the first large scale investment in Onitsha since Premier breweries, makers of the Premier Beer, established production in Onitsha in the early part of the 1980s. In January it was announced that upgrades to the value of $110 million would triple the output of beer and malt drinks.
Other factories have sprung up in the popular Harbor Industrial Layout including Orange Drugs, a soap-making factory; Krisoral, a bottle cap manufacturing company; and PZ Cussons, Dozzy Group Of Company, Golden Oil, Hyma Foam, Olympic Packers, Pokobros, Grand Cereals, Life Breweries, Tiger Spices, Kates Associates.
The Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha with Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke as the Archbishop of Onitsha. The Church Of Nigeria Anglican Communion Anglican Church has All Saints' Cathedral, the Headquarters of the Diocese on the Niger with Rt. Revd. Owen Chidozie Nwokolo the Bishop on the Niger. The Anglicans were the first missionaries in Onitsha in 1857. Later came the Catholics in 1884. It is the residence of the traditional ruler of Onitsha, the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe CFR, mni (Agbogidi). Islam is practiced in the city by people from Northern and Western Nigeria.