Samuel Paul Ogonna

Department of History, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan



Malang Fanneh

History Unit, School of Arts and Sciences, University of The Gambia



This paper interrogates the place of Onitsha and its Main Market in the Igbo Society. It argues that although Onitsha existed and had the market functional as one of the traditional Igbo market days before the coming of the Europeans, however, the growth and development of the town as one of the major metropolitan cities in Igbo land, and hosting the largest market in West Africa owes its rise to the arrival[A1]   Europeans and the penetration of foreign capital accessioned[A2]  by the activities of the European trading companies. This paper states the fact that Onitsha was just like any town in Igbo land and[A3]   is what it is today, courtesy of the arrival of the British and their activities in the region. It is argued that European presence and activities led to a shift and transformed the economic activities of the Onitsha region people, leading to a massive rural-urban migration from the hinterlands of Igbo land to Onitsha city. This work employs both primary and secondary sources to interrogate the growth and development of Onitsha, its Main Market and trade in the city. The paper argues that twin factors (its location and the European activities) were responsible for the growth and development of Onitsha into a metropolitan city and consequently leading to its urban status[A4] [Ma5]  .

Keywords: Onitsha, Onitsha Main Market, Trade, Otu Nkwo Odu, Migration.  


More often than not, any discourse on Onitsha often first brings to mind the existence of Onitsha Main Market in Onitsha city. This makes the assertion that, ‘the city of Onitsha has its prominence in Igbo land as a result of its strategic location and the existence of the Onitsha Main Market’ both of which are of great economic benefit not just to the city or to the host state but to the general Igbo society and beyond. This discourse shall begin with the subject of the origin and development of trade in Igbo land which will help establish the fact that trade has always been one of the legs upon which the economy of the Igbo stood and so was not a European development. It shall then look at the origin and migration of Onitsha people, the rise of the city as an economic hub, origin of the Onitsha Main Market, the transformation of the Onitsha Main Market into a daily market and finally its construction.

The economy of Igbo society stands on three legs; agriculture, trade and manufacture. Each of them affected the survival of the Igbo and determined their character and their culture, even religion and cosmology. But they received an unequal attention and developed at different stages and levels[1]. Native trade[A6]  in the pre-colonial Igbo society was dominated by the women and they to a large extent controlled the market, although men may assist occasionally to prepare the articles of trade[2]. These women had their own farms; however, they bought agricultural produce from farmers and articles from artisan which they resold on a part-time basis after they had completed their activities on their farms[A7] .

Agriculture was the foundation of the traditional Igbo society, and hence the most important economic activity engaged in by the people with regards to the number of people in it and the honour attached to it. Hence, V.C. Uchendu states that reminding an Igbo man that he only feeds when the market holds was humiliating. The implication was not that trade was not respected, however, it does imply that agriculture enjoyed a prime position in the Igbo economic system thus he described it as Igbo staff of life[3]. As a result of this, every Igbo man and woman was a farmer. The place of agriculture thus contributed to the raising of large families that could help raise hands for the farm labour.

[1] Afigbo, A.E. 1981. Ropes of Sand. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Basden, G.T. 1921. Among the Ibos of Nigeria. J.B. Lippincot

[3] Uchendu, V.C. 1965. The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. Boston: Holt Reinhart and Winston

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