Okun people

Total population
804,945 (2011)
Regions with significant populations

Kogi State - 804,945

 · Ijumu : 137,790
 · Yagba West : 162,570
 · Yagba East : 171,530
 · Kabba/Bunu : 167,980
 · Lokoja (50%): 114,235
 · Mopa - Muro : 50,840
Christianity 85% Islam 15%

Okun Peoples is the term generally used to describe groups of Yoruba speaking communities, who are the Yoruba descendants of Kogi state, North central Nigeria. Their dialects are generally classified in the Northeast Yoruba language (NEY) grouping.[1] They are collectively called "Okun", the word commonly used in greeting among the people. Although this form of greeting is also shared with the Ekiti and Igbomina Yoruba groups. This identity, which was probably first suggested by Eva Kraft-Askari during a 1965 field expedition, has gained wide acceptance among the indigenous Yoruba people and scholars. The individual Okun subgroups share some historical and linguistic affinity but still maintain individual peculiarities.[2] Okun therefore refers to the distinct but culturally related Òwè, Ìyàgbà, Ìjùmú, Bùnú or Abunu (including Kiri) and Òwòrò peoples, which together are said to make up around 20% of the Kogi State population, according to the highly controversial 2006 National population census.


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The individual historical accounts that state that the Okun people migrated from Ile-Ife is very popular and highly acceptable among the people. In version of Yagba Oral tradition for instance, the man that led a group of people to their present location was sent from Ile-Ife to establish the settlement but did not return over a long period of time to give an account of his expenditure. When he eventually returned and explained that he lost larger part of his acquired land to some other migrants, he was blamed for the loss. He responded thus in yoruba, Ìyà àgbà ló jemí , the clause from which the name Iyagba or Yagba was coined.

Ade Obayemi however opined that the okun people are aboriginals in the Niger-Benue confluence and may not have migrated to their present location from Ile-Ife.[3] The turn of events that followed the Nupe military incursion of the 19th century left the Okun people as minorities in the Northern Region of Nigeria, separated from their kiths and kins in the southwest.[4]

Till date, not so much is known about the Okun people even among other Yoruba subgroups. Furthermore, some still hold the opinion that they are not Yoruba. This opinion however, cannot be correct since the Okun people speak obvious Yoruba dialects, can still trace their roots to Ile-Ife by oral traditions, and share similar cultural traits with the other Yoruba groups. These reasons and more have made historians like Ann O' Hear to call attention to the need for further research on the Okun people and their history.[3]

Geographical location and settlements

Okun land is located within longitude 5° 30' to 7°15' East and latitude 7°15' to 3°45'. The occupy the Niger-Benue confluence area along with the Southern Nupe, Kakanda, Ebira (Panda and Koto), Gbagyi and Igala. To the west of Okun land are the Igbomina and Ekiti Yoruba subgroups.[1]

Historically, Okun people lived in small social-political unit with unfixed political boundaries that allowed social, cultural and commercial interaction. Till date, villages of hundreds or a few thousands of people are scattered all over Okun land. Okun people are spread across six local government areas in Kogi State, namely: Kabba-Bunu, Yagba-West, Yagba-East, Mopa-Muro, Ìjùmú and Lokoja local government Areas. Settlements includes: Mopa, Ogidi, Aiyetoro, Okedayo, Odo Ere, Ife, Egbe, Iyamoye, Odoape, Ekinrin-Adde, Kabba, Isanlu, Obajana, Agbaja, Iyara, E.tc


Okun people speak varied Yoruba dialects namely Owé, Ìyàgbà, Ìjùmú, Bùnú and Ọwọrọ which are mutually intelligible to a great extent. A large numbers of them speak Yoruba. Okun dialects have been greatly influenced by languages like Igala, Nupe and Hausa, the most affected being Ọwọrọ. This influences are believed to be due to commercial and social interaction, shared boundary and the 19th century Nupe wars.[5]


The various Okun groups share similar dressing, cuisine, traditional religion, masquerading culture etc. The male practiced farming and hunting while the women took care of the home and raised the children. Crops cultivated includes coffee, cocoa, yams, cassava, maize, sorghum, groundnuts, beans, cotton etc. The Abunu women (and to a lesser extent, their Owe and Ọwọrọ neighbours) were known for the weaving and trade of Aso ipo, a red textile used in burial of the wealthy and making masquerade dresses. This textile was also an object of trade of the Abunu women to their Ebira neighbors and others.[6]

The Okun people practice Christianity, Islam and traditional African religions. Although, Okun people practice the worship of Orisa like Sango and Ogun and the consultation of Ifá (or Ihá) as the other larger Yoruba subgroups, prominence is given to the worship of ebora, believed to be spirits who live in forests, caves, mountains, stream or rivers.[1] Okun people share similar masquerading culture and these masquerades (egungun or egun) are said to represent ancentral spirits. Although there are masquerades such as the Epa masquerade that are similar to those found among other Yoruba groups, Ina-oko, Onigabon, Ouna and the likes of other masquerades that are ubiquitous in Okun land[7][8] are not found among the other Yoruba groups but rather found to be similar to those of some non-Okun inhabitants of the Niger-Benue confluence like the Bassa Nges.[3] While the egungun cult groups are almost exclusive for men, women also had their own group called ofosi ( ohosi in Oworo). Ofosi women spoke a language that was not intelligible locally and were believed to be able to call people home from whatever location by mystical means.

Until the advent of the Nupes in the 19th century, each of the Okun subgroups lacked any form of central government but were organised into small city states.[4][9] Each 'state' was governed by leadership rotated amongst the constituent lineages or clans. The central kingship system has led to the establishment of royal stools such as Obaro of Kabba, Olubunu of Bunu, Olujumu of Ijumu, Agbana of Isanlu, Olu of Ọwọrọ. The Obaro of Kabba, Oba Micheal Olobayo (Obaro Ero Il), is the chairman of the Okun traditional council.[10][11]

In the early 20th century the Olu of Ọwọrọ (and head of Ọwọrọ district) was given supervisory role over non-Okun districts of Kakanda, Kupa and Eggan while the Obaro of Kabba had supervisory role over the other Okun people.[3] Kabba which was used as the administrative and military base of the Nupe expedition, became the capital of the Kabba province of the Northern region and remains the largest and most important town of the Okun people. Despite the similarities pointed out above, there are yet identifiable differences in the culture of the various Okun subgroup. Some of these differences can be noticed in language, political arrangements, social institutions and the array of ebora (deities) worshipped.[1]

Political struggle

Before the creation of Kogi state on the 27th of August 1991, Okun Yoruba people were in Kwara state alongside some of their Ekiti and the Igbomina neighbours. The perceived continual marginalization of the Okun people in Kogi state has made them to call for the creation of a state and proposed that it is made part of the southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria, or alternatively, the excision of Okun dominated districts/communities from the present Kogi state and addition to a South Western state, with preference for Ekiti.[11][12]

Notable people


  1. 1 2 3 4 Bayo Ijagbemi (1996)"O-OKUN YORUBA IN YORUBA ART HISTORIOGRAPHY: HISTORY, PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS".PhD Thesis. The University of Arizona
  2. Otitoju, J. (2002) The Okun People of Nigeria. Lagos: WEPCOM Publishers Limited.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ann O’Hear (2006)"The History of Okun Yoruba: Research Direction", Yorùbá Identity and Power Politics , Editors: Toyin Falola, Ann Genova, Volume: 22, Publishers: Boydell & Brewer, University of Rochester Press (February 2006) Page 111-126
  4. 1 2 Ade Obayemi(1978)"THE SOKOTO JIHAD AND THE 'O-KUN' YORUBA: A REVIEW" Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria.Vol. 9, No. 2 , pp. 61-87.Published by: Historical Society of Nigeria.
  5. Arokoyo Bolanle, "A survey of Okun phonology"
  6. Elisha P. Renne(Jul,.1992 "Aso Ipo, Red Cloth from Bunu" African Arts.Vol. 25, No. 3, Special Issue: West African Textiles , pp.64-69+102.Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center.DOI: 10.2307/3337002.
  7. Olawole F.Famule( 2005) Art Spirituality: The Ijumu Northeastern-Yoruba Egungun. PhD Dissertation. University of Arizona
  8. , Orungbami T.S. "Oworo People of the Niger-Benue Confluence Area" JHL Nig.Ltd, Lokoja, Nigeria.
  9. Apata Z.O (1995)."ADMINISTRATIVE INTEGRATION AND CONFLICT IN NIGERIA, 1840-1940: THE CASE OF NORTH-EAST YORUBALAND", Transafrican Journal of History Vol. 24, pp. 106–122. Published by: Gideon Were Publications.
  10. NAN, "Council of Chiefs eulogises Obaro of Kabba on his 30th anniversary" "Thisdaylive", Nigeria, October 17, 2015, 4:04 PM, Retrieved 1 January 2016
  11. 1 2 Thisdaylive , " Okun Yoruba Opt to Join South-West" "Thisdaylive", Nigeria, 07 March 2014, Retrieved 14th Dec 2015
  12. Jide Ige.(1999) State Creation and the Minority Question in Nigeria. Issues in Contemporary Political Economy of Nigeria. Editor: Hassan A. Saliu. published by Sally and Associates, Ilorin, Nigeria. ISBN 978-34794-9-0

Further reading

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