Nigeria’s 36 states and how they got their names


Every Nigerian can never forget the time in school when they are mandated to learn the states and their capitals offhand.

This is usually started by the social studies (now Civic Education) teachers, after which the Geography teachers would take over.

Even though most can recite 38 states and capital offhand, many do not know how these states got their names.

SPY NIGERIA has compiled a brief history of the names of each of Nigeria’s thirty-six states.

1. Abia

Abia state was formed on 27 August 1991 during the government of General Ibrahim Babangida.

The name is an acronym for the state’s four main groups of people at the time it was formed. They are: Aba Bende Isuikwuato Afikpo.

2. Adamawa

Adamawa state was formed on 27 August 1991 during the General Ibrahim Badamsi Babangida military regime.

The state was carved out of the old Gongola state. The former Gongola state was broken up into Adamawa and Taraba states.

Adamawa was named after a warrior, Modibbo Adama Bin Ardo Hassan, who conquered the region in the beginning of the 19th century.

3. Akwa-Ibom

Akwa Ibom state was formed on 23 September 1987 during the military administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

The creation of the State brought to fruition years of prolonged struggle by the people that occupied the mainland part of the former Cross River State.

Akwa Ibom is named after the Qua Iboe (or Kwa Iboe) River.

4. Anambra

Anambra was created on 27 August 1991.

However, old Anambra State was created in 1976 from part of East Central State, and its capital was Enugu. In 1991 a re-organisation divided Anambra into two states, Anambra and Enugu.

Anambra got its name from the Omambala River, a river that runs through the state. Anambra is the Anglicized name of the Omambala.

5. Bauchi

Bauchi state was formed in 1976 when the former North-Eastern State was broken up. It originally included the area that is now Gombe State, which became a distinct state in 1996.

‘Bauchi’ is a Hausa word meaning the southern flanks of Hausaland.

Tribes living in the southern parts of the Hausaland were referred to as “kasashen bauchi” and the area they lived in later came to be known simply as Bauchi.

Bauchi has 20 Local Government Areas.

6. Bayelsa

Bayelsa state was created on 1 October 1996 by the Sani Abacha’s military government

It was carved out of Rivers state.

Bayelsa is a combination of the acronyms of three local government areas which were pulled out of old Rivers state — Brass LGA known as BALGA, Yenegoa LGA known as YELGA and Sagbama LGA known as SALGA; in the formation of their names is BA + YEL + SA.

7. Benue

The state was named after the “europeanised” corruption of ‘Binuwe’, the Batta word for ‘Mother of Waters’.

8. Borno

The alternative name of the Kanuris, the predominant ethnic group in the state, is ‘Borno’ which gave inspiration for the naming of the state.

9. Cross River

The state took its name from a River called Oyono or Cross River.

10. Delta

The state is where the River Niger forms a delta as it enters the Atlantic Ocean.

11. Ebonyi

Ebonyi is the anglicised version of ‘Aboine’, a river that cuts through Abakaliki, the state capital.

12. Edo

The Bini people who dwell in the area had always referred to themselves as Edo or Iduu. This inspired the name of the state.

13. Ekiti

‘Okiti’ is a term that is said to denote a settlement of many hills. It later became ‘Ekiti’.

14. Enugu

Due to the many hills and rocky terrain in the area, the people named it in igbo, “Enu Ugwu” meaning “top of the hill”. The state is named after the anglicised version, Enugu.

15. Gombe

Gombe is the dialect of Fulani language (Fulfulde) spoken in the area.

16. Imo

Just like many of the Nigerian states, Imo took its name from the popular river, Imo Mmiri.

17. Jigawa

Jigawa takes inspiration from its distinctively golden-coloured soil.

18. Kaduna

‘Kadunas’ is the plural form of crocodile in Hausa. The state, therefore, got its name from the many crocodiles in the Kaduna River.

19. Kano

Kano was the name of a blacksmith from the Gaya tribe who settled in the area while sourcing ironstone. The state was named after him.

20. Katsina

The state was named after the wife of a popular local ruler known as Janzama. Her name was Katsina.

21. Kebbi

It is said that Kebbi was named after the Ka’abba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

22. Kogi

Since the popular confluence in Nigeria is located in the state, Kogi is said to have been derived from ‘kogin’, the Hausa word for river.

23. Kwara

River Niger used to be called River Kwara by the Nupes at the Northern border of the state. The state was named after this.

24. Lagos

In 1472, the first set of Europeans to set foot in Lagos were the Portuguese. Due to the many lagoons and rivers in the town, they named it Lagos, which is the Portuguese word for ‘lakes’.

25. Nasarawa

Nasarawa is a native word for ‘victorious’. The state was named by the founder of Nasarawa kingdom, Makama Dogo.

26. Niger

This was named after the River Niger.

27. Ogun

This state was named after the Ogun River.

28. Ondo

Ondo is a word used for settlers. The state was named after the settlers of the old Ondo Kingdom.

29. Osun

This state was named after the River Osun.

30. Oyo

The state was named after the Old Oyo empire.

31. Plateau

Plateau state was created on February 3, 1976. It was created from Benue-Plateau, covering the area of the original Plateau Province.

In 1996, Plateau State was further subdivided to create Nasarawa State which was carved out of the western half of Plateau State by Sani Abacha’s military regime.

The state is named after the Jos Plateau, a mountainous area in the north of the state with rock formations. Bare rocks are scattered across the grasslands, which cover the plateau.

32. Rivers

Rivers State was named after the many rivers that border its territory.

33. Sokoto

The state is named after its capital Sokoto, a city with a long history and the seat of the Sokoto Caliphate.

34. Taraba

The State derives its name from Taraba River, one of the three major rivers in the area.

35. Yobe

It derived its name from River Yobe, and was created as a state on 27th August 1991.

36. Zamfara

Zamfara got its name from the Zamfara Kingdom which was established in the 11th century and flourished up to 16th century as a city-state.