The Birth of Nigeria’s First Newspaper “Iwe Irohin”
BY ADEKE CHUKWUKA
A notable milestone in Nigeria’s history is the establishment of its first newspaper. This pivotal moment not only marked the introduction of the press to the nation but also signaled the beginning of a new era in communication and information dissemination. The birth of Nigeria’s first newspaper, “Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba”, which translates to “A Newspaper for the Egba and Yoruba People”, paved the way for the transformation of the sociopolitical landscape. The newspaper, which is regarded as the first indigenous newspaper in the whole of West Africa, had a lifespan of 8 years, running from 1859 to 1867.
Established in the year 1859, a time when Nigeria was still a conglomeration of diverse kingdoms and cultures, “Iwe Irohin” was aimed at educating and with a desire to bridge the gap between various communities. The visionary behind this groundbreaking venture, Reverend Henry Townsend, was an English missionary. He established the newspaper in Abeokuta, a prominent town in the now Ogun State.
“Iwe Irohin” was initially published in Yoruba, the language spoken by a significant portion of the southwestern Nigerian population. This linguistic choice was not just a convenience, but a conscious effort to engage and educate the local people in a language they understood best. The newspaper quickly became a platform for discussions on various topics, including religion, education, culture, and social issues. As in 1866, the newspaper was produced in two versions; the English language and the Yoruba language, of which the English was sold for a penny.
The newspaper was published biweekly with 8 pages for 129 cowries; about 3000 copies were being circulated every two weeks. Initially focused on church news, it expanded to cover topics like Abeokuta, cotton, and cocoa statistics. By 1860, local ads and government notices were included. Popular among the literate population in Abeokuta and Yoruba land, it served as a source for church activities, religious figures’ updates, and local information.
Rev. Townsend’s newspaper played a pivotal role in fostering literacy and enlightenment among the Yoruba people. It provided them with a window to the wider world, covering both local events and international news. The newspaper’s content ranged from religious teachings and moral lessons to news about the British Empire and the abolition of slavery. The diverse range of topics in this collection appeals to a wide audience and mirrors the cultural diversity of Nigerian society.
“Iwe Irohin” faced its share of challenges, including financial constraints and occasional clashes with colonial authorities, who were wary of its potential influence. However, the newspaper persisted, guided by its commitment to empowering the local population with knowledge. It also set a precedent for other newspapers that would follow in its footsteps, shaping the future of journalism in Nigeria.
In 1867, a revolt occurred in Abeokuta due to political and cultural differences between colonists and the Egba indigenes. This led to the expulsion of Europeans and the destruction of the printing equipment of Nigeria’s first newspaper, Iwe Irohin. The rioters razed the newspaper’s premises, ending its production just eight years after its establishment. Despite its unfortunate demise, Iwe Irohin had successfully cultivated a reading habit among the Abeokuta people, leaving them longing for news even after its closure.
The legacy of Nigeria’s first newspaper lives on in the country’s vibrant media landscape. Its establishment laid the foundation for the important role that newspapers would play in advocating for societal change, championing human rights, and fostering a sense of national identity. The vision of Rev. Henry Townsend, encapsulated in the pages of “Iwe Irohin,” continues to inspire generations of journalists and communicators in Nigeria.
As Nigeria continues to evolve on the global stage, it’s critical to remember and honor the pioneers who paved the way. The story of the first newspaper, “Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba,” serves as a testament to the power of information, communication, and the indomitable spirit of those who seek to ignite positive change.
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