The Founding Fathers of Onitsha migrated from Benin between 1630 and 1680 and settled immediately after crossing the ‘Niger River’. Onitsha is often known as the ‘Waterside Town’ (Udo 1981). In 1857, when the Trade Expedition led by Macgregor Laird on the Niger arrived at Onitsha, the settlement had a small market similar to neighboring Igbo Market, held every four days.
In the company of the expedition was Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a free slave who led the Church Missionary Society Team. The Roman Catholic Mission came later. These two Christian Religious group were responsible for the early establishment of schools and college in Onitsha. The Central Primary School at Odoakpu in Onitsha was established in 1860.
Historically, Onitsha has exercised a great deal of Political, Economic an Social Influence over surrounding areas. Including the neighboring towns of Obosi, Nkpor, Oba, Ogidi, Nkwelle-Ezunaka and Umunya, this existed before the founding of Onitsha.
Onitsha expanded inland, which led to the development of new residential areas along major arterial roads, including Awka Road, Oguta Road, New Market Road, Old Market, Iweka Road, Modebe Avenue, Venn Road, Court Road, Park Road and Old & New Cemetary Roads. The planned new residential layouts also include the GRA, American Quarters, Fegge, Woliwo Odoakpu and Omagba. The indigenes mostly reside in Inland Town. (The Historical and traditional section of Onitsha).
The Central Business District of Onitsha is around the Main Market, which is one amongst many. The influx of Traders from all parts of the country and Cameroun, invariably contributed to the town’s physical and population growth.
The low price of commodities in Onitsha Market, the wide range of goods and the accessibility and low cost of transportation to and fro the town continues to draw people. Onitsha location on the Niger is advantageous. In addition, the bridge over the Niger makes the town the only gateway between South Eastern and South Western Nigeria.
The rapid growth in the size of the town and market coincided with the period of formal occupation of Southern Nigeria by the British when Onitsha Market became a daily market. Over the last 300 or 400 years, Onitsha became the commercial hub of Nigeria, the focal point of canoe traffic bringing yams, beans, rice, maize and imported merchandises from the upper Niger, the Benue Valley and the coast through Benin, Warri, and Sapele.
Onitsha has historically been a collecting and distributing centre rather that a production centre, and this explains its vast trading area, which includes places as distant as Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri and Jos.
Onitsha also grew to become a major industrial educational, religious and administrative centre. As an industrial centre it now houses the largest number of industries in Anambra State. As a major religious centre, it has the largest Cathedrals, for Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, East of the Niger. And as an administrative centre, Onitsha houses two local governments and has High Courts and other government institutions.
Onitsha growth and trading roots have resulted in cosmopolitanism with non indigenes, accounting for more than 70 percent of the total population.
Written by Nwafor Ililochukwu (Oboncho)
Photo Credits: Google images