Ìwé Ìròhìn: Nigeria’s First Newspaper

Ìwé Ìròhìn fún àwọn ará Ẹgbá àti Yorùbá was a Yoruba and English language newspaper that ran for eight years from 1859 to 1867 for the Egba people of Abeokuta and the rest of Yorubaland. The newspaper is Nigeria’s first newspaper.

The paper is also considered the first indigenous language newspaper in West Africa and was under the direction of a Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) Missionary of the Anglican Church, Reverend Henry Townsend (1815-1866). James Ede, an Egbaman, who was trained by Henry Townsend, served as the chief printer of the newspaper.

Townsend’s main intention was to propagate the Anglican faith of Christianity and to also encourage the Egbas and other Yorubas to read and write.

The paper first hit the streets of Abeokuta on December 3, 1859 and was published every 15 days. A single edition had about 8 pages in total and was sold for 120 cowries. It published news of church activities, arrival and departure of religious dignitaries, ordinations and so on. It later broadened its contents by adding stories about Abeokuta, cotton and cocoa statistics, and from 1860, carried advertisements from local firms and government agencies. The newspaper was highly patronized by the few literates of that time living in Abeokuta and the entire Yoruba land.

Image of Reverend Henry Townsend (1815-1866)
Rev. Henry Townsend (1815-1866)/DACB.

The circulation of the paper was around 3,000 copies fortnightly as at that time. The newspaper was cautioned by the C.M.S authorities in 1863 for some of its contents that antagonized the colonial government, but this did not stop Townsend from running his newspaper. In January 1866, it appeared in two versions; one in English and the other in the Yoruba language. The English language version sold for one penny.

Due to the insufficient technical equipment during the period, the paper was printed with the crude technology available and had no pictures, with its pages divided into two columns.

Townsend’s main intention was to propagate the Anglican faith of Christianity and to also encourage the Egbas and other Yorubas to read and write. The paper embraced the anti-slavery movement of the time and also made the proprietor, Henry Townsend, who with Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c.1809-1891) translated the Bible and hymns to Yoruba language, an influential man in Abeokuta.

However, the newspaper was also involved in some political matters of the time, especially those emanating from the view points of the Egbas and it became a major repository of major views on different political events affecting the residents of Abeokuta during the period.

An uprising in Abeokuta in 1867 due to political and cultural differences between the colonialists and the Egba indigenes led to the expulsion of all Europeans from Abeokuta, at that time, and the destruction of the newspaper’s printing equipment which grounded its production as Egba rioters razed the premises, just eight years after its establishment.

The paper first hit the streets of Abeokuta on December 3, 1859 and was published every 15 days. A single edition had about 8 pages in total and was sold for 120 cowries.

This unfortunate event brought an end to Ìwé Ìròhìn, the first newspaper in Nigeria. But before its total decline, it had already fulfilled its mission to develop the reading habit in the Abeokuta people therefore leaving them to yearn for news after its demise.

Image of Iwe Irohin
Modern Iwe Irohin, December 2012/Premium Times.

Nevertheless, other newspaper industries sprung up, all in Lagos but were published by non-Nigerians; Robert Campbell’s Anglo-African in 1863, Lagos Times (1880), Gold Coast Advertiser (1880), Lagos Observer (1882), Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó (1888), Lagos Weekly Times (1890), Lagos Weekly Record (1894), Lagos Echo (1894), Lagos Reporter (1898), Nigerian Chronicle (1908) and Nigerian Times (1910).

However, Sir Kitoye Ajasa (1866-1937) became the first Nigerian to publish a newspaper, National Pioneer, in 1914 until its demise in 1936.

Interestingly, on Friday, December 21, 2012, Ìwé Ìròhìn was resuscitated in Abeokuta, the Ogun State Capital, after 145 years of its demise by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Ogun State Council. This time, in six columns and eight pages, of the 32-page tabloid, in full-processed colours (source).

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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