In the 1840s, the missionaries of the Presbyterian Church began to arrive in Nigeria. They settled in an area known as English Town in Calabar. Among these missionaries was Reverend Henry Townsend who later moved to Abeokuta in the 1850s.
In Abeokuta, Reverend Townsend established a printing press in 1854 which he used, five years later, to publish the first newspaper in Nigeria called Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba.
The first edition of the newspaper came out on November 23, 1859. The newspaper was published fortnightly (every 15 days) and sold for 120 cowries (Ogofa owo eyo), the English edition cost a penny. Later on, the name of the newspaper was shortened to just Iwe Irohin.
James Ede, an Egba man trained by Henry Townsend served as the chief printer of the newspaper. Iwe Irohin was highly patronized by the few literates of that time living in Egba and other parts of Yoruba land. The circulation of the paper was around 3,000 copies. Its pages were usually divided into two columns and had no pictures.
Reverend Henry Townsend’s main purpose of setting up the newspaper was to make the new converts read and write. He said, “my objective is to get the people to read and to beget the habit of seeking information by reading.”
Iwe Irohin newspaper contents
Iwe Irohin newspaper 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’s affairs, cotton and cocoa statistics. Starting from 1860, the newspaper carried advertisements from local firms and government agencies.
The newspaper was cautioned by the C.M.S authorities in 1863 for some of its contents that antagonized the colonial government, but this didn’t stop Townsend from running the newspaper. Although Iwe Irohin maintained a good level of objectivity, it equally provided alternate opinion on policies such as the closing of Ogun River to trade with the aim of preserving warriors from the temptation of capitalism.
The demise of Iwe Irohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria
In January 1866, the newspaper appeared in two versions, one in English and the other in Yoruba. In 1867, Rev. Henry Townsend’s printing press in Abeokuta was razed by Egba people due to cultural and political clashes that occurred between the Egbas and the British which resulted in the expulsion of all Europeans in Egbaland.
This brought an end to Iwe Irohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria. But before it finally collapsed in 1867, the newspaper had already fulfilled its mission which was to develop a reading habit in the people, therefore, leaving them to yearn for news after its demise.
Iwe Irohin was followed by Anglo African which was edited by Robert Campbell, Lagos Times And Gold Coast Colony Advertiser by Richard Beale Blaize and many others.
On the 21st of December, 2012, Iwe Irohin was resuscitated in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State, after 140 years of its demise. The re-launch took place at the Press Centre, with dignitaries in attendance expressing their joy over the resuscitation.
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History And Development Of Mass Media In Nigeria – Ifedayo Daramola, PhD, 2013
Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo. (2016). Development of Newspaper in Nigeria – highlifextra.
Oduntan, Oluwatoyin. (2005). Iwe Irohin and the Representation of the Universal in Nineteenth-Century Egbaland. History in Africa. 32. 295-305. 10.1353/hia.2005.0018.
Times, P. (2012, December 21). First Nigerian newspaper, Iwe Irohin, resuscitated 140 years after it died. Premium Times Nigeria.