Enugu, or Enugwu, which means hilltop in Igbo, is the name given to an area of the Udi Hills in southeastern Nigeria where coal was discovered by British colonialists early in the 21st century.  Also known as Coal City, part of the area was originally occupied by the Nike community, with evidence of their presence in the area going back to the 15th century.

During the Atlantic Slave Trade, Nike traders acted as middlemen between Hausa slave traders from northern Nigeria and Arochukwu dealers to the south that delivered human cargo to European slave merchants waiting on the Atlantic coast.

With the abolition of the trade and the onset of colonial rule, the articles of trade turned to agricultural and mineral produce, with coal discovered in commercial quantities around Enugu in 1909.

The discovery prompted the establishment of mines and the building of a rail line from Port Harcourt on the coast to Enugu, completed in 1916, for the purpose of evacuating the coal to Europe-bound ships on the coast. Thus began Enugu’s rapid growth into a major urban centre. Ultimately, Enugu in 1938 became the administrative capital of the Eastern Region, one of three regional governance units (including the Northern and the Western) that made up Nigeria under British colonial rule.

Abakaliki Road, Enugu

The population of the city then began to swell as migrant workers poured into the area in search of work. In this city one of the initial sparks that later crystallized into the nationalist, independence movement was also started. This was in 1949 when the colonial government violently broke up a strike by coal miners, shooting dead 21 miners and wounding 51. This helped to fire up the enthusiasm of nationalist campaigners such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, whose West African Pilot newspaper group helped sustain the issue as a talking point that helped galvanize opposition to British colonial rule.

With the start of regional self-rule in 1954 under the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Enugu remained the capital, then became a municipal area two years later when Umaru Altine, a Hausa-speaking northerner, was elected its first mayor. This situation of Enugu as a regional capital didn’t change with independence in 1960.

However, civil war broke out seven years later when the intractable political crisis that had dogged the country from birth resulted in the January 1966 military coup that triggered the mass killing of Igbos and other southerners living in the north. Enugu became the capital of the breakaway Republic of Biafra.

With the end of the civil war in 1970, Enugu reverted to being the capital of the East Central State created by the federal government during the war as the former regions were broken into 12 states. The area for which the city served as capital continued to diminish in the subsequent years as Imo State was created out of East Central State in 1976, and later Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu states were further created. The city is currently the capital of only Enugu State but is still considered by many as the Igbo capital.


Topography and Climate

While it’s name might suggest it is a city on a hill, the inhabited part of Enugu actually lies at the foot of a massive ridge overlooking the city in which the coal deposits were mined. The highest point around Milliken Hill is about 1,000 meters above sea level. In the low-lying areas of the city there are several rivers, including the Ekulu, Ogbete, Idaw, Asata, Aria and Nyaba rivers. Like most of Northern Igbo areas, the rainforest cover is mostly gone, replaced by wooded savannah.  Average temperatures are between 25 degrees celsius at the peak of the rainy season and 36 degrees celsius in the hot season. Enugu also gets its share of the harmattan winds that blow from the Sahara Desert from about December to Nigeria.



Economy and Government

Enugu’s coal mines became neglected and ultimately abandoned during successive government’s starting from the 1970s as crude oil became Nigeria’s pre-eminent  export. Today, hardly any coal is produced in Enugu, and the famed Onyeama, Okpara and Iva Valley mines are at best decrepit places where one could go to for glimpses of the past. And as it’s area of responsibility as a capital shrank over the years making it the city increasingly provincial, revenue generated by the city also declined and economic activity suffered consequently. Despite this turn of affairs, Enugu has continued to benefit from its symbolic role as the political capital of the southeast. It remains the residence of choice for many prominent people from the southeast.

Games Store at Polo Mall, Enugu.

Demography and Culture

Projections from Nigeria’s last census in 2006, when Enugu was reported with 722, 664 people, will have the city’s population in the range of 1.2-1.3 million. Though in the Udi-Nkanu sphere of Igbo culture, Enugu has never lost its place as a centre of an elite cosmopolitan Igbo culture, that could be contrasted with the brashness of the gritty  trader type that dominates say the city of Onitsha. Enugu, to many, remains the city of civil servants.  Many prominent Igbos choose to maintain homes in the, reassures by its sedateness, the presence of an international airport and easy access to other parts of the southeast. Enugu is the birthplace of many famous Nigerians such as the footballer Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, the writer Chimamanda Adichie and the home of the iconic Rangers International Football Club.

Enugu is famous for its masquerades, a reflection of the vibrant Nkanu and Udo masquerade culture, which has transformed into the annual Mmanwu Festival that showcases this important aspect of traditional theater. It hosts important tourist sites, which apart from the coal mines, include the Old Eastern House of Assembly, the National Archives and the Museum.


Like most Igbo communities, key festive activities revolve around traditional festivals such as the New Yam celebrations and those related to the masquerade culture, or Mmanwu  (also called mmonwu). But in Enugu, these have a distinct northern Igbo flavour of the sort more likely to be found around the Awgu, Nkanu, Nike, Udi and Ukehe axis, backed with the expert play of metal gongs. There is now an annual Mmanwu Festival held every August at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, where the full variety of masquerade displays are put on show.

Places to visit

Places of interest for visitors to Enugu include historical sites, sites of natural phenomena and places for recreation. They include the Enugu Hilltop from which the whole city sprawls forth in beautiful scenery, as well as the disused coal mines that surround the city. Another major attractions is the Polo Park on Abakaliki Road that was recently converted into a big shopping mall occupied by South African chain stores such as Shoprite and Game Stores (a subsidiary of the U.S. retail giant Walmart). Other places of interest are the Enugu Zoo, the golf course, the old Eastern Nigeria Parliamentary Building and the Government Lodge as well as the museum run by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Old settlements near disused coal mines in Enugu.


Enugu from its early days was a centre of mass media activity, from the times of the Eastern Nigeria Sentinel published by the West African Pilot newspaper group, to the establishment of a regional radio and television under Premier Michael Okpara, and subsequent creation of other state-owned media such as Renaissance and the Daily Star newspapers in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Media organisations currently operating in Enugu include a branch of the Nigerian Television Authority  (NTA) network, the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, the Enugu State Broadcasting Service, owned by the state government, which runs radio and television services. The city is also a favourite shooting location for the country movie industry, known as Nelly wood and reputed to produce the most films worldwide after India’s.  Enugu is also the home to Rangers International Football Club, one of the country’s most famous soccer teams, which plays it’s matches at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.


The major tertiary educational institutions in Enugu include the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus (which hosts the law and medical faculties), the Enugu State University and the Institute of Management and Technology, a polytechnic.