Indianapolis Sister Cities: Onitsha, Nigeria









Onitsha, Nigeria is Indianapolis’ newest sister city and Indy’s first sister city from the African continent, established in 2017 under Mayor Joe Hogsett. The partnership will hopefully not only promote cultural exchange but also expand economic development between the two cities.

The city lies on the east bank of the Niger River and is one of the largest cities in Africa.



Indianapolis vs. Onitsha

Indianapolis Onitsha
Year Established 1821 About 1550
Population About 838,000 people About 261,604
Size 368 square miles 20 square miles
Number of Sister Cities 9 2


Brief History

Onitsha was founded in the 16th century by adventurers from the nearby Kingdom of Benin. It grew and became a political and trading center in the 17th century for the small Igbo kingdom of Onitsha. Its monarchical system, rare among the Igbo people, was patterned after the Benin Kingdom. In 1857, an Onitsha Obi, or king, negotiated with William Balfour Baikie, a British trader, for the establishment of a British trading post. It became an important trading port for the Royal Niger Company. In 1900, Onitsha became a British protected state.

In 1965, the Niger River Bridge was built to replace the ferry crossing across the Niger River. This helped grow trade routes with western Nigeria and created a direct linkage to Benin City and Lagos.


Onitsha consists traditionally of nine villages, knowns as Ebo Itenani. Their government is headed by the Obi and assisted by Ndi Ichie, similar to elders or chiefs.


The Ofala Festival is held every October and celebrates the Igbo tradition of the Obi’s rites and vows. The two-day event also includes a twenty-one-gun salute and the Obi dancing. The festival is a way for the people of Onitsha to keep their culture alive and it has become a major event that draws visitors from far and wide to the city.

The New Yam festival is an annual holiday celebrated in late June by almost all ethnic groups in Nigeria. It marks the changing of the season and has been honored since ancient times. It is considered bad luck to eat the newly harvested yam before the celebration. There is a sacrificial ritual, dancing, and a feast during this festival. The hope is for a good harvest in the next year.

Popular Food

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country with a plethora of unique spices. There are an abundance of foods to try, but here are three popular dishes.

Jollof rice is a staple in western African cuisine. Ingredients include rice, tomato, pepper, onion, and a variety of spices. Vegetable and meat are optional additions served usually for special occasions.

Pounded yam, one of the most popular dishes in Nigeria, is yam boiled and pounded into a smooth mash. It is often served with soup or with another dish. It is especially consumed during special occasions like the New Yam festival.

Zobo is a tangy and sweet drink made from a hibiscus plant native to parts of west Africa. Fruit, cloves, sparkling water or lemonade, and even chili can be added to it. It’s a refreshing drink for a hot day.

Onitsha Today

The Nigerian city currently has two sister cities, Indianapolis and Compton, CA, and will hopefully expand economic opportunity and attract business and trade.

Onitsha is the biggest river port city in Nigeria. It is often known as the “Crossroads of Nigeria”, similarly how Indiana is the “Crossroads of America”.

Onitsha is also the center for trade and manufacturing and is the largest center for wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria. Leaders there are interested in attracting businesses and exposing their cultural traditions to Indiana residents.


By Mikaylin Fulk, Marketing and Communications Intern