Major Rivers in Nigeria: The Top 20

Nigeria is blessed with several natural flowing water courses. In this post, we take a look at the major rivers in the country.

major rivers in nigeria

Okpara River

This is a river in Benin. It originates from the Borgou Department and flows to the south and forms the border between Nigeria and Benin before re-entering Benin and flowing into the Oueme River which eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Ogun River

The Ogun River discharges into the Lagos Lagoon, the origin of the river can be traced to Oyo State near Shaki.

The river is crossed by the Ikere Gorge Dam in the Iseyin local government area of Oyo State. The river flows through the Old Oyo National Park and provides recreational facilities for tourists.

The chief tributary of the Ogun River is the Ofiki River which also originates from Shaki. Also, the Oyan River is another tributary of the Ogun River; it is crossed by the Oyan River Dam which supplies water to Abeokuta and Lagos.

Ogunpa River

The Ogunpa River is a third-order stream with a channel length of 21.5 kilometres and a drainage basin covering 73.3 square kilometres which drains the densely populated eastern part of Ibadan, Nigeria. The river is known for its 49 species of zooplankton.

It would be recalled that the flood of 1980 gave the river national and international notoriety. After about 10 hours of heavy rain, the city surrounding the river was virtually left in ruins. There were over 100 bodies were retrieved from the debris of collapsed houses and vehicles washed away by the deluge.

Osun River

The Oṣun River flows southwards through central Yorubaland in South West into the Lagos Lagoon and the Atlantic Gulf of Guinea.

The origin of the river is traced to the mythology where a popular goddess, Osun turned into a river after a traumatic event. She was one of the wives of Sango.

There’s usually an annual traditional worship in August at the Osun Shrine which is near the river at Osogbo. It is a popular pilgrimage and important tourist attraction.

According Yoruba mythology, Osun is one of the river goddesses in Yorubaland.

Erinle River

This is another popular river in Osun State called the Erinle River, it is the right tributary of the Osun River that enters from the north near Ede just below the Ede Dam.

Based on Yoruba tradition, Erinle was a great hunter who became a God. He was said to have conducted the first Olobu of Ilobu to the site of the town of Ilobu. Also, he protected the people of the town from Fulani invasions. He is also described as a herbalist or a farmer.

Otin River

The Otin River is another major river in Osun State in Nigeria. It is impounded by the Eko-Ende Dam. Based on Yoruba tradition, the Otin River was named after the goddess Otin who was said to have protected the town of Inisa from invasion by enemies which is why she’s worshipped.

Otin was from the town of Otan, but came to Inisa to fight against invasions by its neighbors. The river crosses the Odo Otin Local Government Area in the northeast of Osun state which gives the river its name.

Oba River

The Oba River is located both in Oyo and Osun state. It is the main tributary of the Osun River. The river is named after the goddess Oba, one of the wives of Sango, the Yoruba God of Thunder.

It is said that the river is heavily polluted. According to Yoruba mythology, one of the other wives of Sango tricked the Oba into cutting off her ear and adding it to Sango’s food, saying it would please him. When Sango discovered what Oba had done, he was infuriated which led to a frightened Oba turning into a river along with Osun.

According to the story, this explains why the meeting point of the rivers Osun and Oba is so rushing.

The river rises about 15 kilometres north of Ogbomosho in Oyo State and flows past Ogbomosho, where it is dammed. The Oba continues south from the dam until it joins the Oshun River just above the settlement of Odo Oba.

Niger River

The Niger River is known as the principal river of West Africa. It extends about 4,180 km. The source of the river is in the Guinea Highlands in South-Eastern Guinea. It runs in a crescent through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then through Nigeria, discharging through a massive delta, known as the Niger Delta or the Oil Rivers, into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Niger is said to be the third-longest river in Africa, exceeded only by the Nile and the Congo River (also known as the Zaïre River). The main tributary of River Niger is the Benue River.

Anambra River

The Anambra River was named by the white men as Anam Branch of the River Niger. This name later came to be shortened to Anam bra (Anambra) which it officially bears till date.

The Anam people are surrounded on all sides by the river. They call it “Ọnwụbala” although other neighbouring towns like Umuleri (umueri) and Aguleri refer to it locally as “Omambala”.

The Anambra River flows 210 kilometres (130 mi) into the Niger River and is found in Anambra, Nigeria. The river is the most important feeder of the River Niger below Lokoja. The flow of the Anambra river is released into the Atlantic through various outlets forming the 25,000-square-kilometre Niger Delta region.

Benue River

The Benue River was formerly known as the Chadda River or Tchadda.. It is the major tributary of the Niger River. The river is approximately 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) long and is almost entirely navigable during the summer months. As a result, it is an important transportation route in the regions through which it flows.

Kaduna River

The Kaduna River is a tributary of the Niger River which flows for 550 kilometres through Nigeria. The river is named after the crocodiles that lived in the river and surrounding area. Kaduna in Hausa language means crocodiles.

The origin of the river can be traced to Plateau State on the Jos Plateau which is southwest of Jos town. The river flows through Kaduna State and through its capital city Kaduna, and meets the Niger River in Niger State. Most of its course passes through open savanna woodland, but its lower section has cut several gorges above its entrance into the extensive Niger floodplains

Sokoto River

This river was formerly known as the Gublin Kebb. It is located in north-west Nigeria and it is a tributary of the River Niger. The river’s source is near Funtua in the south of Katsina State, some 275 kilometres in a straight line from Sokoto. It flows north-west passing Gusau in Zamfara State, where the Gusau Dam forms a reservoir that supplies the city with water. Further downstream the river enters Sokoto State where it passes by Sokoto and is joined by the Rima River, then turning south and flowing through Birnin Kebbi in Kebbi State. About 120 kilometres south of Birnin Kebbi, it reaches its confluence with the Niger River.

Other major rivers in the country include:

  • Imo River: The river is located in southeastern Nigeria and flows 240 kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Cross River: It is the main river in southeastern Nigeria and gives its name to Cross River State. The river originates in Cameroon, where it takes the name of the Manyu River.
  • Calabar River: It forms a confluence with the Calabar River.
  • Taraba River
  • Zamfara River
  • Imo River
  • Aba River

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