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 Rev. Henry Townsend who later moved to Abeokuta in the 1850s. In Abeokuta, he 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. Later on, the newspaper was simply called Iwe Irohin. The newspaper was published fortnightly (every 15 days) and sold for 120 cowries (Ogofa owo eyo, equivalent to a penny). James Ede, who was 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 the entire Yoruba land. The circulation of the paper was around 3,000 as at that time. Rev. Henry Townsend’s main purpose of setting up the newspaper was to make the new converts read and write. He himself said: “my objective is to get the people to read and to beget the habit of seeking information by reading.”
Iwe Irohin 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 starting from 1960, 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 runing his newspaper.
In January, 1866, Iwe Irohin 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 occured between the Egbas and the British which resulted to the expulsion of all Europeans in Egbaland. This brought an end to Iwe Irohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria. But before it’s total decline, Iwe Irohin had already fulfilled its mission which was to develop reading habit in the people therefore leaving them to yearn for news after its demise.