Herbert Macaulay: The Father of Nigerian Nationalism

YOUTHS DIGEST – Born on this day in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1864, Herbert Macaulay helped to lay the foundation of modern Nigeria and he contributed majorly to the shaping of popular perceptions of a modern nation and its obligation to the public.

Macaulay belonged to a distinguished missionary family with roots in the abolition movement and Sierra Leone colony. He was one of the seven children of an Anglican Priest, Thomas Babington and his wife, Abigail Crowther Macaulay who were both children of liberated Africans in the mid-19th century. He was the maternal grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, first African bishop of the Niger Territory and the first registered student of West Africa’s oldest University, Fourah Bay College.

Herbert Macaulay’s father returned to Nigeria as a missionary and educator of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). At the time, CMS was actively involved in training and hiring of Africans especially liberated ones to help establish missions along the West African coast. Babington was the founder and first principal of the Church Missionary Society Grammar School in Lagos.

From childhood, Herbert Macaulay imbibed the importance of a good education, patriotism and Christian values. He completed his early schooling in his father’s school and started his tertiary education at Fourah Bat College, which the British established in 1827 to train talented English speaking West Africans to serve the colonial government in various administrative positions.

Upon the completion of his education at his father’s school, he joined the civil service in September 1881 as a clerical assistant but obtained a scholarship to study under G.D Bellamy of Plymouth, England in July 1890 where he trained to become a civil engineer (the first Nigerian in this profession) and a land surveyor and.

Upon the completion of his tertiary studies abroad, he returned to Nigeria where he was made the surveyor of Crown lands in Lagos. However, he soon became dissatisfied with this employment because, like many of his African colleagues, he hated the two-tier system that existed in the government service at the time. The two-tier system was one whereby British civil servants enjoyed better conditions and higher salaries than their African counterparts were. It was this dissatisfaction that led him to venture into private practice in 1898.
The same year of his leaving the civil service, he got romantically involved with Caroline Pratt, the daughter of an African Police Superintendent and they later married but she died the following year in August 1899 with the marriage producing no offspring. He went on to marry Maria Pase although there are several records that show he had other mistresses who had children for him.

Barred from elective public office, Macaulay made his mark in politics through journalism, political organisation and various advisory capacities. He groomed and maintained an interest in the history and concerns of black people throughout the world. This interest led him to often times publish news relating to the wider black world as well as activities and views of Nigerian students abroad most especially those who went to the United States. Many of his papers are housed at the University of Ibadan and they include correspondence with leaders of different international black organisations as well as some of their publications. Between 1910 and 1927, he was a frequent contributor to the Nigerian Chronicle.

In 1921, Macaulay passionately led protests in Lagos over water rates, land issues, and mishandling of the railway finances. In 1922, he helped a Lagos chief in his legal battle with the colonial government who had forcefully taken some of his lands for government purposes. The highest court in England heard the case and returned the land to the chief. This victory inspired Macaulay to establish in 1923 Nigeria’s first political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party whose members were the first to sit in the Legislative Council.

In 1927, he teamed up with his friend, Dr John Akilade Caulcrick to buy the Lagos Daily News, the first daily newspaper founded in 1925. He used the platform of the paper for his battles against the government and his African political opponents. His features and editorials were often critical of government policy especially relating to the liquor trade, the water-rate scheme, taxation in any form, racial segregation, attempts to deny indigenous customary land ownership and a free press pass. A publication on the rumoured plot to assassinate the exiled Eleko (Oba or King) of Lagos landed him in prison.

The Nigerian National Democratic Party dominated Nigerian politics throughout the 1920s until the late 1930s. However, in 1934, the NNDP lost its dominant position to newly organized student groups such as the Nigerian Youth Movement. In order to avoid the demise of the party, Macaulay’s NNDP joined forces with the Nigerian Youth Movement to form the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC. The NCNC led by Macauley was not a political party, it was a nationalist organization designed to advocate for an independent Nigeria. Herbert Macaulay did not live to see the attainment of Nigeria’s independence in 1960. He died in Lagos at the age of 81 on May 7, 1946.