Herbert Macaulay (1864 – 1945)

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Sir Herbert Macaulay | Biography, History, Facts, Politics and Death

Herbert Samuel Heelas Macaulay was born in Lagos on 14th November, 1864. He was the seventh child of Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay and Abigail Macaulay (daughter of Bishop Ajayi Crowther). He attended St. Paul’s Anglican School, Breadfruit Street and C.M.S. Day School, Faji both in Lagos.

Herbert Macaulay was later admitted into the C.M.S. Grammar School, Lagos where his father was principal. He left the school in 1880 after his secondary education, which was then four years in Nigeria.

Herbert Macaulay
Herbert Macaulay

He was employed as a Clerical Assistant by the Public Works Department in Lagos in September 1881. After eight years of meritorious service in surveying in the Crown Lands Section of the department, he was granted a scholarship by the Governor of the Colony, Sir Alfred Moloney in July 1890 for a professional training in Land Surveying and Civil Engineering in England. He studied for three years at Plymouth University where he qualified as a civil engineer.

There was nothing in the life of Herbert Macaulay before, and, during his sojourn in England that he would ever be involved in nationalist agitation. He was born into a middle class family by parents who held allegiance to the British Crown. Before he went to England he had occasionally demonstrate his intense admiration for the Western culture and his profound loyalty to the British monarchy.

He was active in the arrangement for the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in June 1887. While in England, he moved in circles that were close to the English nobility. He even played violin in their orchestra. When Macaulay returned to Nigeria in 1893, he discovered that signiflcant changes had already taken place in the structure of the British Empire.

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By the end of thre 19th century, Great Britain had come to realize the value of imperial ssessions as sources of cheap raw materials and as markets for manufactured goods. Therefore, a new policy of a disciplined administration to facilitate commercial exploitation had come into operation.

In the spirit of this new policy, the colonized people must be subjugated. There could be no fraternization between the rulers and the ruled. As such, the British colonial officials had their own exclusive social clubs, lived in the Government Reserved Areas (GRA) at lkoyi and even worshipped exclusively in the colonial church where a white clergyman officiated as their priest.

It was into this changed atmosphere that Macaulay returned to in 1893. The first personal impact of the new policy was the relatively low initial salary of £120 per annum paid to him on joining the civil service. He had been made to expect an initial annual salary of £250 while he was a student in England. Herbert Macaulay accepted the offer but, after working in the government service for five years, he resigned his appointment in 1898 and set up private practice as a licensed surveyor and civil engineer.

Several reasons had been adduced for the sudden resignation of Macaulay from government service after only five years service (1893 to 1898). It was, nevertheless, a period during which many other highly qualified Nigerian’s had resigned from the service because of the discrimination in the conditions of service in the public service.

Herbert Macaulay’s disagreement with the land policy of the British colonial government immediately precipitated his entry in politics. The British colonial government had passed a law in 1908 which vested all lands in the Northern Provinces in the Governor. The attempt to pass the same law for the Southern Provinces was denounced in Lagos.

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As a result, Herbert Macaulay led a delegation to the Government House in Lagos to Protest the law, but the colonial officials rebuffed the delegation. As the delegation could not get a satisfactory response in Lagos, it proceeded to London to meet the Secretary of State for the Colonies. On the eve of the departure of the delegation to London in 1913, Macaulay was arrested, charged and sentenced to five years in prison.

Another great event in the life of Herbert Maculay was a celebrated land case, popularly known as the Chief Oluwa’s case. In order to provide land for European merchants in the Lagos Colony, the colonial government acquired a piece of land at Apapa which was the property of a Lagos family of which Chief Amodu Tijani Oluwa was the titular head.

The government, however, did not intend to pay Chief Oluwa or his family any compensation for the land, but merely proposed to make a token payment to the family for its eviction from the land.

Chief Oluwa went to court. He lost the case but appealed to the Privy Council in London in 1920. It was at this juncture that Herbert Macaulay entered into the picture and travelled to England with Chief Oluwa. The case was decided in favour of Chief Oluwa and this secured for Herbert Macualay a lasting place in the history of Nigeria.

The Eleko of Lagos (Oba of Lagos) who, supported the claim of Chief Oluwa, was implicated in the case and was deposed by the colonial government and banished to Oyo. Herbert Macaulay took up the gauntlet and organized the pro-Eleko educated elements in Lagos to fight for his reinstatement and this group later Metamorphosed into the first political party in Nigeria.

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The party was called the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). Macaulay was both the founder and the first General Secretary of the party. He led the party until his death twenty-three years later. Because of the agitation of Herbert Macaulay and the party, the Eleko was reinstated by the government on lst July, 1931.

This could be said to be Herbert Macaulay’s moment of glory. Comparatively, little happened in his life until the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944. Herbert Macaulay was elected the first president of the party and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe served as the General Secretary. He also co-founded the “Daily News”, a Lagos newspaper with Dr. Caulcrick.

Herbert Macaulay died on 7th May, 1946 in Lagos after falling ill during a campaign tour of the NCNC to the northern part of Nigeria. He was buried four days later – 11th May, 1946. His funeral processions to the Ikoyi cemetery was estimated at 100,000 people, a tribute never before paid to a Nigerian. Truly, Macaulay was the undisputed father of Nigerian nationalism.

As tribute to the heroic struggles of Herbert Macaulay, several national monuments were named after him including major streets in Lagos, Abuja and several Nigeria cities. The Herbert Macaulay Street on the Lagos mainland is one of the longest streets in Nigeria as it covers about six kilometres.


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