Herbert Macaulay (1864-1945) was a Nigerian political leader. One of the first leaders of the Nigerian opposition to British colonial rule, he was also a civil engineer, journalist, and accomplished musician.
Born in Lagos, Herbert Macaulay was the son of the Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay, prominent Lagos missionary and educator, and the maternal grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, first African bishop of the Niger Territory. Receiving his early education in the mission schools of Lagos, Macaulay in 1881 became a clerk in the Public Works Department in Lagos. He was recognized as a promising civil servant and in 1890 was awarded a government scholarship to study civil engineering in England, where he spent 3 years. Upon his return to Lagos he was appointed surveyor of crown lands for the colony of Lagos, a position he held until 1898, when he resigned the post.
Macaulay’s resignation seems to have been precipitated by his growing resentment for the racial discrimination practiced by Europeans in the civil service. He established himself as a private surveyor in Lagos and slowly over the ensuing years emerged as a spokesman for opposition to British rule in Lagos and all Nigeria. Macaulay addressed himself to numerous issues, usually in articles he contributed to the Lagos Daily Times. He was known as the “Wizard of Kirsten Hall”, because of his ability to obtain classified information, which he used to devastating effect. His network of informers would be the envy of a modern intelligence service. He opposed every attempt by the British authorities to expand their administration, interpreting these developments as detrimental to the interests of indigenous Nigerians, who inevitably would be forced to pay the bills in taxes. He agitated against the payment of water rates in 1915 and, as a leader of the Lagos auxiliary of the Antislavery and Aborigines Protection Society, led the opposition against government plans to reform land tenure arrangements in Lagos and Yoruba land. Through his anti-government activities Macaulay rose to pre-eminence in Lagos politics. Macaulay then engaged in politics in order to fight for the rights of Nigerians. In 1912 he led a delegation to protest against the government’s decision to place lands in the Northern Provinces of Nigeria “under the control of the Governor who shall hold and administer them for the use and common benefit of the natives” and to do likewise in the Southern Provinces. He was subsequently jailed for this. He was also a key character in the celebrated Oluwa land case. Macaulay also founded the Lagos Daily News as a means of enlightening the people. In 1922 he founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Nigeria’s first political party. In 1921 he was sent to London by the eleko, or king, of Lagos to represent him in the legal appeal of a local land tenure case. In London, Macaulay proclaimed that the British colonial government was eroding the power and authority of the eleko, who, he said, was recognized by all Nigerians as the rightful king of Lagos. This episode embarrassed the British, although it did not deter their activities, and established Macaulay as a leading advocate of the rights of traditional leadership in Lagos.
In 1922 a new Nigerian constitution was introduced providing for limited franchise elections in Lagos and Calabar. In order to contest the three elective seats in Lagos, Macaulay organized the Nigerian National Democratic party (NNDP). The platform of the NNDP sought self-government for Lagos, the introduction of institutions of higher education into Nigeria, compulsory primary school education, the Africanization of the civil service, and non discrimination in the development of private economic enterprise.
Macaulay’s political activities were limited to Lagos affairs until the very end of his life, when the quest for independence began to pervade all Nigeria. He presided in 1944 at the meeting of the Nigerian Union of Students, from which ultimately emerged the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Nigeria’s first national political party. Macaulay was elected president of the NCNC and was engaged in a national tour for the party in 1945, when he was taken ill. Returning to Lagos, he died in the same year.