Born in Lagos on the 4th of November 1864, the full name of Herbert Macaulay is Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay. His father who was the first principal of Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) Grammar School, Lagos was of Sierra Leonean origin. His mother, known as Abigail was the daughter of the first Anglican Bishop in Nigeria, Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Madam Abigail was a very good business woman and trader.
Herbert Macaulay attended C.M.S Grammar School where his father was the principal. On completion of his secondary education, he secured admission into the prestigious Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone. After his college education, he joined the colonial administration’s Department of Works in Lagos in 1882. He worked for about eight years before proceeding for higher education in England. He qualified as an engineer in 1893 and came back to Nigeria. He was appointed Surveyor of Crown Land by the colonial government. He worked for only five years in this position before resigning because of racial discrimination by the colonial government. In fact, Herbert Macaulay had not been happy with the situation in Lagos right from his childhood: the pattern of life was segregatory, the Europeans lived in a settlement far apart from other people and as a staff of the colonial administration, he realized that there was no equal treatment for all staff of the colonial administration: the European staff were better treated than others. He abhorred the entire colonial atmosphere, and strongly felt the need for the liberation of the people of Lagos and Nigeria in general.
He became politically active, and in 1908, he decided to fight the colonial authorities through the medium of the newspaper. He joined the Lagos Daily Times as a weekly columnist and published critical articles against the colonial government every week. In his articles, he criticized several policies and actions of the colonial government that he perceived as exploitative and anti-people such as excessive taxation, segregated settlements and lack of freedom of speech by the people. His talent as a musician, helped to endear him to many lovers of music who trooped into his house in the evenings for musical performances by him. Realising the effectiveness of music as a tool for mobilization and political action, Macaulay continued with his musical shows throughout his struggle for Nigeria’s freedom.
Macaulay realized that criticism against colonial policies and actions in the newspaper was not enough to make the desired impact and force the government to change for better. He therefore mobilized the people and led them in a demonstration on the streets of Lagos to protest against increase in water rate and colonial land reform which sought to deprive traditional authorities and the people the control over their ancestral land. Apart from the street protest, he aligned with the traditional leadership in Lagos to fight the issue of the control over land in courts in England.
In his fight against the colonial authorities in Lagos, Herbert Macaulay went further in 1923 to establish the first political party in Nigeria which he named the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP). Knowing the importance and of education in the liberation and development of people, Macaulay advocated for universal compulsory education in Nigeria. Education of the people was the first step towards liberation. His party became very popular with the people and it won all elections into the Nigerian Legislative Council from the time of its establishment in 1923-1938 when it was defeated by the Nigerian Youth Movement in the Lagos Town Council elections. Thereafter, Macaulay felt the need to broaden his liberation movement and activities beyond Lagos.
Consequently, in August 1944, he decided to align with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and form a new, larger political party with wider objectives and operational scope, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).
Using the platform of the NCNC, Macaulay who was already 80 years old by 1944, embarked on a nationwide mobilization of Nigerians, asking them to come out and demand for the end of colonial rule and independence. In effect, Macaulay never saw old age as a barrier for sacrifice in a worthwhile struggle for independence for his people. In fact, he died in Lagos on the 7th of May 1946 at the age of 82 years after returning from a campaign tour of Kano. Macaulay, the engineer, politician, journalist, musician and nationalist died but left behind the capable people he had mentored and partnered with to carry on with the struggle for Nigeria’s Independence. Macaulay was a hero.
Nigerians remember and appreciate Macaulay’s struggle by reading his history and naming streets in major towns like Lagos and Abuja after him. The federal government embossed his portrait on the country’s one naira coin in order to immortalize him.