Herbert Macaulay

Herbert Macaulay in his signature style
Herbert Macaulay. : Nigerian Archives, UI

Herbert Macaulay is the nationalist figure whose portrait adorn the Nigerian one-naira metal coin. Macaulay was the grandson of the equally notable Samuel Adjai Crowther whose influence was significant in the annexation of Lagos and in the missionary activities across the country. Herbert was also the son of the founder of Nigeria’s first secondary school, Thomas Babington of the CMS Grammar School, Bariga, Lagos. He was born in 1864 with Christian and educational legacy, his grand father having been freed from slavery in the hands of Portuguese traders and taken to Sierra Leone where he came in contact with the Anglican Missionary and subsequently taken to England to study.

Herbert Macaulay trained as a surveyor and certain Lagos building designs are credited to him. As a young man, he was a frequent and respected guest at the Governor’s parties. It was the open prejudice meted on him and other native top Civil Servants through the policies of the Henry Edward McCallum administration that led to his retirement into private practice and development of interests in politics. Herbert Macaulay’s background and flamboyance makes him a suspected insincere agitator and his very influential contemporaries have openly criticized his demagogic methods. Whatever the case might be, he is known as having gone beyond his privileged Saro social class to truly identify with his kinsmen whose parents never entered the ship. This created an important departure from the old attitude of the elite Lagosians who saw themselves as closer to the Europeans than the natives.

Rise to fame

Asides Lord Lugard, Macaulay had differences with at least two men who stood as his antithesis, Kitoyi Ajasa and Adeyemo Alakija whose lapses he easily communicated to the traditional establishment and the Muslims even though he was a Christian himself. Macaulay was able to earn the trust of these two very different but ideologically matched groups. Macaulay’s activities in the Tijani Amodu’ Case which helped the Lagos chief claim a compensation from the government for his compulsorily acquired Apapa land impressed Eleko Esugbayi so much that the Oba entrusted the historic British Staff of office given to his predecessor, Docemo, to Macaulay. At the height of his prestige he was invited to participate in the selection of Eleko’s successor.

Alliance with Zik

Macaulay was cherished among party loyalists because his hard work was seen as selfless; he was himself unable to hold a political post, haven been disqualified for a financial misappropriation indictment he had in his early years in public service. The Democratic Party, which he headed, enjoyed electoral dominance in Lagos from 1923 till 1938 when Azikiwe’s Nigerian Youth Movement won the election to the Lagos Town Council in a thinly franchised election of only 792 participants.

The Youth Movement had been formed as a reaction to the Colonial government plans to increase vocational education against liberal education, which they believed Negros was due for. This ideological similarity with Herbert Macaulay’s party would later bring the two together during the 1944 student action against the downsizing of King’s College facilities. Student leaders recommended a central organization that a central organization be formed to coordinate the political endeavors of existing associations. Subsequently, the National Committee was inaugurated with the establishment of a national school as one of its immediate agendas.


Ultimately, the new condensed organization desired to work in unity for the realization of self-government within the British Empire. Many associations were subsumed under this umbrella body and by 1945, three Cameroonian bodies brought the number to 87. The central organization’s name hence became the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons. Herbert Macaulay became the President of this new central body with the man who would become Nigeria’s first President, Azikiwe, as General Secretary.

Under Macaulay’s leadership, a national tour of the mega organization was begun in April 1945. Three weeks into this, Macaulay became ill and died. His death was mourned all over Lagos and market women closed their stalls for two days to show their respect.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer