Remembering Herbert Macaulay


At a lecture delivered recently in Lagos, a retired diplomat and professional historian dug into the past and exhumed pieces of a man who helped shape the Nigerian identity, writes Solomon Elusoji

It is astonishing, or, perhaps, shameful, if we are to be one-eyed critics, that despite the man’s famous moustache and street credibility as the ‘Father of Nigerian Nationalism’, Herbert Macaulay does not have a single book-length biography to his name. The fact is shocking, perplexing even, when one considers that Nigeria is more than half a century into independence, a project nationalists like Macaulay devoted their lives to.
At the Lagos Country Club, on a wet morning, recently, the first Herbert Macaulay Gold Lecture was delivered by Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, a trained historian who attended the University of Ibadan in the early 1960s. Ramrod straight and alert, despite his age, the septuagenarian, who also attended Oxford University and joined the Nigerian Diplomatic Service in 1985, brought a brilliant and insightful angle to the task he was assigned. The topic was ‘Herbert Macaulay and his relevance to the excellence of Lagos’, and Fafowora did, in about an hour, a graceful exploration of Macaulay’s illustrious life.
Fafowora was only five when Macaulay died and never met him. But as a schoolboy, his late father, who was a civil servant in the colonial service and was a great admirer of Macaulay, told him about the nationalist and his struggle against colonial rule in the country. Later, when he was 12, the older Fafowora took his son to Herbert Macaulay’s house, named ‘Kirsten Hall’, at 8, Balbina Street, Lagos. “I admired the house and, for years, visited it often as I lived near-by, at Ita-Faji.” Unfortunately, an indigenous government decided to demolish the house, an impressive elegant one storey detached building, in order to build a Post Office, a decision Fafowora describes as “a singular display of the lack of a sense of history.”
Herbert Macaulay was born on November 14, 1864, at Broad Street, Lagos, to Thomas Babington Macaulay and Abigail Crowther, the second daughter of the first African Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Macaulay’s paternal grandfather, Ojo Oriare, a native doctor, was from Oyo. He and his wife, Kilangbe, were enslaved, but freed by the British anti-slavery squadron and taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they settled for a while, before returning to Owu in Abeokuta. It was while they were in Sierra Leone that Ojo and Kilangbe gave birth to Thomas Babington Macaulay. As was the practice among freed slaves in those days Thomas Babington Macaulay simply dropped his father’s name and instead adopted a Christian name.
In Freetown, the elder Macaulay was educated at the Church Mission Society (CMS) Grammar School and later at Fourah Bay College, a higher institution set up by the CMS for the training of priests. He was first sent to Abeokuta in 1854 and later ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1857. Shortly after, he returned to Owu as a CMS priest for missionary work there. But he was in Owu for only a year, returning to Lagos where, on June 6, 1859, he founded and became the first Principal of the CMS Grammar School, Nigeria’s oldest secondary grammar school.
So, Macaulay, raised by two educated parents, a rare privilege in those days, had a good start in the world. Until he was five, he was home schooled by his mother. In 1869, he enrolled at Paul’s School, Breadfruit, for his primary school education. At 13, he gained admission into the CMS Grammar School, the institution his father helped found. He left the school in 1880 and, according to his school records, he was astounding in English, Logic, Mathematics and Latin, an early sign he was destined for great things.
In September 1881, at only 17, he was appointed a clerical assistant and indexer of Crown Land grants in the colonial Public Works Department (PWD) in Lagos. Within three years of his appointment, he was promoted as a draughtsman and clerk of Crown Land grants. He was so diligent in his duties that he was awarded a colonial government scholarship in 1890 for further studies in England in civil engineering and surveying, a first of its kind in those days. Fafowora notes that that scholarship award later proved to be a mistake by the British. “It exposed him to the genteel British way of life and liberal democracy,” he said.
For the next three years, he was in Plymouth, England, studying, not only civil engineering, but architecture, surveying, including railway surveying. He qualified as a civil engineer in 1893, the first Nigerian to do so, and was also admitted as a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). But when his lecturer at Plymouth, one Mr. Bellamy, recommended Macaulay for further training in civil engineering, the colonial government in Lagos denied him that opportunity. Fafowora notes, again, that this denial was a fatal mistake by the colonial government as it was, perhaps, the beginning of the man’s grievances against the colonial government, a grudge that would catapult him into national prominence.
After being denied a scholarship for further studies, Macaulay joined the Colonial Civil Service, where his dislike of the racist colonial government grew and his passion for nationalism continued to be stoked. He was appointed as a Surveyor, but was put on a salary scale of 90-150 pounds per annum. Meanwhile, a white Foreman in the PWD, junior to Macaulay, earned 250 pounds per annum. He left the service after only five years and obtained a government license to practice privately as a civil engineer, architect and surveyor. He never worked for the government, again.
“He had seen how the colonial authorities looked down on Africans, even when they were fully qualified,” Fafowora said. “He decided he would devote the rest of his life to fighting against this gross injustice and for the emancipation of the Africans from colonial rule. That was the origin of his long and difficult nationalist and patriotic struggle against foreign rule and domination in Nigeria.”
On his own, Macaulay struggled, in the early days, to find success, as the colonial authorities made sure he did not get any government jobs and only a handful of Africans were rich enough to engage and pay him for his professional services. But that didn’t stop him from getting married in December 1898, the year he left the civil service, to Caroline Pratt, the daughter of an African Superintendent of Police. Unfortunately, the marriage came to a sudden end with Caoline’s death in August, 1899, during childbirth. Macaulay vowed never to remarry but he had mistresses with whom he fathered 16 children. The former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Babatunde Kweku Adadevoh was a grandson and Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, Nigeria’s unsung hero during the Ebola epidemic, was a great granddaughter.
Macaulay would go to prison twice. The first was as a result of one of his numerous financial setbacks, when he was found guilty of improperly taking a sum of 350 pounds from the estate of one Mary Franklin, a freed slave who had named him as an executor of her will. Macaulay argued that he had used the money to pay off debts owed by Mary’s estate, but his claims were dismissed and he was sent to two years imprisonment in 1912.
His second imprisonment came in June 1928, at a time when he had become a serious opponent of the colonial government. Macaulay was responsible for the reports and editorial views of the Lagos Daily News, a medium which he used to fight his political battles. But he soon got into trouble with the British, when the paper reported a story that the car which was to bring the deposed Eleko Esugbayi of Lagos back from exile in Oyo would be blown up by his opponents. It was a rumour and the colonial government felt that the publication was an incitement to fuel existing tensions within the colony. Macaulay served six months without any option of fine.
These instances of imprisonment eliminated Macaulay’s chances of ever contesting in public elections. But that did not slow down his passion for politics, which was tied around fighting for self-rule and the fundamental rights of the black man. In 1923, he helped to form the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and became a political force as NNDP won all the elections into the Legislative Council, a figurehead organ the British created to soothe the local’s rising nationalist temperature. This, NNDP’s success, “was due largely to Macaulay’s remarkable leadership and organisational abilities which even his opponents and critics acknowledged,” Fafowora said. “With his control of the party, Macaulay was able, to some extent, exert some influence on some issues that came before the Legislative Council, such as the poll tax, the building of a new cemetery for Africans at Atan, and the Lagos railway construction. When the colonial government decided to control market prices during World War 2, Macaulay supported the opposition of the market women to the idea, arguing that government could not seek to control what it did not supply.”
At 80, Fafowora described Macaulay as the “grand old man of Nigerian politics.” When the National Council and Cameroons (NCNC) was formed in 1944, Macaulay was elected the party’s president and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, who would go on to become the first president of independent Nigeria, became its first Secretary General.
In 1946, the colonial government proposed a new constitution for Nigeria. But, led by Macaulay, the NCNC and other nationalists rejected the proposition. They argued that it did not go far enough in granting responsible government to Nigeria and that the locals had not been fully consulted on its provisions. At a meeting in Glover Hall in Lagos on April 11, 1945, it was decided that an NCNC delegation be sent to London to convey the party’s reservations to the proposed constitution. Even at 81, Macaulay was chosen to lead the London delegation. A tour of the provinces was planned from April 8 to June 5, to raise funds for the proposed trip to London.
But it was while Macaulay was on tour in the Northern provinces, leading the NCNC delegation, that he fell ill and had to return to Lagos, where he was treated by Dr. Ibikunle Olorunnmbe, his personal physician and political associate in the NCNC. He died on May 7, 1946.
“The people of Lagos were in deep mourning over his death,” Fafowora said. “It was estimated that crowds of nearly 200,000 people, virtually the whole of Lagos, turned up at his funeral to pay this great man and outstanding patriot their last respects. Macaulay was a man of the people. He committed and dedicated his entire life to the struggle for the defence of the political and economic rights of the masses in Lagos. He fought courageously and relentlessly against the injustice and repression of the people by British colonial rule in Lagos and Nigeria.”
At the end of his lecture, Fafowora made some recommendations on what the Lagos State Government should do to immortalise a national legend, like Macaulay, in the sands of time. “What have we done to honour his memory?”, Fafowora said. “I am aware that he has a major street named after him in Lagos and Abuja. He also has two public statutes erected in his memory in Lagos. But for posterity and in recognition of his immense contribution to the political development of Lagos and Nigeria there is a need for Lagos to do more to honour him. What more can we do to honour and immortalise the memory of this outstanding nationalist and patriot?”
He recommended that the government set up a Herbert Macaulay Foundation, with the active and generous support of the private sector, to keep his memory and political ideals alive. He also suggested that the Herbert Macaulay Gold Lecture be made an annual event to mark the anniversary of his death. Then, he canvassed for a major public educational institution in Lagos, preferably a higher institution, be named after him. “As an alternative, a Herbert Macaulay School of Politics and Government should be established in one of our leading universities in his honour,” the retired diplomat said.
Fafowora also suggested that a course on Herbert Macaulay be introduced and made compulsory in our secondary schools and that the Glover Memorial Hall on Customs Street, Lagos, which is “a sad reminder of our colonial past”, be renamed Herbert Macaulay Memorial Hall.
The Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), who also doubled as the Chairman of the Lecture, Gbemiga Ogunleye, described Macaulay as a nationalist to the core and a foremost Nigerian politician. He noted that even the N1 coin, which had the image of Macaulay, had gone out of circulation. He then went on to advocate for the teaching of History in schools to give the younger generation the opportunity of learning about the country’s past heroes.
Also, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Macaulay’s great grand nephew, Olabode George, noted that Macaulay’s contributions to the development of Lagos and fight for self-rule were worth recognising. “The main thrust of Macaulay’s conviction was to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Nigeria,” George said. “Today we are celebrating a man who gave his all for the country and Lagos. We are celebrating 50 years of Lagos now but how will this sound without due recognition of Herbert Macaulay?” He asked rhetorically.