Herbert Olayinka Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay was one of the first leaders of the Nigerian opposition to British colonial rule. He was also a civil engineer, surveyor, architect, journalist, and accomplished musician considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism, a course which paved way for Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule.
Macaulay was born as one of seven children to Thomas Babington and Abigail Crowther Macaulay, who were both children of liberated Africans in the mid-19th century.
Macaulay got a scholarship to train under G.D Bellamy in Plymouth, England in July 1890, to become the first Nigerian civil engineer. After his graduation, he worked as a land inspector for the British Colony of Lagos and indirectly for the Crown. But as Macaulay grew more politically aware, he left his position in 1898 due to his growing distaste of what Nigeria’s status as a British colony connotes.
To take a stand as a formidable opponent to the British government, Macaulay alongside Dr. John Akilade Caulcrick in 1927 established the Lagos Daily News. This was the first Nigerian daily newspaper founded in 1927.
Macaulay explored the Lagos Daily News platform as an effective tool for his battles against the government; his political opponents and for propaganda. Some of his earlier opposition to the government and its policy became features and editorials in the Lagos Daily News which were critical of government policy such as taxation, liquor trade, water rate levies, free press pass, racial segregation, and so on.
In 1918, he successfully defended the cases of chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. Also, the landmark Eshugbayi Eleko versus Government of Nigeria case in 1928 in which he played a vital role which forced the colonial government to pay compensation to local chiefs also helped to catapult his popularity as a man of the people – a man of both the lowly and the high in the society.
Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, when Nigeria was granted limited elections franchise in Lagos and Calabar, Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) on June 24, 1923.
The newly formed party NNDP dominated Nigerian politics throughout the 1920s until the late 1930s. The NNDP, however, lost its dominant position to newly organized student groups such as the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) – of which Nnamdi Azikwe and other early nationalists were prominent members – in 1934. Macaulay quickly changed strategy to avoid the demise of the NNDP by joining forces with the NYM to form the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).
The NCNC which Macaulay led was more of a nationalist organization than a political party. The statutes were designed to help in the advocating for an independent Nigeria which it later achieved in 1960 with the cooperation of other parties.
Although Herbert Macaulay did not live to see the actualisation of Nigeria’s independence as he died on May 7, 1946, aged 81 after falling ill in Kano while on a nationwide tour; he was very much a principal influence to Nigeria’s independence from the British.
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