Herbert Macaulay: The Father of Nigerian Nationalism.

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Considered the Founding Father of Nigerian Nationalism, Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay was born in Lagos on November 14, 1864 to “Krio” parents. Macauley was also the grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop in the Anglican Church. He was a Nigerian politician, journalist and civil engineer.

Krio is an English-based creole spoken mainly in Sierra Leone in West Africa.


Macaulay’s was birthed to Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay (1826-1878), a descendant of King Abiodun, the 29th Alaafin of Oyo Empire. Thomas Babington Macaulay was a prominent Lagos missionary and educator, first principal and founder of CMS Grammar School (Nigeria’s first secondary school).

His mother, Abigail Crowther was the daughter of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther.


In 1877, at the age of 13, he gained admission into the CMS Grammar School. He left the school in 1880 and, according to his school records, he was astounding in English, Logic, Mathematics, and Latin.

Herbert Macaulay on the One Naira note.
Herbert Macaulay on the One Naira note.

At age 16, in 1881, Macaulay became a clerk in the Public Works Department in Lagos where he was recognized as a promising civil servant and in 1890 was awarded a government scholarship to study civil engineering in England. He spent 3 years in England, making him Nigeria’s first certified Civil Engineer and surveyor. 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. His resignation was due to his growing dissatisfaction with his employment conditions – he was earning £90-150 per annum while a junior British civil servant earned £250 per annum.

Hence, Macaulay established himself as a licensed private surveyor, architect and civil engineer in Lagos. He never worked for the government again. Slowly emerged as a spokesman for opposition to British rule in Lagos. Macaulay addressed numerous issues in his articles on Lagos Daily Times.

He opposed every attempt by the British authorities to expand their administration because he saw it as detrimental to the interests of indigenous Nigerians, who would be forced to pay the bills in taxes. He also agitated against the payment of water rates in 1915. In 1921, Macaulay was sent by the king of Lagos to represent him in a land case appeal in London. While there, Macaulay proclaimed that the British colonial government was undermining the king’s power and authority. He stated the king was rightfully seen as the ruler of Lagos by all Nigerians. This embarrassed the British, though it did not stop them, and established Macaulay as a key advocate of traditional leaders’ rights in Lagos.

Sadly, Herbert Macauley did not live to see the attainment of independence in 1960.  He died in Lagos at the age of 81 on May 7, 1946.


Herbert Macaulay on one Naira coin
Herbert Macaulay on one Naira coin.
  • He was the first to establish a political party in Nigeria. In 1922, he founded Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) a party that dominated Nigerian politics until 1938.
  • Herbert Macaulay was the first National President of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC).
  • He established a Newspaper, Lagos Daily News, through which he mobilized support and campaigned ceaselessly against the British administration in Nigeria.
  • He supported labour unions in the organise strikes, rallies and fought for their work rights.
  • He was a core memeber of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA). His activities at NCBWA led to the introduction of elective principles in British West Africa – Nigeria in 1922, Ghana in 1925 and Sierra Leone in 1926.
  • He led a nationwide protest against the undemocratic 1946 Richard’s Constitution.
  • His portrait appears on the one naira coin
  • A major road in Lagos – the Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba – is named after him.
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