The Untold Story Of Herbert Macaulay, Nigeria’s Father Of Nationalism

Looking at him on the one naira coin, HERBERT SAMUEL HEELAS MACAULAY kinda looks like a white man to me. Or let me say his moustache and names kind of sound foreign to me. As a youngster, I always wondered why someone with such a ‘strange and unNigerian’ name will be glorified as a Nigerian hero. Well, now I know berra…lol! Did you know that Herbert Macaulay could have actually been Nigeria’s first President, instead of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe? Did I hear you say how? Did you know he was also a musician? Do you want to know Herbert Macaulay’s last words on earth? His marital life? Read on…

Forget his unmistakable moustache, Herbert Macaulay was a man of towering intelligence. In Nigeria of today where many men struggle to keep and cope with one job, Herbert Macaulay was a clerk, civil engineer, architect, surveyor, land inspector, journalist, musician, nationalist and politician.


This Nigerian legend was born on the 14th of November, 1864 in Lagos State. His parents, who married in 1845, were Sierra Leonean Creoles (called Saros) and he himself was a grandson of the famed Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop of the Anglican Church and linguist. Crowther would later die after suffering a stroke on the last day of 1891. Herbert Macaulay was to become recipient of the gold pen presented to his grandfather, Bishop Crowther by Queen Victoria of England at the Windsor Castle in 1851.

Then, Herbert was just about 27 years of age. His family was a prominent one and his father, Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay, an early missionary and priest of the Church of England established the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School, Lagos, Nigeria’s first secondary school in 1859.

He became the school’s first principal, a mighty achievement in those days and was also a very close friend of Sir John Glover while he was the Administrator of Lagos. Herbert’s mother was named Abigail Crowther, a brilliant trader, businesswoman and the second daughter of Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Macaulay’s father would later die on the 17th of January, 1878 during a smallpox epidemic.


Herbert Macaulay attended primary school in Lagos and his secondary education was also at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, then took up work as a clerk at the Lagos Public Works Department in 1881 after high school. Thereafter proceeded to Plymouth, England where he studied civil engineering (1891-1894) and became a member of many intellectual societies and circles upon graduation (he was an Associate Member, Institute of British Architects). He went to the United Kingdom in 1890 on a government scholarship and when he returned, he worked briefly as a Surveyor of Crown Lands (government surveyor) before deciding to go for independent practise as an engineer, architect and surveyor. He resigned in 1898.

The year Macaulay left civil service, he got romantically entangled with Caroline Pratt, who happened to be the daughter of an African Police Superintendent. They later got married but the union came to an end in August 1899 following Caroline’s sudden death. They had no kids from the marriage. Even after her death, he maintained good relations with the Pratt family and saw to their welfare. A devastated Herbert later married Maria Pase but some records indicated that he also kept a string of mistresses who bore him a battalion of children. Caring for the kids sapped his pockets but he had no option.

Herbert was the fifth child (out of seven) of his parents and his siblings included Owen Emeric Macaulay (died in July 1909, was Abigail’s eldest son), Thomas Fowell Buxton Macaulay (second child, died in September 1928) while the third sibling was Hugh Stowell Macaulay.

One of his sons, Ogedengbe Macaulay also took after him with his own militant brand of politics. Ogedengbe was a Zikist and at a time in 1948, with the NCNC becoming weaker, he and some other Zikists decided to take some pro-active steps. On an occasion, he said ‘If we tell the Governor to come down, he will not; we must drag him down and take over.’ Some of his other children include:

-MISS FLORENCE AUGUSTA MACAULAY (eldest daughter, died)


Upon returning to Nigeria after studying in the United Kingdom, he was in the employ of the British Crown as a Land Inspector but in 1898, he resigned in protest over British imperialism over Lagos Colony, where he was born, and not just that, but all of Yorubaland and what was then the Niger Coast Protectorate. With time, he would be radicalized and transformed into a vocal opponent of British rule in Nigeria even if he was part of the elite pulling the strings in colonial Lagos. By 1905, he was a proper gadfly and had become a thorn in the flesh of the British. In 1905, he published a scathing criticism of the deportation and incarceration of two high chiefs of Ilesha. When the colonialists stated that they were ruling with the interest of the masses at heart, Macaulay retorted:

The dimensions of the true interests of the natives at heart are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the whitemans pocket.

Then he launched a barrage of assault against the authorities exposing corruption in the railways, how whites swallowed Nigerian funds like kalokalo. Before then, he was also vociferously criticizing the whites for grabbing landed property without paying adequate compensation. In 1919, he was in London before the British Privy Council, to argue on behalf of the native chiefs and landowners who had their land seized. He gave his vociferous arguments and won. The colonial masters had no option but to pay the African chiefs compensation.

As you might have expected, the British calmly waited to get back their pound of flesh. Macaulay did not stop his agitation, and on two occasions, he was flung into jail by the enraged colonial masters. The first time he was jailed, it was on trumped up charges of misappropriating trust funds and on the second occasion, it was for criminal libel over his defence of Eshugbayi Eleko, the Oba of Lagos (he was not to be released until February 1929 after six months in prison). After one of the sentences, he sent a petition to Sir Frederick Lugard, who was then the Governor-General for mercy but Lugard did not pardon him.

Being an ex-convict meant he could not run for any political office, enemies spread caustic news all over town discouraging clients from patronizing someone jailed over a financial scandal. All these fuelled his fury against the colonial masters. However, attempts by the British to muzzle him only increased his popularity.

His fame soared and on the 24th of June, 1923, approaching the age of 60, he felt confident enough to launch Nigerias first political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (which had a youth wing called the Nigerian Young Democrats) with Thomas Jackson of the Weekly Record, and the main aim then was to win the three seats in all the 18 councils of Lagos. His party was so popular with the people that when Legislative Council Elections were conducted in 1923, 1928 and 1933, they won all the seats.

His party held considerable power and was virtually unchallenged until 1938. However, his attempts to nationalize the party by having branches in Kano, Abeokuta and Ibadan were not completely successful. Some of the reasons for this included Macaulay not very willing to let go of his near absolute control of the party and his preoccupation with Lagos and its turbulent politics.

Later on, the British had to accept his new status seeing that he could no longer be ignored or silenced, and by the early 1930s, both parties were meeting. In 1944, Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe formed the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), a nationalist party, with Macaulay as the President and Azikiwe as the General Secretary. The essence of the party was to rally round all Nigerians with patriotic fervour and demand for independence. It must also be stated that Macaulays struggles for Nigerias independence was not in anyway shortlived. For about 40 years of his life, until he died, he was at loggerheads with the British.

As far back as 1908, he was involved in the water rate protests (the colonial government had demanded that Nigerians pay a water rate for the installation of modern water supply in Lagos, it caused a lot of disturbance in Lagos from 1912-1917) and even during the year he died (1946), he was still campaigning against what he termed obnoxious ordinances. As at the time of battling the authorities over the water rates in 1915, Macaulay was the Leader of the Lagos Auxiliary of the Antislavery and Aborigines Protection Society and he was the chief of those against all the plans of the colonial masters to implement land reforms in Lagos and the entire Yorubaland.

His long and eventful campaign against the British made Macaulay a darling of many movements, groups and associations in the country, and he was later to be named father of Nigerian nationalism although his dominance of Lagos politics also meant that he made some very powerful enemies along the way, especially those in the middle class.

A charismatic speaker, he had the power to incite the illiterate and semi-illiterate masses of Lagos and with his newspaper, the Lagos Daily News (one of the the first daily newspapers in West Africa)he was able to also get the attention of the learned. Others who also formed solid columns of support for him where the very-organized Lagos market women and the royal House of Docemo (or Dosunmu) (and its loyalists). Macaulay also employed a greatly mercurial nature in his campaign for independence which immensely baffled the colonial authorities. At a time, he would pray for the success of the British arms like he stated in 1940 and at another time, he would fiercely call for a native to replace a weak and vicious European.

Herbert Macaulay was one of Nigerias first nationalists and strongly agitated for an end to colonial rule in Nigeria. At that time, the population of the entire country stood at about 16 million, which is less than what Lagos is today.


Macaulay was ruthless when it comes to trashing his opponents, which he did with mastery and surgical precision in his newspaper. Singlehandedly, he divided Lagos into two large camps, one solidly behind him while the other was made up of his sworn foes. He was also described thus: Macaulay, throughout his chequered political career, played the game in strict accordance with its rules. Where it was necessary for his purpose to play fair, he did so with the devotion of a saint, and where, to ensure victory, it was necessary to hit below the belt, he showed no scruples.

A man of dazzling brilliance, Herbert Macaulay was well-read and he had a very fine grasp of local and Western history. While giving a speech, he could start by examining the works of Martin Luther, analyze the campaigns of George Washington, dissect the exploits of King Charles I of England and then top it up with quotations from the Holy Bible or lines of Miguel Cervantes Don Quixote. Nigerians leaders today do not bother to quote any philosopher ingba to shey wipe awon gangan filosofa akeranjelol!

He has also been described as self-centred, he enjoyed the centre of the stage, and self-centred, he liked to be on stage alone, to accept the full applause of the groundlings. There were some who found him incapable of accepting criticism or advice, and savagely vindictive towards those who did not do him homage he demanded and needed.

However, Herbert Macaulay was very generous with time and money even if he was not a very rich individual. And when small children paid him a visit at his home, he pampered them with sweets and biscuits, treating them like special guests. (Let your kids try that with a Senator today if MOPOL no go send them back to Baba God with resonating slaps and coma-inducing beatings). He was always eager to help others and seized every opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Even though Herbert Macaulay was not stupendously wealthy like the fat cats we have today stealing the nation blind, he managed to give out alms EVERY Saturday morning to blind Hausa beggars who visited him and spent time with him at his Kirsten Hall residence. And when he performed or organized classical concerts in his house, all the money made was directed to charities across Lagos. Such was the nature of the large-hearted Herbert Macaulay. Although he had his own weaknesses too as a human being, he cared greatly about others. Widows and the downtrodden found a safe haven with him and he used his immense influence for the benefit of the greater society. He was genuinely interested in making life better for others even though he was from a privileged background and could have lived a life of legendary luxury and stylish comfort.

Further descriptions of the man stated that: Despite Macaulays reputation for erudition and literary prowess, he was more a man of action than a man of thought.

His physical stamina was also astounding. A indefatigable individual, he was also extremely confident and can be very determined and fixated on a goal until it has been achieved. He was also known to be an antagonist of Henry Carr, his contemporary and they battled themselves till the end, the exact cause of their rivalry remains a mystery. Henry Carr once dismissed Macaulays outbursts as the ravings of a lunatic. Macaulay had said of Carr:

His political character has derived a positively carmine tinge from the peculiar trait of his sporadic temper and unflinching spirit of revenge; and from that supercilious air of self-conceit, the offspring of an irresistible fascination engendered in his ill-cultured mind by the nauseous and revolting phantoms of his own supreme superiority.

Oghene me!

Carr, a mathematician and physicist, was qualified as a barrister and later joined the Nigerian civil service and in 1918, he was appointed to the post of the Resident of the Colony of Lagos, the highest office ever attained by an African as at that time.

One thing that was clear is that while Macaulay was a respecter of the traditional institutions, Carr sided with the whites and even publicly called for the Oba of Lagos to abandon traditional customs and embrace Western ideals, drawing the ire of Macaulay who felt the whites were too arrogant and very disrespectful and insensitive in their approach to traditional rulers.

For thirty years, he fought for the supremacy of the Lagos Obaship and in the process, made fierce enemies in the person of Lord Lugard, Sir Hugh Clifford and Governor Donald Cameron. Well, they both (Carr and Macaulay) dealt with each other and the rest today is history which you are reading now with a cup of coffee.

-When JG Campbell, a missionary who founded the West African Episcopal Church and launched a very aggressive fight against indigenous religions but encouraged polygamy, Macaulay described him as insane but not perfectly crazy.

-Macaulay was a gifted speaker, someone who could set hearts on fire with his electrifying elocution, articulateness and power of delivery. According to his biographer, in 1913, while before the new Governor-General, Sir Frederick Lugard, Herbert Macaulay gave his presentation on customary land tenure for 105 minutes without notes. In 1909, he also addressed Marcus Garvey, then the Secretary-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) on the 28th of June, 1919. I am yet to see a Nigerian politician today (maybe with the exception of Pastor Chris Okotie, he is still a politician na, hanhan-hanhan!) who will talk sense (I mean real spirit-rousing and soul-energizing sense) for one good hour without looking at paper. Dem wan die! No prepared paper, nothing for them. When you see some of the politicians reading the paper sef, it will be like they are talking with a mouth full of hot okro soup. and you will be telling yourself wipe komada komo jabo lori Okada! #SMH!


Music? Yes, music, Herbert Macaulay actually got a certificate in music from Trinity College, London and he found relaxation and great happiness in music. He developed his fine taste for music while studying in the United Kingdom.

Reputed to be an accomplished master of the violin, his residence, Kirsten Hall, Balbina Street, off Broad Street, Lagos played host to regular musical evening sessions, and in attendance to watch him display his skills were Africans and Europeans alike. The house itself was named for a young German pianist who played at Macaulays house for a couple of years to the delight of all. Okay, let me tell you one thing you may not like to hear: the house has been demolished. Trust Nigerians and historical heritage na!


Just two years after forming the NCNC (of which he was President till death) in 1946, Macaulay, Azikiwe, Michael Imoudu, the President of the Railway Workers Union aka Nigerias Labor Leader No 1 and two other leaders (they were all called the Zimonists) in his party planned a tour across the provinces to raise money to send a delegation to the United Kingdom to protest against the Richards Constitution and what Macaulay called the obnoxious ordinances. And truly, you will not find the ordinances funny at all. One of them, the Minerals Ordinance stated:

The entire property in and control of all minerals, and mineral oils, in, under, or upon any lands in Nigeria, and of all rivers, streams and water courses throughout Nigeria, is and shall be vested in, the Crown

Their tour, which started on the 22nd April, was quite successful and for the first time, the masses had a feeling of national unity. Then Macaulay became ill while still on tour in Kano State, and he later died in Lagos State on the 8th of May where he had gone to rest. His last words were:

Tell the National Council delegates to halt wherever they are for four days for Macaulay and then carry on. Tell Oged (his son) to keep the flag flying.

With these words, he took his final breath. He surrendered to a severe bout of rheumatism, dying peacefully in his sleep.

That was how Nnamdi Azikiwe, who would later become Nigerias first President took over the reins of the NCNC. Macaulays funeral was held in Lagos and there was a spontaneous outpouring of grief. At that time, his funeral on the 11th of May, 1946 at the Ikoyi Cemetery, was the largest in history, with over 100,000 people in attendance. Lagos marketwomen closed down their stalls for two days to mourn him (he was a particularly good supporter and loyal ally of the Lagos Market Womens Association). The most outspoken critic of the British administration in Lagos, Herbert Macaulay was a civil engineer by training, surveyor by occupation, journalist and politician by inclination. He was aged 82.

Azikiwe (who called Herbert Macaulay his political father) was on hand to read the funeral tribute by his graveside:

Come and mourn with me, heroes and heroines of the New Africa.He had one life: yet this has been sacrificed for the redemption of Africa..He has left us an imperishable legacy, the struggle for the attainment of social equality, economic security, religious tolerance and political freedomLet us perpetuate his ideas of freedom, they can be realized in our lifetime. It is our duty to hold aloft this torch of democracy so that our posterity shall be free. It is an obligation for us to prevent repetition of the fatal mistake of living in servitude and in want even in the midst of plenty. Let us venerate the memory of our fallen hero because he has paid the price of leadership. Let us perpetuate his ideas of freedom because he has discharged the penalty of leadership. Let us erect a monument on this sacred spot, as a fitting climax to his glorious life, so that we close a page in our national history and open a new chapter in the story of our onward march towards the attainment of freedom for our country.

Our leader, we mourn for you. Our hero, we weep for you. To leave us at this stage of the battle is a pill that is too bitter to swallow, but man cannot stay the hand of destiny. Fare thee well, my political father, the candle of liberty which you have lit shall never be extinguished.

Immediately after his funeral, the team, now joined by Macaulay’s son who replaced his late father, headed back to the north, visiting places like Maiduguri, Borno State seeking favour and support, and also went to the East where they got really huge financial support. Eventually, they toured 153 communities (24 in the North, 48 in the West and 81 in the East, and got special endorsement from the Oba of Lagos) and raised a total of ₤13,500. Nigerians were very much united orderly then. I can imagine a band of politicians from Lagos today going round the country seeking funds, I am pretty sure many of them will be stoned and escape in bloodied agbadas.

Until the emergence of Awolowos Action Group in 1951, the Azikiwe-led NCNC had a firm grip on Lagos politics. A superb combination of Azikiwes press (West African Pilot and the Daily Comet, with Anthony Enahoro as the Editor) and the support he got from all non-Yoruba Lagosians and the marketwomen, the aristocratic House of Docemo (or Dosunmu) who overwhelmingly supported Macaulay ensured this. Macaulay was a staunch support of the royal House of Docemo and took great delight in being called the Minister Plenipotentiary of the House of Docemo.

See his tomb below:


Although Macaulay was a Christian, it is quite noteworthy to state that he worked with and enjoyed an excellent relationship with the leaders of the Muslim communities all over Lagos. A vast majority of the Muslims supported him massively and till date, religion is not a divisive factor in Lagos politics, something a lot of Nigerian politicians need to learn (that is not to say that Lagos politicians do not have their own abosi too olol!). Macaulay was also supported by the followers of traditional African religions (and that included the respected White Cap chiefs of Lagos). Macaulay made friends with Yoruba babalawos (priests) and he was a trained onisegun (traditional Yoruba herbalist) himself.

According to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Herbert Macaulay (AMICE, Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and Member, Royal Geographical Society) was not only a Nigerian nationalist but also a West African nationalist, and one of those who formed the West Africa Congress. Awolowo went further to describe him thus:

 So as I said, Herbert Macaulay was the genius of NNDP, a powerful writer, courageous nationalist who was prepared to risk everything for the love of his country.

Called the perfect black English gentleman by Enahoro, Herbert Macaulay, aka HM, Ojo Ibadan, the Moghul, Ejo Igboro (The Serpent On The Loose On Streets, depicting the ferocity with which he walked to and fro his office and house with a serious face and not even acknowledging cheers) and the Wizard of Kirsten Hall, was a man passionately devoted to the cause of the people, and they rewarded him with their overwhelming loyalty and blind support. He could not run for any elective office based on his previous convictions so no one could accuse him of nursing a personal ambition even though the man with white suit and black bow tie was clearly the most celebrated politician of his time. Lots of songs were composed in his honour while some superstitious folks even attributed supernatural powers to him.

Okay, for those who are in love with traditional music, the late Sakara exponent who reigned in the 1930s (we are talking of about 80 years ago, you knowlol), Abibu Oluwa waxed a very romantic song, Herbert Macaulay in his honour. You can enjoy it here:

-Upon his death in 1946, some of his papers (see pictures for Herbert Macaulay’s Manuscripts of 1936) were deposited at the Kenneth Dike Library, University of Ibadan (then the University College, Ibadan).

-There is an annual Herbert Macaulay Memorial Lecture and Merit Award in his name, it is organized by the Association of Lagos State Indigenes. The Herbert Macaulay Way, Central Business District, Garki, Abuja was also named in his honour, and same with Herbert Macaulay Street, Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos (a library on the same street was named for him, it was formerly called the School Library Service). There is also another Herbert Macaulay Street in Ebute Metta, Lagos State.

-The Herbert Macaulay Leadership Institute (HMLI) has also been established in his name to to promote public and community service amongst men and women of integrity and excellence in the Black and African context. To seek to cultivate the following leadership qualities in them:

Commitment to public service
Strategic thinking and management skills
Ability to promote reconciliation and to manage uncertainties.

-Herbert Macaulay Senior Girls Secondary School, 2 Birrel Avenue, Sabo, Yaba, Lagos is also named for him (see pictures).

In his memory and showing appreciation for his efforts towards achieving Nigerian Independence and Nationhood, the Nigerian nation emblazoned his face on the one naira note, later replaced with the one naira coin, the medium through many of us first heard of the name, Herbert Macaulay, and stroked his moustache on the metallic surface. 

NB: Dear Reader, Herbert Macaulay died around 70 years ago and today, we have good things to say about him. Don’t you think it will also be cool for people to say nice things about you 70 years after you are gone? Do something outstanding for humanity today. You can, and you should.


By the way, keep those one naira coins well. They’d be worth a lot more in the nearest future.



  • Herbert Macaulay, Nigerian Patriot, Tekena N. Tamuno, Heinemann Educational, 1976.
  • -Nigeria, Background to Nationalism by James Samuel Coleman, James Smoot Coleman
  • The Origins of Modern African Thought: Its Development in West Africa During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Robert William July.

-Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation by Richard L. Sklar

-Sojourn: Emeritus Professor V. A. Oyenugas Biography by Adebayo Adesoye

-Great People, Great Country, Nigeria the Beauty-Full: East Or West, Home Is by Jubril Olabode, Jubril Olabode Aka

-The Case for Peaceful and Friendly Dissolution of the Artificial Entity by Adedapọ Adeniran

-Nationalism and African intellectuals by Toyin Falola

-Obafemi Awolowo: The colossus by Ademola Adekola, Shiloh Publishers, 2002.

-Nigeria: Her Woes and Their True Remedies by Onyeije Chukwudum Okoro

-Chief Obafemi Awolowo: The Political Moses by Adedara S Oduguwa

-Herbert Macaulay to Marcus Garvey, Secretary-General, UNIA,

-The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, ed. Robert A. Hill (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2000). Electronic version based onThe Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, ed. Robert A. Hill, Volume 8, (Berkeley: University of California Press, [year?]). On the Web at [Accessed May 26, 2013]

-Nigeria and her Neighbours by A. Fajana

-International Petroleum Encyclopedia 2008 edited by Joseph Hilyard

-European-language writing in Sub-Saharan Africa, Volume 1 edited by Albert S. Gerard

-A Saro Community in the Niger-Delta, 1912-1984: The Potts-Johnsons of Port Harcourt and their Heirs by Mac Dixon-Fyle

-The Journey of the First Black Bishop: Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther 1806 – 1891 by Jacob Oluwatayo Adeuyan

-Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990: A Documentary Sourcebook edited by Klaus Koschorke, Frieder Ludwig, Mariano Delgado, Roland Spliesgar

-The Politics of Being Nigerian by Okechukwu Jones Asuzu

-Handbook: Strategic Information and Laws by, International Business Publications, USA

-Holy Johnson Pioneer of African Nationalism 1836-1917 by E.A. Ayandele

-Contributions of Yoruba People in the Economic and Political Developments of Nigeria by Jacob Oluwatayo Adeuyan

-Constitutional Developments in Nigeria: An Analytical Study of Nigeria by Kalu Ezera

-Afro-Cuban Diasporas in the Atlantic World by Solimar Oter

-Zik, a Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe by Nnamdi Azikiwe

-Imoudu Biography (Part 1), Baba Oluwide, West African Economics Consultants and Social Research, 1993.

-Nigerias Freedom and Greatness, Imafidon Akade, Ribway Printers, 1966.

-Herbert Macaulay Manuscripts at University of Ibadan:


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