Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay was a Nigerian politician, journalist and civil engineer. He is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism by many Nigerians.
Macaulay was born in Lagos on November 14, 1864 to Krio parents originally from Sierra Leone. His father, Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay, was a prominent Lagos missionary and educator and the founder of CMS Grammar School (Nigeria’s first secondary school). His maternal grandfather was Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African Anglican bishop.
Macaulay’s early education took place in the mission schools of Lagos, after which he began working as a clerk at the Lagos Department of Public Works in 1881. He was recognised as a promising civil servant and was awarded a government scholarship in 1890 to study civil engineering in Plymouth, England between 1891 and 1894. Upon his return, he worked for the Crown as a land inspector for the colony of Lagos. However, he left his position in 1898 due to his growing distaste at Nigeria’s status as a British colony.
Opposition to British Rule
Macaulay was one of the first Nigerian nationalists and was a strong opponent of British rule in Nigeria. However, he was an unlikely champion of the masses. He lived at the time when Lagos was divided politically into a distinct hierarchy: the British rulers who lived in the posh Marina district, followed by the Saros and other slave descendants (the group to which Macaulay belonged) who lived to the west and the Brazilians who lived in the Portuguese town. The indigenous Yoruba people were disliked and generally ignored by their neighbours. It was not until Macaulay’s generation that the Saros and Brazilians began contemplating mixing with others outside of their social groups.
Macaulay’s resignation from the service of the Crown was linked to his growing resentment at the racial discrimination practised by Europeans in the civil service. He established himself as a private surveyor in Lagos and emerged as a spokesman for the anti-British rule movement. Macaulay was also a regular contributor to the Lagos Daily Times. As a reaction to claims by the British that they were governing with “the true interests of the natives at heart,” Macaulay wrote:”The dimensions of ‘the true interests of the natives at heart’ are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the whiteman’s pocket.”
In 1908, he exposed European corruption in the handling of railway finances. He agitated against the payment of water rates in 1915 and as a leader of the Lagos branch of the Antislavery and Aborigines Protection Society spurred the opposition to government plans to reform land tenure arrangements in Lagos and across Yorubaland. In 1918, he successfully handled the cases of chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. As a result of his campaigning, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. He opposed every attempt by the British authorities to expand their administration, declaring such moves detrimental to the interests of the Nigerians who would inevitably be forced to pay the bills in taxes. Through his anti-colonial activities, Macaulay rose to pre-eminence in Lagos politics. In 1921, he was sent to London by the Eleko (King of Lagos) to represent him in the legal appeal of the famous Apapa land tenure case. In London, Macaulay proclaimed that the British colonial government was eroding the power and authority of the Eleko who, he said, was recognised by all Nigerians as the rightful king of Lagos, by dispossessing him of his land. This episode embarrassed the British and established Macaulay as a leading advocate of the rights of traditional leadership in Lagos. In retaliation for this and other activities, Macaulay was jailed twice by the colonial power.
In 1922, a new Nigerian constitution that provided for limited franchise elections in Lagos and Calabar was introduced. Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) on June 24, 1923 to contest the three electoral seats available in Lagos. The NNDP was the first Nigerian political party and it sought self-government for Lagos, the introduction of institutions of higher education in Nigeria, compulsory primary school education, the Africanisation of the civil service and non-discrimination in the development of private economic enterprise. Macaulay became very popular and the party won all of the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928 and 1933.
For nearly forty years, Macaulay campaigned ceaselessly against the British administration in Nigeria through the Lagos Daily News and the NNDP. The Lagos market women, the Lagos royal family and many Nigerian citizens were amongst his supporters. He was also a talented speaker and possessed an innate ability to stir up the imagination of his Lagos audiences. His vital role in the 1928 “Eshugbayi Eleko versus Government of Nigeria” case; his leadership of the many protest movements against water rates, taxation and land acquisition by the colonial government were some of the highlights of his career in establishing early nationalist sentiments in Nigeria.
Like many educated West African leaders of his era, Macaulay fought primarily to protect the rights of Africans rather than for the creation of a self-governing state. In October 1938, the more radical Nigerian Youth Movement fought and won elections for the Lagos Town Council, ending the dominance of Macaulay and the NNDP.
In 1944, Macaulay co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Nnamdi Azikiwe and became its president. The NCNC was a patriotic organisation designed to bring together Nigerians of all backgrounds to demand independence.
Macaulay fell ill in Kano while leading the NCNC on a nationwide campaign tour. He died in Lagos on May 7, 1946 at the age of 81. His funeral in Lagos drew a massive crowd of over 100,000 mourners. His portrait appears on the one naira coin and a major road in Lagos is named after him.