Railways, Education, Politics: How Macaulay Laid the Foundations- Abiola

Railways, Education, Politics: How Macaulay Laid the Foundations- Abiola

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 3:02 pm


 

Herbert Macaulay and MKO Abiola

President Buhari, today, 30 June 2020, attended the Virtual Flag-Off of Construction Phase of the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline Project in State, Abuja. His administration is also doing huge projects on the railways. One thing is certain: There are no agitations against the government over non-payment of compensations for land that government took over for these projects.

One man actually laid the foundation: The late Herbert Macaulay, the Nigerian nationalist. This is revealed in this tribute to the late political patriarch, by Chief MKO Abiola at the 6th Herbert Macaulay Memorial Lecture at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, on 17 July, 1990.

According to Abiola:

In 1908, for instance, he published, at his own expense, a pamphlet setting out his forthright views on how the land and other rights of Nigerians should be safeguarded during the construction of the Nigeria railway system. His involvement in two celebrated causes- the Apapa land case and the Eleko case – are also well documented.

What is little known, and to which I want to direct your attention is the use to which Macaulay put his education on behalf of the whole African race. It is this that has enabled him to stand out from the grave itself to inspire us as Nigerians and as Africans to this day.

Macaulay was stung into action in 1924 when he read of the attitude to Nigerians, of another highly educated Nigerian of the time, Henry Carr. Henry Carr had been educated at Fourah Bay College, in Sierra Leone, where he obtained a BA degree with honours in Mathematics and Physical Sciences. He was highly regarded by the colonical administration, which appointed him as an inspector of schools. He later rose to act as Director of Education on several occasions.

Henry Carr annoyed Herbert Macaulay immensely by writing a report to his colonial masters in which he stated that the output of Nigerian schools, at the time, was of such low caliber, that the colonial administration should import people from outside the country to man positions in its public service.”

Read Abiola’s speech below, entitled:

Tribute To Herbert Macaulay

M.K.O Abiola

I thank this great University and, in particular, the faculty of engineering, for taking it upon itself to immortalize the great Herbert Macaulay by these series of lectures dedicated to the first Nigerian civil engineer, an indomitable fighter for the emancipation of Africa, a great philosopher, publisher, champion of the oppressed and a great believer in the total equality of all people regardless of colour and creed.

Legend of our Time

Herbert Macaulay was a truly remarkable African patriot and nationalist. His contribution to the emancipation of the African mind from the shackles of mental servitude, and direct participation in Africa’s emancipation from political slavery, was second to none and will continue to receive praise from generation to generation.

Henry Carr

In the field of education, he pioneered, through the example of his own life, the ideal that true education, as distinct from the ‘‘parrot -type’’ of education, should enable its recipient to render relevant wide-ranging service to the community rather than restricting  the individual to his narrow area of specialization for the purpose of improving his economic and social standing.

Herbert Macaulay was born in Lagos on 14 November, 1864. His father was the Reverend Thomas Macaulay, founder and first Principal of the CMS Grammar School in Lagos, and his mother was Abigail Crowther, second daughter of the famous missionary about whom we all learnt in school, Samuel Ajayi Crowther. With such a pedigree, it might have been thought that Macaulay would himself end up in the missionary field as soon as he became a man.

But when he left the CMS Grammar School, he joined the civil service instead, and was deployed to the Lands department in Lagos in 1881, at the tender age of 17.

He learnt a great deal there about the methods used by the white colonialists to dispossess the Nigerian people of their lands. Perhaps, because of this, when, in recognition of his brilliance and hard work, he was awarded a scholarship for further studies in England, he chose to study civil engineering.

Lord Lugard

This was a remarkable choice to be made by Macaulay because, in those days, most educated Africans who had opportunity for further studies, chose to become lawyers. Law was the ‘‘in thing’’, for it provided lucrative fees, and the wearing of the  wig and gown so mystified ordinary people, that being allowed to do it alone seemed a reward in itself! Herbert Macaulay, however, realized that the lack of knowledge of civil engineering amongst Nigerians had enabled the white man to grab their lands for next to nothing.

Macaulay was the best student in the university and returned home in September 1893, as the first qualified Nigerian civil engineer. Despite his brilliant academic record, the colonial civil service refused to pay him the same salary as it paid to white men with inferior qualifications.

Macaulay stomached this monstrous injustice, dictated by racial discrimination, for good five years before resigning his post. He applied for, and obtained, a government licence for private practice as a civil engineer, and set himself up to do business in Lagos. This was a courageous move on his part, for it was never easy to forego the security of a regular salary for the uncertainty of irregular earnings from private practice in what was, at that time, a relatively new field in Nigeria.

Richard-Burton-1880.jpg Britannica

But Macaulay’s loss was Nigeria’s gain. Freed from the bonds of the civil service, Macaulay was able to engage in educating his fellow countrymen and women about their political and social rights. At great personal risk to himself including counting such unpopularity as, no doubt, contributed to his being jailed by the colonial authorities two separate occasions, he engaged in many battles on behalf of Nigerians, against the colonial administration.

In 1908, for instance, he published, at his own expense, a pamphlet setting out his forthright views on how the land and other rights of Nigerians should be safeguarded during the construction of the Nigeria railway system. His involvement in two celebrated causes- the Apapa land case and the Eleko case – are also well documented.

Carl Vogt

What is little known, and to which I want to direct your attention is the use to which Macaulay put his education on behalf of the whole African race. It is this that has enabled him to stand out from the grave itself to inspire us as Nigerians and as Africans to this day.

Macaulay was stung into action in 1924 when he read of the attitude to Nigerians, of another highly educated Nigerian of the time, Henry Carr. Henry Carr had been educated at Fourah Bay College, in Sierra Leone, where he obtained a BA degree with honours in Mathematics and Physical Sciences. He was highly regarded by the colonical administration, which appointed him as an inspector of schools. He later rose to act as Director of Education on several occasions.

Henry Carr annoyed Herbert Macaulay immensely by writing a report to his colonial masters in which he stated that the output of Nigerian schools, at the time, was of such low caliber, that the colonial administration should import people from outside the country to man positions in its public service.

THIS IS WHAT HENRY CARR

WROTE OF NIGERIAN SCHOOL LEAVERS IN 1915

‘‘Not only is their stock of positive knowledge altogether in considerable on leaving school, but there is hardly a sign of the growth of mental power of self-control. They are generally speaking, not intelligent, not reliable, and fitted for positions requiring independent judgement or resourcefulness. When left alone, they fall into diverse temptations, ruin themselves and bring sorrow on their families. The present condition of things, If left unremedied, is capable of producing infinite mischief and havoc to the community. The only remedy which suggests itself is the importation from outside the country of a large number of suitable and competent men for service as clerks, if not as schoolmasters.’’ Macaulay couldn’t believe that a Nigerian could write such a thing about fellow Nigerians. But in an earlier memorandum to the Governor, Sir Frederick Lugard. Henry Carr had gone  so much further that even Lugard himself was shocked. According to Lugard, and I quote:

Mr Carr considers that (the experiments made with the importation of) West Indians have proved unsatisfactory and recommends that men should be imported in such numbers from the East Indies as to enable them to form a community of their own.

Were it not for the way Herbert Macaulay fought Henry Carr’s idea, Nigeria would today, have been saddled with the same problem as the East Africans had, with their large Asian populations. Lugard  had to agree with Macaulay by publicly stating that Carr’s recommendation was impracticable and that he (Lugard) was quoting it only to show “what extreme expedients had been suggested by Mr Carr.”

Other middle class intellectuals of that time had, on reading Carr’s statements, concluded that that was a specialist speaking about his subject from a position of inside knowledge, and so left his statements unchallenged. But not Macaulay. He was so incensed that he launched a public attack on his fellow Nigerian, Henry Carr. He published a pamphlet entitled. Henry Carr Must Go.

In his pamphlet, Macaulay’s principal weapon of attack was logic. He argued that if after having spent 14 years inspecting schools in the Lagos colony, Henry Carr could describe those who left the same school’s unintelligent and lacking in positive knowledge, then Carr’s 14 year-service had been a period of definitely useless service to this country, for which he was handsomely paid, out of the revenue.

Macaulay asked whether in his official reports, Mr Carr had ever acknowledged that the schools he had condemned as useless, had produced such brilliant students as Mobolaji Akinsemoyin, who, after attending the Breadfruit School and the CMS Grammar School in Lagos, had graduated with B A from Fourah Bay College at the age of 22 and had been called to the Bar of Lincoln’s Inn only three years later? Macaulay asked. Who could tell how many others there were, equally brilliant, but lacking in opportunity to shine as brightly?

Macaulay accused Henry Carr of being “a modern anthropological philosopher, with borrowed inspiration from the late American Slave-State School.” Henry Carr was perhaps influenced by the “exuberantly  ignorant eloquence of Carl Vogt upon the capacity and character of the American race,” Macaulay suggested.

Macaulay also compared the statements of Henry Carr to “the most unmistakably malicious language” of Sir Richard Burton, who had convinced everyone that he “personally harbours a fiendish hatred against the Negro.” Even the racist Burton, Macaulay pointed out, had been forced to acknowledge, in one passage in his book, Wanderings in West Africa, that:

 

There are about one hundred Europeans in the land: amongst these aremany excellent fellows, but – it is an unpleasant confession to make – the others appear to me inferior to the Africans, natives as well as mulatto,” Burton goes on: “The possibility of such a thing had never yet reached my brain: in conversation with an old friend upon the Coast, the idea started up…. In intellect, the black race is palpably superior.

Macaulay’s vigorous and eloquent defence of the African’s intellectual equality with all other races, be they of British or East Indian origin, was of the greatest importance. For it opened the eyes of Nigerians of Macaulay’s generation to the evidence, gathered by scholars of authority, that supported the equality of all the races.

By this, Macaulay proved that any conclusions about the Nigerian’s inferiority that could be inferred from Henry Carr’s racist remarks were totally unfounded. Thus did Herbert Macaulay save Nigeria’s national dignity as long ago as 1924. His battle with Henry Carr goes to show the contrast, even at that time, between those who used their education to serve their colonial masters and those who, despite the tyranny of colonialism, still found the courage to utilize their education to uplift our people. The same contract is still with us today.

WHAT MACAULAY’S EFFORTS TEACH US

First, when he perceived that something was wrong, Macaulay acted to right it, and thus succeeded in reassuring his follows country that they were equal to all men everywhere.

Macaulay’s invaluable example to us, therefore, is this: What affects all of us must concern all of us.

Secondly, we saw from Macaulay how, far from being satisfied with the knowledge he had acquired as a civil engineer, he had to broaden his education, by private reading no doubt, to encompass anthropology, political economy, law, philosophy and current affairs. In one instance, in his pamphlet, he was able to debunk a claim by Henry Carr, that high officials of the colonial government should not write to newspapers, because it would break the rules of their general orders. Carr himself, Macaulay revealed, published, in his own name, a “three-column letter, in small print” in the Nigerian Times. Macaulay even gave the date: 25th April, 1911! We see here a  Macaulay who paid attention to detail, a  Macaulay who followed events closely and was thus able to summon evidence from his memory and from records, when public interest demanded it.

Thirdly, let us remember that Macaulay was instrumental in obtaining justice for the house of Prince Eleko of Lagos. Having   been deprived of his lands by the colonial administration, Prince Eleko, of the house of King Dosumu, was being paid a pittance, contrary to the agreement under which Lagos was ceded to the Bristich in August 1861. It was Macaulay who, personally helped Prince Eleko to present his case to the privy council itself in London. With Macaulay’s expert advice, Prince Eleko eventually won substantial compensation, to the great annoyance of the colonial civil servants in Lagos, over whom London’s decision now had to take effect. We can imagine the effect this had in Lagos in 1931. Macaulay and the Prince had defeated the “big men” of the colonial administration, put there by London, by going directly to London and presenting a more powerful case than London’s own officials could! The joy of Nigerians at the services of Herbert Macaulay was revealed in the popular song of that time entitled “Nigerian pass European!”

Also, by founding the Nigerian National Democratic Party in 1922 and by later buying the Lagos Daily News in 1927, Macaulay laid the foundations for the political activism that was to be crowned in 1944, with his election as President of the NCNC.

And finally, Herbert Macaulay’s achievement shows that knowledge is power. He worked for the conditions that will enable all our citizens to benefit from an equally broad and practical education. His life shows that none of us should belittle his own area of competence, and imagine that it precludes him or her from garnering interest in other areas of learning.

When Herbert Macaulay, the civil engineer, came across a legal problem, he read up on it. When he observed racism, he consulted anthropological works and came up with the answers he needed to debunk the racist arguments of Henry Carr. Having got the arguments, Macaulay turned himself into a journalist and pamphleteer, in order to obtain a wider audience for his views. And eventually, he purchased and ran his own newspaper. What a far cry from the normal, narrow concerns of the typical civil engineer or most of professionals in other fields, even today!

His life history should tell us that as long as we can read and write we should not allow the boundaries of educational disciplines to restrict or constrain us from understanding as much about our world as possible. How can we translate this principle of a broad, practical education into a policy that actually meets our national needs?

I believe that despite our recent reforms, we still need to broaden our national educational curriculum still further. The emphasis on examinations must be retained by all means, for we do need an objective measure of how well our children have absorbed what they have been taught in the classroom. But concern must also be shown in the classroom for the life outside the classroom. People are going to live in a world in which fuses blow. Must they sit in darkness when a fuse blows until the professional electrician arrives? Many people have plots of land near their houses. Must they starve while this land lies fallow, because they do not know the first thing about agriculture? When a car stops dead on the road, with no mechanic in sight, what do we do? Do we walk or can we be taught to carry out elementary diagnostic tests?

Is petrol flowing freely into the carburetor or not? Are the spark plugs working well? What about the distributors?

The word “education” has its etymological origin in Latin and literally means “to lead out.” We must, offer our children an education that leads them out to survive in the real world. There are countless political questions to be settled in our country. Many vexed social issues to be determined. In all of it, we need knowledge, knowledge and more knowledge, We are fortunate that Herbert Macaulay, one of our spiritual fathers, used knowledge to help advance our country politically to where it is now. He is gone, but we are here. If we fail to do what he would have done, had he equal access to the modern technological marvels that we posses, we will make him ashamed of us. We must vow not to make Herbert Macaulay turn his eyes away from us, in shame, as he lies in his grave.

May the great soul of Herbert Macaulay rest in peace (Amen),

-Chief MKO Abiola delivered this opening address at the 6th Herbert Macaulay Memorial Lecture at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, on 17 July, 1990

-Culled from Legend of Our Time. Thoughts of M.K.O Abiola, Edited by Yemi Ogunbiyi and Chidi Amuta with a forward by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha (pages 553-560)

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