Alhassan Dantata was a Northern Nigerian trader in kola nuts and ground nuts, and he was a distributor of European goods.
At the time of his death he was the wealthiest man in West Africa.
Full Name: Alhassan Dantata
Birth place: Bebeji, Kano Emirate (present day Bebeji, Kano State, Nigeria)
Died: 17 August 1955
Death place: Kano, Northern Region,
British Nigeria (present day Kano, Kano State, Nigeria)
Resting place: Sarari ward of Kano
Education: Madrasah in Bebeji
Famous as: Merchant, businessman
Board member of: Emir of Kano’s Council
Company name: Alhassan Dantata & Sons
Spouse(s): Umma Zaria, Maimuna
Children: Mamuda,Ahmadu,Sanusi, Aminu,Mudi, et al.
Parent(s): Abdullahi, Fatima
Grandchild: Mariya Sunusi Dantata
Early childhood and family
Dantata was born in Bebeji, Kano Emirate in 1877, one of several children of Abdullahi and his wife Amarya. Both his parents were wealthy Agalawa, a hereditary group of long-distance traders in the Hausa empire. Abdullahi died in Bebeji around 1885.
Abdullahi’s children were too young to manage his considerable wealth. They all received their portion according to Islamic law. Amarya, like her mother-in-law, was a trader of wealth in her own right. After her husband’s death, she decided to leave Bebeji for Accra, where she had commercial interests.
Accra is around 1600 km away from Bebeji, and in those days, the journey would take several weeks. She left the children in Bebeji, in the care of an old slave woman named Tata.
The Dantata became known as Alhassan Dantata because of Tata’s role as his “mother” (“Dan-tata” means “son of Tata” in the Hausa language). His name indicates she was a strong influence in his early life.
Dantata was sent to a Qur’anic school
(madrasah) in Bebeji. Most likely Tijaniyya. His share of his father’s wealth seemed to have vanished and he had to support himself.
The life of the almajiri (Qur’anic student) is difficult, as he has to find food and clothing for himself and also for his malam (teacher) and at the same time read.
Some simply begged while others sought paid work. Dantata worked, as was tradition for a young Agalawa. He succeeded at the insistence of Tata in saving.
Kano Civil War and slavery
Dantata was still a teenager when the great upheavals occurred in the Kano Emirate from 1893 to 1895. There were two claimants to the Kano Emirate when Emir Muhammad Bello died in 1893.
Tukur was his son. Tukur received his religious training from a Tijaniyya scholar and received the support of the Agalawa. Yusufu had been passed over when Bello became Emir.
Yusufu received his religious training from Qaadiriyya schools. In the resulting civil war, Yusufu forces were victorious over Tukur, and claimed the title of emir.
Because of the Agalawa support of Tukur, Dantata and the other Agalawa had their property confiscated and many were captured.
Dantata and his brothers were held for ransom, under the threat of slavery. They paid it and Dantata returned to the trading business without his family lands around Kano.
Journey to trading
Probably after being freed from slavery around 1894, Dantata joined a Gonja-bound caravan to see his mother. He purchased some items in Bebeji, he sold half of them on the way and the rest in Accra.
He might have hoped his wealthy mother would allow him to live with her and find him work among the Gold Coast Agalawa community.
However, this did not happen. After a rest of only one day, she took him to a mallam and asked Dantata to stay there until he was ready to return to Bebeji. Dantata worked harder in Accra than he did in Bebeji.
After the usual reading of the Qur’an, he had to go and beg for food for his
mallam and himself. He worked for money on Thursdays and Fridays. As was the tradition, the bulk of his earnings went to his mallam.
At some point he returned to Bebeji to his religious studies and work. There, Dantata continued the habit of saving something every day.
Professional trading career
Dantata started to be a long-distance trader himself. He remained in Bebeji until matters had settled down. He used the new trade routes to Ibadan and Lagos to develop his network of trading associates.
Instead of bringing kola nuts on pack animals, he used steamships to transport them between Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi
He was the first to develop this route. This innovation and contact with Europeans helped establish his wealth and future.
In 1906, he began broadening his interests by trading in beads, necklaces, European cloth, and trade goods. His mother, who had never remarried, died in Accra around 1908.
After her death he focused his attention on new opportunities in Lagos and Kano. For example, built up his trade in kola nuts so that eventually whole “kola trains” to Northern Nigeria were filled with his kola nuts.
Trading with Africa and European companies
In 1912, when the Europeans started to show an interest in the export of groundnut, they contacted the already established Kano merchants through Emir Abbas and their chief agent, Adamu Jakada. Some established merchants of Kano like Umaru Sharubutu, Maikano Agogo accepted their offer.
Dantata was already familiar with the manner by which traders could make fortunes by buying cocoa for Europeans in the Gold Coast. He had several advantages over other Kano business men: language, wealth and age.
He could speak some English and already had direct dealings with Europeans in Lagos and Accra. He had substantial amounts of capital. Unlike other established Kano merchants, he was in his mid-thirties, with a small family and retinue to support.
In 1918, the UK-based Royal Niger Company (later became the United Africa Company) searched for an agent to purchase groundnuts for them, and Dantata responded to their offer.
By 1922 Dantata had become the richest businessman in Kano, surpassing other merchant traders. In 1929, when the Bank of British West Africa opened a branch in Kano, Dantata placed 20 camel-loads of silver coins in it. (For religious reasons, his money collected no interest).
Shortly before his death, he had sixty “groundnut pyramids” in Kano.
Dantata applied for a licence to purchase and export groundnuts in 1940, on the same level as the United Africa Company. However, it was not granted because of worldwide military and economic conditions.
In 1953–54 he became a licensed buying agent, which allowed him to sell directly to the Nigerian Groundnut Marketing board instead of another firm.
He had many business connections both in Nigeria and in other West African countries, particularly the Gold Coast. He dealt not only in groundnuts and kola but also in other merchandise. He traded in cattle, cloth, beads, precious stones, grains, rope and other things.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Dantata made a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca via boat in the 1920s. On this trip he also went to England and was presented to George V.
Dantata financed the pilgrimages of other Muslims to Mecca, a tradition that continues among his descendants. His son, Alhaji Aminu Dantata and his grandchildren like Hajiya Mariya Sunusi Dantata as well as his great grandchildren, Aliko Dangote still finance pilgrimages of other Muslims to Mecca every year.
In 1955, Dantata fell ill. Because of the seriousness of his illness, he summoned his chief financial controller, Garba Maisikeli and his children. He told them that his days were approaching their end and advised them to live together.
He was particularly concerned about the company he had established (Alhassan Dantata & Sons). He asked them not to allow the company to collapse. He implored them to continue to marry within the family as much as possible.
He urged them to avoid clashes with other wealthy Kano merchants. They should take care of their relatives, especially the poor among them. Three days later he died in his sleep on Wednesday 17 August 1955. He was buried in his house in the Sarari ward.
Family and personal life
He married Umma Zaria, and as was the tradition she conducted business for him with women of Kano.
By all accounts, Dantata was hard working, frugal and unpretentious in his personal habits. He was also a good financial manager.
He had the good sense to employ Alhaji Babba Na Alhassan who served as his chief accountant and Alhaji Garba Maisikeli as his financial controller for 38 years. Dantata did not manage from behind a desk but involved himself with his workers.
Some descendants of Alhassan Dantata includes:
Mahmud Dantata,popularly known as Mamuda Wapa (1922–1983): son
Sanusi Dantata (1917-1997): son, a successful businessman
Alhaji Abdulkadir Dantata: Grandson
Aliko Dangote (1957-): great grandson, a billionaire
Alhaji Mudi Dantata(1918-2005), son, a successful Businessman
Ahmadu Dantata (1916-1960): son, a politician
Aminu Dantata (1931-): son, a businessman.