Alhassan Dantata was born in 1877. He was a Northern Nigerian trader in kolanuts and groundnuts, and he was a distributor of European goods. He supplied large British trading companies with raw materials and also had business interests in the Gold Coast. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest man in West Africa.
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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 young Alhassan 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. It is likely that it was run by a 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 Mallam (teacher) and at the same time read. Some simply begged while others sought paid work. Dantata worked, as was a tradition for a young Agalawa. He succeeded at the insistence of Tata in saving. His asusu, a “money box” (a pottery vessel) purchased by Tata, still exists in the walls of the house.
Introduction 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 his 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, Tata continued to insist that he must save something every day.
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 and Lagos. He was the first to develop this route. This innovation and contact with Europeans helped establish his wealth and future.
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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.
Base of operations
Dantata maintained a house in Bebeji and had no property in the larger trading town of Kano. He did not own a house there but was satisfied with the accommodation given to him by his patoma (landlord). When the British disposed of the successor of Yusufu in 1903, they appointed Abbas as the Emir of Kano. As part of a recompilation, Abbas returned the confiscated lands around Kano to the Agalawa families. Dantata built his first house in the then empty Sarari area (an extension of Koki) in Kano.
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.
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.
Some descendants of Alhassan Dantata includes:
Mahmud Dantata, popularly known as Mamuda Wapa (1922–1983): son. After graduating from Gold Coast University (Ghana) he became his father’s chief scribe and modernized his business activities. He later founded the West African Pilgrims Agency in 1948 and pioneered parallel Market Currency Trading in West Africa. The Genius Shrewd Business Man brought more fame to Dantata Family within West African Countries.
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
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