Alhassan Dantata

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Alhassan Dantata
Born 1877
Died 17 August 1955
Resting place Sarari ward of Kano
Residence Kano
Nationality Nigerian
Education Madrasah in Bebeji
Occupation Merchant
Board member of Emir of Kano's Council
Spouse(s) Umma Zaria, Maimuna
Children Ahmadu, Aminu, Mamudi, Sanusi, Mudi, et al.
Parent(s) Abdullahi, Fatima

Alhassan Dantata (1877 – 17 August 1955) was a Northern Nigerian trader in kola nuts, ground nuts and 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 one of the wealthiest men in West Africa.[1][2]

Early life[edit]


Dantata was born in Bebeji in 1877, one of several children of Abdullahi and his wife Amarya.[3] Both his parents were wealthy Agalawa, a heredity group of long distance traders in the Hausa empire.[4] 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. She left the children in Bebeji, in the care of an old slave woman named Tata.[citation needed]

The young Alhassan became known as Alhassan Dantata because of Tata's role as his 'mother' (" Dan-tata" means "son of Tata" in Hausa language). His name indicates she was a strong influence in his early life.[citation needed]


Alhassan 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 malam (teacher) and at the same time read. Some simply begged while others sought paid work. Alhassan worked, as was tradition for a young Agalawa. He succeeded at the insistence of Tata in saving. His asusu, "money box" (a pottery vessel) purchased by Tata, still exists in the walls of the house.[citation needed]

Kano Civil War and Slavery[edit]

Dantata was still a teenager boy 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.[5] 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.[6]

Introduction to Trading[edit]

Probably after being freed from slavery around 1894, Alhassan 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. After only a rest of one day, she took him to a Mallam and asked him to stay there until he was ready to return to Bebeji. Alhassan worked harder in Accra than he did in Bebeji. After the usual reading of the Qur'an, Alhassan Dantata 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 everyday.[citation needed]


Alhassan 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Base of Operations[edit]

Alhassan 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 (land lord). When the British disposed 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.[citation needed]

He married Umma Zaria, and as was the tradition she conducted business for him with women of Kano.[citation needed]

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.[7]

European trading companies[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Alhassen 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. Despite the famine in Kano in 1914, he quickly dominated the groundnut purchasing business via promotions, loans and contacts.[citation needed]

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.[2] It is said[by whom?] that he used to purchase about half of all the nuts purchased by the United Africa Company in northern Nigeria.[citation needed]

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 pointed to sixty "groundnut pyramids" in Kano and said, "These are all mine".[citation needed]

Alhassen Dantata applied for a license to purchase and export groundnuts in 1940, on the same level as the United Africa Company. However, it was not granted because of world wide 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.[citation needed]

Dantata 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.[citation needed]

Pilgrimage to Mecca[edit]

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.[2] Dantata financed the pilgrimages of other Muslims to Mecca, a tradition that is still going on amongst his descendants. His son, Alhaji Aminu Dantata and his grandchildren like Hajiya Mariya Sunusi Dantata as well as his great grand children, Aliko Dangote still finance pilgrimages of other Muslims to Mecca every year.[8]


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 & Son's). 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.[2]

Descendants of Alhassan Dantata[edit]

Some descendants include

  • Mamuda Dantata (1922–1983): son, founder of the West African Pilgrims Association and a currency trader[9]
  • Sanusi Dantata (1917-1997): son, a successful businessman[10]
    • Alhaji Abdulkadir Dantata: grandson[11]
    • Aliko Dangote (1957-): great grandson, a billionaire
  • Ahmadu Dantata (1916-1960): son, a politician[12]
  • Aminu Dantata (1931-): son, a businessman[13]


  1. ^ Price, J.H (19 October 1955). "Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, An Appreciation". West Africa. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 9 October 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d Dan-Asabe, Abdulkarim Umar (November 2000). "Biography of Select Kano Merchants, 1853–1955". FAIS Journal of Humanities. 1 (2). Archived from the original on 13 February 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2007. 
  3. ^ "Alhassan Dantata: Things You Didn't Know About Him". Nigerian Finder. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  4. ^ "Alhassan Dantata: Things You Didn't Know About Him". Nigerian Finder. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  5. ^ Stilwell, Sean (2000). "Power, Honour and Shame: The Ideology of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. Edinburgh University Press. 70 (3): 394–421. ISSN 0001-9720. JSTOR 1161067. doi:10.2307/1161067. 
  6. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E. (2007). Kolapo & Akurang-Parry, ed. "Alhaji Ahmad El=Fellati Ibn Dauda Ibin Muhammad Manga and the Kano Civil War, 1893-1895". Africian Agency and European Colonialism. University Press of America: 45–58. ISBN 978-0-7618-3846-3. 
  7. ^ Dan-Asabe, Abdulkariu Umar (2000). "Biography of Select Kano Merchants, 1853-1955". FAIS Journal of Humanities. Federal College of Education, Kano. 1 (No. 2). Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  8. ^ Iliffe, John (2005). "Urbanisation and Masculinity". Honour in African History. Cambridge University Press. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-521-83785-9. 
  9. ^ Hashim, Yahaya; Kate Meagher (1999). Cross-Border Trade and the Parallel Currency Market – Trade and Finance in the Context of Structural Adjustment. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute. p. 30. ISBN 978-91-7106-449-3. 
  10. ^ Loimeier, Roman (1997). Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria. Northwestern University Press. pp. 65–70. ISBN 978-0-8101-1346-6. 
  11. ^ Mfonobong Nsehe. "Nigerian Tycoon Abdulkadir Dantata Is Dead", Forbes, 8 February 2012. Accessed 3 March 2016.
  12. ^ Sklar, Richard L (2004). Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation. Africa World Press. ISBN 978-1-59221-209-5. 
  13. ^ Forrest, Tom (1994). The Advance of African Capital: The Growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise. Edinburgh University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-7486-0492-0.