DATE OF BIRTH
DATE OF DEATH
17th August, 1955
PLACE OF BIRTH
Bebeji, Kano State
Alhassan Dantata was one of the Nigerians that benefited from the legitimate trade between African merchants and Europeans in the 20th century during the growth of commerce in West Africa. He was an industrious, hardworking merchant who made a fortune and left a legacy and a lasting inheritance for his descendants. The billionaire, Aliko Dangote is his great grand son.
Alhassan Dantata was born in 1877 in the town of Bebeji in Kano State. His parents had seven children and were wealthy traders from the Agalawa group in the old Hausa empire. After the death of his father, his mother left for Accra to continue her business leaving Alhassan and his siblings in the care of Tata, an old slave. Tata was such a strong influence in Alhassan’s life that he became known as “Dantata”‘ meaning Son of Tata. She encouraged him in many ways to save, giving him a money box to keep his earnings in, which still exists. Alhassan attended Qur’anic school in Bebeji and due to his dwindling inheritance, he took paid jobs, sometimes resorting to begging to support himself. In 1893, the death of the Emir, Muhammad Bello, led to a civil war in Kano between his son Tukur, and Yusufu, who had been passed over when Bello became Emir. Yusufu emerged as the victor and in retaliation captured and confiscated lands of the Agalawa people who supported Tukur.
Alhassan being an Agalawa, had his lands taken away and was threatened into slavery and paid a ransom for his freedom. In the hopes of a better life, he left for Accra to seek refuge with his wealthy mother, who again, placed him in the care of a Mallam (teacher) till he earned enough money to return Bebeji. Life was no better in Ghana. He continued his Qur’anic studies, begging, working and giving the bulk of his earning to his mallam.
Upon his return to Bebeji, he began trading in kolanuts and built a trading empire for himself. He became the first trader to use steamships instead of camels to transport his goods between Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Lagos. By the early 20th century, he became the foremost trader of kolanuts and had expanded his goods to include necklaces, European cloths and beads. A shrewd businessman with no formal education, Alhassan had the initiative to employ an accountant and financial controller. He was one of the few selected by the European trading companies to fulfil trading contracts, supplying groundnuts for the Royal Niger Company, among others. He was regarded as the wealthiest merchant in Kano in 1922 and it was rumored that he deposited 20 camels of silver when the Bank of British West Africa started operations in Kano.
Alhassan’s confiscated lands were finally returned to him with the new Emir of Kano, Emir Abbas. He built his house and married his first wife Umma Zaria, who began trading with Kano women, and later, a second wife, Maimuna. Alhassan was also known to be a devout Muslim who in accordance to his beliefs, did not collect interest on loans nor gain any interests on his deposits at Bank of British West Africa. He financially supported Qur’anic studies, gave to the poor and during Ed-el-Kabir, killed herds of cattle to be distributed. He financed the pilgrimage of other Muslims; a tradition still done by his descendants today. in 1918, on his own pilgrimage to the holy land Mecca, he passed through London by ship and met King George V at the Buckingham palace.
Shortly before his death on August 17th 1955, he was appointed the Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation. He instructed his children to look after his company (Alhassan Dantata & Son’s), warning against rivalry with other Kano traders and advised marriage among the family. Alhassan Dantata died in his sleep and was buried in his house in Sarari ward.
Alhassan Dantata was a proof that hard work and commitment are necessities to a successful life and that formal education is not a passport to wealth. Although Alhassan had no formal business training, he was able to start from humble beginnings to build a business that became an empire.
- Price, J.H. “Tribute to Alhassan Dantata.” West Africa Magazine. October 29 1955. http://dantatafamily.com/tribute_to_alhassan.htm
- “Alhassan Dantata.” – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Modified June 2 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhassan_Dantata