time of his death he was one of the wealthiest men in West Africa.
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 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.
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
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 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
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Dantata made a pilgrimage 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.