Alhassan Dantata was born in Bebeji, Kano Emirate in 1877. His parents are Mallam Abdullahi and Amarya, both were wealthy folks from Agalawa, a heredity group of long-distance traders in the Hausa empire.
Dantata’s father, Abdullahi died in Bebeji around 1885, seven years after his birth. His children though young and unable to manage their father’s wealth but they all received their portion according to Islamic law.
His share of his father’s wealth seemed to have vanished after a while 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 tradition for a young Agalawa. He succeeded at the insistence of the training he received from Tata in saving. The asusu, a “money box” (a pottery vessel) purchased by Tata, still exists in the walls of the house. The teaching of Tata is a manifestation of what the book written by George S Clarson, the richest man in Babylon captures.
He was a Northern Nigerian trader who deals in kola nuts, ground nuts and distribute European goods. He was one of the very few during his time who supplied large British trading companies with raw materials. Dantata also had business interest in the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana.
There was no record that Alhassan Dantata attended any college like other Nigerians during his time. However, it was documented that he attended a Qur’anic school (madrasah) in Bebeji. It is likely that it was run by a Tijaniyya.
Young Dantata never have the opportunity of living with his mother, Amarya for long time after the death of his father, Abdullahi due to her business interest which take her out of Nigeria. This made Amarya, a trader of wealth decided to leave Bebeji for Accra where she had commercial interests. She left her children in the care of an old slave whose name was Tata.
Dantata got his name ‘Dantata’ from the role of the old slave his mother entrusted him to while leaving for Ghana. The name of the slave is Tata and ‘Dan’ in Hausa language means ‘’son of Tata’’. The young Alhassan later became known as Alhassan Dantata, a name that has continued to linger not only in the Northern part of Nigeria but across Nigeria and Africa.
After Dantata was freed from slavery around 1894, he 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. Surprisingly, 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. Dantata worked harder in Accra than he did in Bebeji.
Dantata started to be a long-distance trader himself. 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.
Through this idea of doing business coupled with the training he got from his foisted slave mother, biological mother and experiences of losing one’s father at age seven and the challenges flowing with it, Dantata was able to build a business empire and a name which continue have continued to linger many years after his death without a university masters in Business Education.