History of Alhassan Dantata
(1877 - 1955AD)
How he made it.
It is customary in Hausa society to name twin brothers as Hassan and
Hussein in honor of the two sons of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph (Ad 656
- 661), Alhassan and Alhusaini. However, Dantata was not normally seen as a
twin. He was born a single child, but contrary to established practice, he was
given the twin name of Alhassan. He was born in Bebeji. a possible sole survivor
of twins other being born a still born. we have already noted that the town was
on the Kano to Gonja and kano to Lagos routes. the people of Bebeji, at least
those from the zango (campsite) were great traders. Bebeji was considered a
miniature Kano. There was a saying which went “If kano has
10 kolas, bebeji has 20 halves" or in hausa: "Birni tana da goro goma, ke Bebeji
kina da bari 20". the town attracted
many people of many different backgrounds in the 19th century- Yoruba, Nupes,
Agalawa, etc. it was controlled by Sarki or (chief) of Bebeji who was
responsible for the protection of Kano from attack from the
Alhassan was born into a Agalawa trading family. his
father was a wealthy trader and caravan leader, Madugu Abdullahi while his
mother was also a trader of importance in her own right enjoying the title of
Maduga - amarya. Abdullahi, in his turn, was a son of another prosperous
merchant, Baba Talatin. It was he who brought the family from Katsina, probably
at the beginning of the nineteenth century, following the death of his father,
Ali. It is said that he received the nickname Baba Talatin because of Murgu
payments. That is he sent his unemployed slaves to find word for money (cowries)
such as water selling. At the end of everyday, he expected to receive 30 cowries
out of what ever they earned. He was given the name by an old gwari slave woman
who whenever anybody asked her for free gift of water, would reply “Baba
Talatin” meaning Baba required me to bring 30 cowries and if I give free water,
I will not be able to pay him. From this he took on the name, Baba talatin. Some
slave owners expected Murgu which might be all their earnings even if their
slaves were sick. Baba talatins people were free to keep anything they gained
above their 30 cowries. Initially the madugu had settled at Danshayi, a small
village on the kano-bebeji road some 15km from kofar Kabuga. It was there that
Abdullahi was born. His father later moved to Madobi the normal first night’s
halt for caravans setting out from Kano and there he died. His tomb may still be
seen. Abdullahi already had a reputation of some wealth from his ventures with
his father and therefore inherited his father’s position as a recognized and
respected madugu. Like his father, he preferred the Nupe and Gonja routes. He
specialized in the exchange of Kano dyed cloth, cattle, slaves and so on for the
kola of the Akan forest. Surprisingly, he had added cowries brought to the coast
by European traders to the items he carried back to kano.
Abdullahi continued to operate from Madobi until 1877 one of our few fixed dates when having just set out for a journey to Gonja, his wife delivered in the zango (campsite) of bebeji. The child was a boy and after the usual seven days, he was named Alhassan. Abdullahi purchased a house in the town and left his nursing wife and child to await his return from Gonja. On his return, he decided to abandon Madobi and moved to Bebeji. The house which contains his tomb is said to be still held by the family. The date of his death is unknown, but it was probably about 1885 when Alhassan was between seven and eight years of age. By then he had brothers and sisters – Shuaibu, malam jaji, malam Bala, malam Sidi and others. The children were too young to succeed to their father’s position and to manage his considerable wealth. They all received their portion according to Islamic law. Maduga Amarya, like her mother in law was a trader of wealth in her own right. Indeed she was known to be such a forceful character that nobody in the zango would take her to wife. She therefore decided to leave the children in Bebeji in the care of an old slave woman while she moved to Accra where she became on of the wealthier Hausa traders.
The slave was known as "Tata" from which circumstance young Alhassan became known as Alhassan Dantata because of her role as his ‘mother’. Alhassan was sent to a Qur'anic school in bebeji and as his share of his father’s wealth (as so often happens), seemed to have vanished, he had to support himself 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 beg, others seek paid work. Alhassan worked and even succeeded at the insistence of Tata in saving. His asusu, “money box” (a pottery vessel) purchased by Tata and set in the wall of the house can still be seen. When he was about 15 years of age Alhassan joined a Gonja bound caravan to see his mother. He purchased some items from Bebeji which he sold half on the road, and the rest in Accra. When he saw his brother, he was very delighted hoping she would allow him to live without doing any work since she was one of the wealthiest local traders. After only a rest of one day, she took him to another malam and asked him to stay with him until he was ready to return to Kano, and he 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 malam, and himself. When he worked for money on Thursdays and Fridays, Alhassan Dantata would not be allowed to spend the money for himself alone, his malam always took the lion’s share and this is normal in hausa society. After the visit, his mother sent him back to bebeji where he continued his studies. Even though now a teenager tata continued to insist that he must save something everyday.
The Kano civil war (1893 – 1894).
When Alhassan was about 16 yrs of age, the Basasa (kano civil war) broke out. Sarkin kano Muhammad. Bello ibn Dabo died in November 1893, and Sarkin Musulmi Abdulrahman Danyan Kasko (1891-1902) appointed his son Muhammad Tukur as the new emir. The sons of Abdullahi B. Dabo (d. 1881) led by Yusuf immediately left Kano for the frontier stronghold of Takai some 72 km S E of kano on the modern kano - Maiduguri road. The hostilities were initially confined to the east and south eastern parts of the emirate. The area of Takai, Dutse, Gantsa, Bininkudu, Gwaran and gaya. They brought most of the areas under their control and in alliance with the old enemies of Kano, the Ningawa they advanced against birnin Kano. They infact succeeded in entering the city through kofar mata, but with the assistance of Sarkin Gaya Dabo, the Yusufawa were forced to withdraw to Takai where they decided they would first have to defeat Gaya. After three months preparation, Gaya was attacked and taken. They then advanced to Garko which they made their new headquarters. Here sources differ. Some say that the majority of the leadership went to attack Bebeji, the strongest remaining town loyal to Tukur on the southern area. Yusufu, seriously ill from the complications of piles, remained at Garko together with his brother Aliyu. When the former died, the bayin sarki (royal slaves) elected Aliyu (1894-1903) as the new emir of the dissidents, and when his brothers returned, they accepted the fate accomplice. Another version claims that Yusuf recommended Aliyu as his successor because his mother was a member of the sokoto ruling house. According to this version, the expedition to bebeji only set out that evening after the appointment of Aliyu. When the dissidents reached bebeji, they tricked the defenders of the town to let them in because they came purposely for the chief of bebeji. When the people laid down their arms, the dissidents set the whole town on fire. The town was sacked and almost all able-bodied inhabitants were either killed or taken captives. However, sarkin bebeji Ahmadu was able to escape. Alhassan and two of his brothers Bala and Mallam Sidi were among the captives. We do not know where he served his period of captivity. There are four versions of the story. The first version says that Alhassan was already taken away together with the rest of the captives to Garko. But after the war, Alhassan was already wealth and when he was taken a captive, he immediately redeemed himself and his brother M. Sidi. The third version says, it was not Alhassan who was taken away by the dissidents, but his senior brother, Alhaji Bala who was sold to the Ningi people. It was only around 1925 that Alhassan found him. The fourth version sys that Alhassan was taken like everybody in bebeji by the dissidents, but escaped almost immediately and joined a Gonja – bound caravan and returned to his mother. Whatever version one takes, it is clear that the kano civil war contributed greatly to the already disrupted life of the young Dantata's. Aliyu entered kano on august 19th 1894, therefore we can probably date Alhassan's misadventures to July of that year.
Aliyu emerged the winner
and although Tukur was not eliminated until the following year, life quickly
returned to normal and business activities resumed their normal course. Alhassan
was again in bebeji when the next major upheaval for the town and the country
occurred. That is when he witnessed the british invasion in 1903. emir aliyu had
gone to sokoto with the army of western kano to congratulate the new Sarkin
musulmi, Attahiru 1(1902-03) and to consult him over the british threat. He left
confidential slave officials with instruction together the contingents of
eastern kano at bebeji ready to resist any invasion. Unfortunately, only a few
had arrived at bebeji when on Feb. 1, 1903 , the british crossed the frontier
from Zaria. Sarkin bebeji refused to surrender the town and the south gate was
shelled. The Sarkin and a follower were crashed and killed as the gate was blown
in. perhaps as many as 30 of the mounted slaves were killed in the area around
he town. Alhassan remained in bebeji until matters had settled down and the
roads were secure only then did he set out for Accra, by way of Ibadan and Lagos
(Ikko) and then by sea to Accra and then to Kumasi, Sekondi and back to Lagos.
Alhassan was one of the pioneers of this route. For several years, he carried
his kola by sea using steamer to Lagos where he usually sold it to kano bound
merchants. By this time, he was relatively wealthy. In 1906, he began broadening
his interests by trading in beads, necklaces, European cloth, etc. his mother
who had never remarried died in Accra in about 1908 and he thereafter generally
restricted his operations to Lagos and kano although he continued to visit
Accra. Thus far in his career with most of his fellow long distance traders, he
continued to live in one of the towns some distance from kano city only visiting
the birni for business purposes. Residence in kano city . before Alhassan settled in kano permanently, he visited kano city
only occasionally to either purchase or sell his wares. He did not own a house
there, but was satisfied with the accommodation given to him by his patoma (land
lord.) it was during the time of the first british appointed emir of kano, Abbas
(1903-1919) that Alhassan decided to establish a home in kano. He purchased his
first house in sarari area( an extension of Koki). At that time there was nobody
(no houses) from the house of baban jaki (at the end of Koki) up to kofar
mazugal. In fact the area was called sarari because it was empty and nobody
wanted that land. Alhassan built his first house on that land and was able
thereafter to extend freely.
In 1912, when the Europeans started to show on interest in the export of groundnut, they contacted the already established kano merchants through the Emir, Abbas and their chief agent, Adamu Jakada. Some established merchants of kano like Umaru Sharubutu, Maikano Agogo and others were approached and accepted the offer.
E10,200 (ten thousand, two hundred
pounds) to the proposed kano citizens trading company for the establishment of
the first indigenous textile mill in northern Nigeria.
the chief produce buyer especially of groundnuts for the Niger company (later
U.A.C). it is said that he used to purchase about half of all the nuts purchased
by U.A.C in northern Nigeria. Because of this, he applied for a license to
purchase and export groundnuts in 1940 just like the U.A.C. However, because of the great depression and the
war situation, it was not granted. Even saul raccah lost his license to export
and import about this time because he did not belong to the association of west African merchants. In 1953-4 he
became a licensed buying agent (L.B.A) that is a buyer who sells direct to the
marketing board instead of to another firm. However, Alhassan had many business
connections both in Nigeria and in other west African countries, particularly
the gold coast. He dealt, not only in groundnuts, but in other merchandise. He
traded in cattle, kola, cloth, beads, precious stones, grains, rope and other
things. When Alhassan finally settled in kano, he maintained agents, mainly his
relations, in other places. For instance Alhaji Bala, his brother, his brother
was sent to Lagos. Alhassan employed people mainly Ibos and Yoruba's and the
indigenous Hausas as wage earners. They worked as clerks, drivers, and laborers.
Some especially the Hausas stayed in his house. He was responsible for their
marriage expenses. They did not pay rent and infact were regarded as members of
his extended family. He sometimes allowed some to have right of
The manners of Alhassan.
Though Alhassan became the wealthiest man in the
british west African colonies, he lived a simple life. He fed on the same food
stuffs as any other individual, - tuwon dawa da furar gero. He dressed simple in
a white gown, a pair of white trousers da itori, and underwear (yar ciki), a
pair of ordinary local sandals, and sewn white cap, white turban and
occasionally a malfa (local hat). He was said never to own more that three sets
of personal clothing at a time. He never stayed inside his house all day and was
always out doing something. He moved avout among his workers joking with them,
encouraging and occasionally giving a helping hand. He ate his meal outside and
always with his senior workers like Garba maisikeli and Alhaji Mustapha Adakawa.
Alhassan met fully established wealthe kano merchants when he moved to kano from
the kauye, like maikano agogo, Umaru Sharubutu, Salga and so on. He lived with
them peacefully and always respected them. Occasionally he visited the senior of
them all Umaru Sharubutu to great him. The oldest son of Umaru Sharubutu became
an important employee in his commercial enterprise. He avoided clash with other
kano people rulers. He hated court litigation. He was in court only once. But
before the final judgment , the case was settled outside a Lagos court (it was a
E10,000 civil suit) instituted by one
Haruna against him. He lived peacefully with the local authority. Whenever he
offended the authority he would go quietly to solve the problems with the
Alhassan’s western education.
He respected people with qur’anic and other branches of Islamic learning, and helped them occasionally. He established a qur’anic school for his children and other people of the neighborhood. He insisted that all his children must be well educated in the Islamic way. He appreciated also, functional western education just enough to transact business (some arithmetic, simple accounting, Hausa reading and writing and spoken English).
Alhassan backed the establishment of a western style school in the dala area for Hausas (i.e. non-Fulani) trader’s children in the 1930’s. the existence of a school in bebeji (the only non-district headquarters in kano to have one in the 1930’s) was probably due to his influence. But he could neither read nor write English. Alhassan could write beautiful ajami, but could not speak or write Arabic. He could read the qur’an and other religious books with ease (this is very common in Hausa society). Most of the qur’anic reciter's could read very well, but could not understand Arabic. Alhassan dantata knew some arithmetic-addition and subtraction, and could use a ready reckoner. He encouraged his children also to learn enough western education to transact business the need of his time. He established his own Arabic and English school in 1944 dantata Arabic and English school.
The Land lord.
He started to acquire urban land as early as
1917 in the non- European trading site (Syrian quarters) when he acquired two
plots at an annual fee of
E20. all his houses were occupied by his
own people relations, sons, servants, workers and so on . he never built a hotel
for whatever purpose in his life and advised his children to do like wise. His
numerous large warehouses in and around kano metropolis were not for rent. He
kept his own wares in them.
He never became a politician in the true sense of the term. However, because of his enormous wealth, he was always very close to the government. He had to be in both the colonial government’s good books and maintain a position very close to the emirs kano. He was nominated to represent commoners in the reformed local administration of kano and in 1950 was made a councilor in the emir’s council- the first non- royal individual to sit. Other members of the council then were:: Madakin kano, Alhaji muhammadu Inuwa, walin kano, malam abubakar tsangaya, Sarkin shanu, alhaji muhammadu sani, wazirin kano alhaji abubakar, makaman kano alhaji bello alhaji usman gwarzo, and the leader alhaji abdulllahi bayero. Alhassan therefore was a member of the highest governing body of kano in his time. He was also appointed to mediate between NEPU and NPC in kano in 1954 together with mallam nasiru kabara and other members. He joined no political party, but it is clear that he symphasised with the NPC.
Views through other eyes.
He was viewed differently by different people. To some people, he was a mutumin kirki ( complete gentleman) who was highly disciplined and made money through hard work and honesty. He always served as an enemy to a breaker of hoarding. For instance, he would purchase items specially grains during the harvest time, when it was abundant at low prices. He would wait until during the rainy season, (July or august) when there was limited supply in the markets or when grain merchants started to inflate the prices. He then moved and filled the markets with his surplus grains and asked a price lower than the current price in the markets by between 50 – 70%. By this way, he forced down prices. His anti- hoarding activities did not stop at grains and other consumer goods, but even to such items as faifai, igiya, babarma (Mat), dyed cloth, shuni, potash, and so on. However on the other hand, according to information collected in Koki, dala, qul-qul, madabo, yan maruci e.t.c Alhassan was viewed as mugun mutum (Wicked person). My informants expressed the view that dantata undercut their prices simple to cripple his fellow merchants.
Alhassan was a devout Muslim. He was one of the first northerners to visit Mecca via England by mail boat in the early 1920’s. he loved reading the qur’an and hadith. He had a personal mosque in his house and established a qur’anic school for his children. He maintained a full time Islamic scholar called alhaji abubakar (father of malam lawan kalarawi, a renowned kano public preacher).
He paid zakkat annually according to Islamic injunction. He gave alms to the poor every Friday. He belonged to the qadiriyya brotherhood. Because of his Islamic beliefs, Alhassan never transacted business with a woman of whatever age, and his bank account did not carry an interest because it is regarded as usury in Muslim law. His wife, Hajiya Umma Zaria, (mother of aminu) was his chief agent among the women folk. Women needed not to visit her house. She established agents all over kano city and visited them in turn. When she visited her agents, it was the duty of the agents to ask what the women in the ward wanted. Amina umma zaria would then leave the items for them. All her agents were old married women. And she warned her agents to desist from conducting business with newly wedded girls. Umma zaria dealt in the smallest household items which would cost 2.5 d to sophisticated jewels worth thousands of pounds.
Alhassan enjoyed good health and was never totally indisposed throughout his active life. However, occasionally he might develop malaria fever, and whenever he was sick, he would go to the S.I.M clinic for treatment. Because of his simple eating habits- ordinary hausa food two or three times a day, and he is always active mode of life, he never develop obesity. He remained slim and strong throughout his life. Alhassan had no physical defects and enjoyed good eye sight.
In 1955, Alhassan fell ill and because of the seriousness of the illness, he summoned his chief financial controller, Garba Maisikeli and his children. He told them that his days were approaching their end and advised the to live together. He was particularly serious about the company he had established (Alhassan Dantata & son’s ) he asked them not to allow the company to collapse. He implored then 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 passed away in his sleep on Wednesday 17th august, 1955. he was buried the same day in his house in sarari ward, Kano.
The heirs of Alhassan.
It was and is rare for business organizations to survive the death of their founders in Hausa society. Hausa tradition is full of stories of former successful business family, who later lost everything. In Kano city alone names like: kundila of makwarari, the wealthiest man at the end of nineteenth century, maikano agogo of koki ward, umaru sharubutu also of koki ward, baban jaji, abdu sarki of zaitawa ward, madugu indo of adakawa, malam salga mai goro of madabo ward, madugu kosai of adakawa, mudi na dala, madugu mijin yawa mai akokari, abba dungurun, jagaba ali of darma, malam gade-gade of alkantara, tulu baba of koki ward, Muhammad agigi(sharubutu) of qul-qul, and others too numerous to mention here, were some of them. Our question now is why this sorry state of affairs?
M.G smith, suggested that three reasons were responsible as follows: the amount of money spent by the wealthy hausa man in the religious and social obligations was so great and only large fortunes could survive. Secondly, he was ,after the introduction of to colonial economy dependent for credit facilities on good relations with expatriate firms and stable groups of reliable agents, and thirdly, under Islamic law his estate was subdivided on inheritance.
He further suggested that only Alhassan of kano was likely to leave able heirs to continue his business in a grand way. This observations was made in 1949 before his death. The reason for this, smith argued, was that his heirs were interested in keeping the name going, and the employment of modern method of book keeping, the only local merchant to do so at that time. Another observer is (Tahir: 1919-75) has the opinion that business ventures in hausa society often collapsed upon the death or retirement of the founder because his heirs were not trained when he died, his entire estate was subdivided according to Islamic law among the eighteen children who survived him.