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Insight into the life of Aminu Dantata as a family man, sportsman and silent Philanthropist

Refusing to take a “no” for an answer, the Daily Trust Team worked round the clock on how to get greater insights into the life…

Refusing to take a “no” for an answer, the Daily Trust Team worked round the clock on how to get greater insights into the life of Alhaji Aminu Dantata. The Team reached out to Dr. Munzali Dantata, a cousin of the Sage who graciously obliged.

 

Relationship with Aminu Dantata

He is a younger brother to my father. My father died when I was just three years old, so, he became my foster father, and so, he is the father I know. Because I only know my biological father by photograph. Thankfully, in those days pictures were very much around.

So, I have grown up with Baba. I call him Baba Aminu. He sent me to school together with my brothers and sisters from my father and his children. So, we were a big family. Today, there are about 50 of us still alive apart from a few that have died.

Baba’s world view

First of all, in his world outlook, I will say he has a modern approach to life. He is somebody who has both a traditional life and a modern life. He was born 92 years ago during the colonial period that is 1931.

He was born into a merchant family and he worked for his father and the company that his father created. So, he has that experience of at least about 10 years or a dozen years of the colonialists. If you take it from when he finished his schooling and became a young man of about 20 years, that is early 50s; which is a good 10 years before independence, you will see that he was very much involved in the colonial economy which was driven by exports.

He sent us all to school so that shows he is an educationist. I was five years old when I was sent to a boarding school in Kaduna. He sent us to one of the best schools in the country called Capital School Kaduna. There was a colonial school in Lagos; these were two schools in the 60s and early 70s that were discovered as the two best schools. However, there was a consensus that Capital School has the edge. The school was fashioned after schools in England.

The school was the vision of (Sir Ahmadu Bello) Sardauna (of Sokoto) to build a model school in which other schools could try the LEA schools. Just like Sardauna was a visionary in shaping that school, I would say those who sent their children to the school were also visionaries and they appreciate the fact that we are in a so-called modern world so we have to train the future generations to survive in such a world.

So, there were 12 of us from the Dantata family in that boarding school and it was very expensive. That was another aspect of him and he continued funding the school that my father established – Dantata School, which was probably the first indigenous private school established in 1955.

alhaji aminu dantata
alhaji aminu dantata

 

When my father died in 1950, Alhaji Aminu continued – the school is still there and he continued funding the school. Before then, all the schools in Kano province and probably in northern Nigeria belonged to either the government or missionaries-from Lokoja to Kaduna to Kano and to Katsina, all were government schools. But there were few private ones such as Saint Ann’s, Saint Gregory, and Saint John’s, all in Kaduna. So, the Dantata School was the first of the first generation of schools that did not belong to the government or to the missionaries. To me, that shows aspects of him, both in business and in education. He had that world outlook that we have to be competitive. We have to prepare ourselves.

What kind of upbringing prepared him for that kind of giant lead at such an early age?

I would say that he is a chip off the old block. His father, Alhassan Dantata settled in Ghana at a very early age and that was in the pre-colonial era. When the British took over Nigeria and established the British colony of Northern Nigeria, before the amalgamation in 1900, his father was in his mid-20s, in business with a retinue of workers and family. They were also settled in Ghana.

He used to commute between Bebeji, his hometown, a few minutes’ drive from Kano, and also Gwanja, which is near Kumasi (in Ghana) – where his father first settled, before he moved to Accra. So, he was there when the British started invading West Africa. Though, he was from Kano in Nigeria, he was based in Accra. Then, he moved back to Nigeria, when he was attracted by the railway in Kano and other developments.

So, what I would like to say is that when his father came home, he was English. He knew the principles of accounting and modern business. He incorporated Alhassan Dantata & Sons, which I believe was the first incorporated company in northern Nigeria, and among the first generation of incorporated companies in Nigeria. Before then, all the companies were British, German, and French. So, the companies incorporated in Nigeria from 1900 up to the 20s were all European companies and incorporated in Europe.

When the company registry started (there was a registry in each of the capitals: in Lagos, Enugu, and in Kaduna), Alhassan Dantata was among the first in Northern Nigeria and probably the first to receive the certificate (of registration). You know, there was no southern indigenous company ahead of Alhassan Dantata & Sons.

 

So, how did he arrive at that position so quickly?

When his father died, he was the deputy managing director of the company. He had an elder brother, Alhaji Ahmadu, who died three years later.

Eventually, the company broke up; others (in the family) started their own companies. My father continued with Alhassan Dantata & Sons, while others branched out and set up their own companies.

In the 60s and 70s, the two well-known companies were Sanusi Dantata & Sons which was established by Sanusi Dantata and Alhassan Dantata & Sons. My father never established his own company and neither did Alhaji Aminu. So, by the time the business climate changed, he started incorporating other companies. They were into construction and then went into import because Alhassan Dantata & Sons was more into the export of groundnut and anything exportable, because that was what the colonialists wanted. That was the backbone of the company and it never changed from that up to the time that it went down and other companies came up. So, that is how he came at a young age and became a managing director. Eight years later, he became a commissioner. I am sure that he was 40 years old or less when he became commissioner.

 

Why did he pull out of politics?

I thank God that the Dantata family enjoys a lot of goodwill in Northern Nigeria and Nigeria as a whole. I am very happy that the goodwill has extended for about 100 years. So, he came into politics to serve; he inherited my father’s seat. I think to say ‘inherited’ is a wrong word. He vied for the seat and won.

But my father was drafted, before then Dantata family supported the politicians with donations and they were the highest donors of the NPC, which was led by Sardauna. They were the leading sponsors; it was them and others. But Sardauna invited my father to come and run because they didn’t want Aminu Kano to even come to the parliament in 1957.  The first elections were for the regional houses in Western, Eastern, and Northern Nigeria. Sardauna was running, leading the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Awolowo led the Action Group, and then Zik led the National Council on Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). My father was invited to run and he reluctantly ran because he came from the same constituency as Aminu Kano – Kano Municipal. And he stopped Aminu Kano from going to Kaduna. Aminu Kano was the leader of the opposition, but didn’t have a seat in parliament. It was an odd situation. So, I think it was Abubakar Imam, who became the leader of the house. But the party leader was outside because he didn’t win his seat, the Kano Municipal seat, which my father won. When my father died, Alhaji Aminu was encouraged to go for that seat and he also won.

 

That was in the by-election?

No, in the independence election. By that time, independence was around the corner. He won his seat in the early 60s. He won and by that time Aminu Kano had even changed his own outlook; he was vying for a federal seat. So, he didn’t run for the regional seat. He went to Lagos and he was a parliamentarian there.

Apart from him, Mamuda Dantata also ran. The three of them won seats. As I said, I believe they were encouraged to run because the people trusted them and they demonstrated that they could serve well. When they went there, they were supporting business. So, you would find most of their contributions about empowerment were about entrepreneurship.  I did lots of research on both my father and Baba Aminu, most of their contributions were geared towards that.

 

How has the Dantata Group sustained the business for so long?

I think one of the reasons the family has been in business for that long is because they are focused.  My grandfather, Alhaji Aminu’s father, never went into politics himself and never took traditional titles. Even when the then Emir of Kano, Abdullahi Bayero invited him to the emirate council, he accepted, but said he would not take a title.  He only agreed to be a member of the emirate council.

Even to date, I believe Alhaji Aminu Dantata, who inherited that seat – a current member, is more like an adviser, especially advising on business matters. So, from what we heard, he refused to take a title. Everybody in the council has a title and some of them are even district heads. He also advised his children to stay focused and that this is the area where we should contribute to society.

alhaji aminu dantata2
alhaji aminu dantata2

Why is he not disposed to publicity?

I remember the reactions to an article, the tribute I wrote to Alhaji Aminu; a lot of people were forwarding those reactions on social media…; he didn’t like to talk. This is why you are talking to us – his children- and you may also be talking to some of his friends who know him. But he doesn’t like to grant interviews, because he thinks it is like being boastful.

He thinks this way because he is known for money and our family is also known for money. So, the very moment you talk, the question will be about business; about how you made the money and what you are doing (with it). And he said his own father never had a book written about him. He never collaborated in any literature and his older brother, like my father, also never collaborated on any book or literature on the family or their father.

So, when I started approaching him to write a book; he said he would not cooperate. He doesn’t cooperate with journalists. So, most of the interviews you see about him are not real interviews. So, a journalist may sit down and talk to him, but don’t go with a tape recorder. You try to record mentally what you discussed. As long as you don’t misquote him, he will not sue you or say he did not grant the interview. That’s how the few records that you see attributed to him came out.

Thankfully, I have started changing his mind. Because, if you don’t tell your story somebody will tell it for you and he may distort it, especially after your death.

So he is finally talking, and hopefully, I’ll soon come up with my book. I initially started writing about Kano and northern Nigeria: the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial business. Because of the amount of information I have, I am tempted to spin off a biography. I decided to write an inspirational book along the same lines as that article you (Daily Trust) published: “The Last Man Standing”. Another reason why he doesn’t like to talk is because he is not even happy with the state of the economy. He thinks we could have done better both as a country, Nigeria, and also as a region-northern Nigeria.

He has always been supportive on issues of the government of Kano State. They all come to him and now they are even young enough to be his grandchildren. At the federal level too, all those who are in power now are also young enough to be his children. Since he left parliament about 50 years ago, having served for a brief period, he has always been a supporter. He was very much active with the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), but just as a supporter. He supported Shagari to win. I think at certain times he was invited to run for office, but he always turned down such invitations. You will hear in the news people starting a movement to draft him, but he always resisted the temptation and he has always been a supporter. He supported Shagari; I don’t know who he supported in 1999- whether it was Obasanjo-but I know certainly he also supported Buhari and ‘Yar’Adua. So, he has always been in the mainstream parties that have set up governments in Kano and in Abuja.

 

Outside the glamour and public affection, back home where nobody sees what happens behind the doors, who is Baba?

Baba is a very humble person. Today, he is at home with his wives and his children. He likes to see himself surrounded by his children and grandchildren and when he moves (travels), he moves with them. He took about 50 of them and traveled to Saudi Arabia for Umrah. Nowadays, he may even travel about three times. He travels mostly to Saudi Arabia, to Dubai and sometimes to Cairo.

He likes to sit down and talk and play with them, and that is how we tend to get some of these stories I am sharing. Sometimes I hear a story by him from my son who is his grandson; and sometimes I may follow up and say you told so and so a story.

He knows I’m writing a book both on Kano and on himself. He is talking to me about the olden days when he was young, when his father married his mother; because I asked him if he ever took her to Ghana and he said no, he married her when he settled in Nigeria. He even talked about his father’s death. So, he likes to talk. Now he spends his time sitting and talking. But he also feels that he owes it to Nigeria and his immediate family to show them the way. That is another reason why he now talks a lot.

Sometimes he may look like he’s critical because he talks a lot; for example, about the economy, the dollar, rising cost of living, oil subsidy, and everything. Sometimes he talks mostly in private discussions, but he also prefers to talk to them in the state houses. For example, he may ask for an audience with the president, or the president may ask for his opinion. Also, the governor may ask him for an opinion or he may offer it voluntarily, but not in an interview.  Like I said, he appreciates the fact that he has reached the last stages of his life, but only God knows, we are hoping he lives to 100.

 

Sometime ago, he talked about how life is no longer interesting. Have you bothered to understand his thinking around that statement?

That statement he made got me my cue to come back to him and ask him about writing his own memoir. I said, ‘Baba, you should not be best remembered for saying you are tired of living. Somebody could innocently and rightly believe that you have a chronic illness; maybe you are dying or that you have cancer’, which he has none, apart from the normal illnesses that come with old age.

I also told him, “Baba you have to leave a legacy and that legacy should not be talking about death without any message. I said there is no better message than in the business and entrepreneurial world, because that is what you are best known for”. But why did he make that statement? It is a very clear statement; he said most of his age mates have died, and I can even mention the few who are prominent apart from those who were personal friends that he grew up with. He was even close to the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, the Galadima of Kano, General Hassan Usman Katsina, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, among others. These are some of the people I saw around him.

 

 

Baba as a quiet philanthropist, and sportsman

At 92, Baba is very alert. He remembers the discussions you had; he remembers the businesses. He is still in charge of his business; he has not handed over to anybody and he flies around the world in his private jet.

He is also contributing a lot to religious organisations, but silently. When you talk about Western education I think he is a major benefactor to universities like the Ahmadu Bello University and Bayero University. When you talk about health, in Aminu Kano, they have about six blocks named after him and his father because anytime he builds a block, they name it after somebody in the Dantata family.

Sometimes I used to ask him: “Baba, have you thought of building your own hospital or have you thought of building your own university or have you thought of building your own religious organization?” But he prefers to be funding them and most times even on condition that he is doing it anonymously.

The only time he came public was when he was nominated to be chairman of the Kano State Foundation, about 40 years ago. I think either in the ‘80s or early ‘90s and he accepted. He gave the highest donation and then continued as the inaugural chairman until he finished his tenure. The Kano State Foundation is still there. That was one of the few times he came public and donated. Otherwise, it is always silently.

In Katsina, there is Al Qalam University, which is a private entity. He is not from Katsina State, but they even asked him to be the Chancellor, which he declined, but played a major role in the selection of the chancellor. That is the kind of man he is.

He was also a polo player. He was a sportsman.  As a youngster, he also played football. Up to the 60s and early 70s, he played polo. He had horses and he had two types of horses: racing horses and polo horses. His horses were going to the durbar in Kaduna, Lagos, and to neighboring countries like Chad and Niger. He was very happy when he won cups both for the horse race and also as a polo player.

He retired by the time he put on weight and age. You can see many parts of him; a sportsman, philanthropist, businessman and politician, and I am hoping to capture all these in his book.

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