The History of the Dantata Family and the Groundnut Trade in Nigeria

Alhaji Aminu Dantata was one of the eighteen children of Alhassan Dantata who survived into adulthood. In the 1960s, most of them lived on Sarari Street, which was founded by their father around 1910 when he moved to Kano from the Gold Coast to take advantage of the emerging groundnut trade in Nigeria. The street, which was about a kilometer long, was lined with warehouses on both sides, with a few residential houses in between.

The first house on the street belonged to Alhassan, and the houses of his children followed, including those of Ahmadu Dantata (my late father), Aminu Dantata (my uncle and adoptive father who took me in after my father’s death in 1960), and Sanusi Dantata (the maternal grandfather of Aliko Dangote, who adopted Aliko after his father’s death in 1965).

Over time, the warehouses on Sarari Street and in the surrounding alleys of the Sarari District were demolished to make way for more houses as the Dantata family grew. Today, my house stands on land where a warehouse once stood when I was a child. The warehouse was demolished in 1988 to make way for my house, following family tradition.

In the past, Nigeria was the world’s largest exporter of groundnuts, with Kano being the center of the country’s groundnut trade. The Groundnut Pyramids were a trademark of this phenomenal trade. At its peak in the 1930s, groundnuts were Nigeria’s leading export. The image of the Groundnut Pyramid appeared on Nigerian currency, postage stamps, and postcards, serving as an iconic symbol of Nigeria’s agricultural wealth when the country was a net exporter of agricultural products.

The “big three” - cocoa, palm produce, and groundnuts - accounted for over 70 percent of Nigeria’s exports. The Kano-Lagos rail line, which opened in 1912, was Nigeria’s first transnational rail line and was built specifically to transport exports from the north to Lagos. Construction of Apapa Port began earlier than that of the Kano rail line and was the first infrastructural project undertaken by the colonial administration in Nigeria. It was conceived as a terminus for the Kano-Lagos rail line. Nigeria was divided into two cities: Lagos served as a hub for goods from southern Nigeria that were transported by lorries to Apapa Port, while Kano served as a hub for northern Nigeria, receiving goods from across the north by lorries for trans-shipment by rail to Lagos. This arrangement lasted for ten years before the rail line was extended to Port Harcourt, Enugu, Jos, and other newly built stations across the country.

Suleiman Inuwa

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