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The Sword of Barbushe: A Short Story by Umar Abubakar Sidi

1998: March 22ND

If not for the dull rays emitted from the bedside lamp, the room would have been in complete darkness. The windows were shut, the door locked and bolted. A large wooden table adorned with books occupied the greater part of the room; a vase carrying a smoky burning turare (traditional incense) lay on the table. There were three men in the room; two sitting on the 4×5 divan bed, one, fairly complexioned and aristocratic in mien, and the other frail looking in structure. The third man, dark, ugly, muscular, bare-chested and footed, was dressed with only a walki (skin wrapper), and rings of damara (talismanic amulets) on his arms. Standing as he was, unsmiling and frozen, he resembled an effigy of a 14th century dakare (Hausa warrior).

“Do not forget,” said the fairly complexioned man, snapping his fingers obviously to add emphasis.

“Yes master,” answered the frail looking man.

“Do not forget,” he uttered again.

“Align yourself to the trunk of darbejiya (Nim tree), count ninety steps, stop, and place a mark. Then proceed to kusurwar gabas (east wing) count another ninety steps and place a mark. Do the same from the northern and southern wings, this will make a square, a square,” he repeated.

 “Then, draw a north seeking arrow in the square, this will divide it into two equal halves, dig out two feet of sand from the left half, remember, left half.”

 He paused for a few seconds before he continued. “It will be there waiting for you, pick it up and deliver it to me.”

‘‘Yes master’’, the frail looking man, Bukar said enthusiastically.

“Do not forget, you will not do the digging or chant the incantations, Yalli will’’.

He turned to look at the muscular man, Yalli. The man nodded his head in affirmation.

“Yalli will.” He emphasized while nodding his head.

“Yes master,” Bukar answered again with the same vigour and zeal.

‘But master, I do …no… not understand’’, stammered Bukar.

‘‘Don’t worry Bukar,” the master said, ‘‘the right pegs will fit in the right holes when the right hammer hits, don’t worry Bukar, I am a genius.”

‘‘Yes master,” Bukar said with fright written all over his face.

Then the Master commanded with an authoritative tone. ‘‘Now, you two get going”. The two men left the room as soon as the master had spoken.

The digital table clock, which has fallen off its stand and was lying back to the floor, on the Persian rug in the room indicated: 01:21 AM.


Sudden but powerful arms of fear gripped Bukar’s heart. His body was shaking, legs trembling, voice quivering. Four naked women surrounded the square, each holding a vase of turare. They were dancing in a slow, snaky, horrifying manner, as they also hum unto themselves some frightening unintelligible words. A man of the same built, resemblance and even regalia with Yalli was holding an acibalbal (a local lamp). Yalli was digging out sand, while another man, also dressed like Yalli was chanting some incantations:

“Barbushe ba a sa maka hannu

Kowakkira ka ya kai gwanki

Barbushe dan mutun dan aljan

Kowat tabaka yaga makanta

Barbushe dan azabar tahiya

Barbushe kai ka gyaran yatsu

yatsun rabin gidan tsumburbur

na tsumbura mutan tsololo

Barbushe dan mutun dan aljan

Barbushe wa mutun ko Iblis


An hour and a half later, a call came through the Master’s A13 THURAYA satellite phone.

“I got it Master, I am conveying to you right now,” said the speaker at the other end.”

‘‘Okay, I am waiting,” replied the Master happily.

As the line went dead, the Master clenched his fist, raised his two hands up in a celebrative manner and whispered, “I am a genius’’.

2002: October 13TH

The ancient city of Sakkwato was like a ghost town. All activities have come to a standstill, offices closed, schools closed, market closed, even the air was motionless. Everybody was mourning, mourning the death of the Sultan. The Sultan passed away, humbly in the early hours of yesterday on his sick bed. Visitors were trooping into the ancient city; planes were landing and taking off. The Sultan Abubakar III International Airport was experiencing one of its busiest moments in history.

A mammoth crowd has gathered at Kan wuri, the Sultan’s palace, to pay condolence.  The four principal Sultan makers, who were also the core councilors of the Majalisa (Sultanate Council), were discussing in the Shigifar Sarki (Royal Hall).

“The incidence is unfortunate, the loss is irrecoverable,” said the Magajin gari, the eldest of them.  “But we have to learn to live with it, and even as we are in grief, we shouldn’t at all, relent in performing our duty of choosing a new leader for the jama’a (the people).

He paused, to let out a placid cough.

“His eminence, the late Sultan   left a wasiyya (a will), regarding his successor and that is why we are here today.”

Two of the councilors whose heads were down, quickly raised them up.

“What did he say?” questioned the sagely Waziri.

“He said I should tell you: Na hasa wuta ku taimakeni ku hurata, Na rataya takobi, kutaimakeni ku zare shi, Na fara yaki, ku taimakeni ku kareshi. (I’ve kindled a fire, assist me in fuelling it, I’ve worn a sword aid me to unsheathe it, I’ve waged a war, help me in finishing it.)

“A puzzle of some sort,” commented Magajin Gari.

“Compressed wisdom, sagely parables, very typical of the Sultan.” Chipped Sarkin Fada.

“I see this as guidelines for us to use in selecting his successor.” Said the sagely Waziri.

Takulul Hakka (you have spoken the truth),” affirmed Magajin Rafi

“It couldn’t have been anything other than that.” ratified Sarkin Fada.

“He said something again, he talked of a sign.” The Magajin Gari came down from his karaga (Royal Couch) Stood at the center of the other three councilors and whispered into their ears.


This is the longest selection process in Sakkwatto History. Usually the Sultan makers sit together, look through the profiles of the contenders, from various lineages, and based on some laid down criteria, select the most suitable. But this case is different, different because the late Sultan was remarkable; he was extraordinary, different because he left a wassiya, different because the Majalisa has only a vague understanding of the wassiya.

After consultations, re-consultations with notable Ulamas (Religious Clerics) close associates of the Sultan, other principal Emirs and the masses. Three out of the seven contenders to the throne were certified fit for the next round of selection by the Majalisa. They were to face the final test. Ibrahim Musa, a 43 old former Ambassador of Nigeria to India and presently a Professor of Philosophy at the Usman Dan Fodio University, is the first as ranked in order of suitability. Next is; Sir, Ahmadu Idris, the Takubban Sokoto, a former President of Nigeria, during the third Republic and the Present Secretary-General of the United Nations. Then, Djibo Attahiru, a man whose past is shrouded in obscurity.  He was a key player in the intellectual games played d by the late Sultan. He is said to have translated over a dozen Caliphate literatures to French and English. He is also believed to be the sole financier of their publication even in digital formats.

The three of them were seated before the Majalisa in Shigifar Sarki.

“By the end of this session, one of you may be the leader of the Jama’a. The sagely voice of the Waziri enthused. “It is expected of him to soothe the sorrows of his subjects, heal their wounds, respond to the beats of their pulse and like a heart, direct the circulation of blood in their veins. If he succeeds, then we’ve done our duty, if he fails, then we’ve failed. This is why we have to do our duty without prejudice, sentiment, fear or favour”.

He paused for close to a minute. The Hall would have been in complete darkness except for the inhalation and exhalation of air.

The late Sultan left a Wasiyya”, Waziri’s voice resumed. “It is based on this wasiyya that the three of you are here now. We see each of you as capable of stepping into the mighty footprints of the Sultan. He also left a sign, a sign which is to help us in recognizing his successor’’.

Suddenly, a frightening cloud of silence dominated the hall.

“Does any one of you know anything about the sign?” the voice inquired. The only answer the Waziri got was silence.

“Does any one of know you anything about the sign?” The voice inquired again.

“Yes I know something,” a slow, metallic voice erupted to disrupt the reign of silence. It was the voice of Djibo Attahiru.

“The late Sultan gave me a Sword.”

“A sword?” questioned the Waziri.

“Yes, a sword, he told me it is the sign of the fire he has kindled and the battle he has waged. When I asked him how I understand this .He told me: let your pulse guide you.”

Silence resumed in the hall.

“At first I was confused,” he continued. “But when I withdrew into myself I got the meaning of the sign and what it stood for, I got the answer in my pulse.”

The voice faded for a while then erupted again.

“The pulse is the rhythmic throb of the heart which controls the circulation of blood in the body system. In the context of the sword I understand the sword to mean Sakkwato.”

“Sakkwato?” questioned one of the councilors.

“Yes, the caliphate was a geographical as well as a political entity, Sakkwato was the seat of the caliphate and from there, blood was distributed to its nooks and crannies. This blood is the intellectual milk made in Sakkwato, thus, Sakkwato is the pulse of the caliphate. This pulse lies in its history and tradition which are embedded in its symbology.”

By now the spellbinding voice of Djibo has suppressed the frightening clouds of silence in the hall.

“There are three major icons in caliphate symbology. The first is the Pare (ceremonial trumpet). It was among the booty realized after the battle of Tabkin kwatto against the Gobir army. It was given to Sultan Bello and since then it has been part of the Sultan’s ceremonial regalia.”

“Mmmh, tabban (truthfully),” commented one of the councilors.

Then the Kuge (ceremonial rattle).  It was a court rattle used to announce to announce the arrival of Sarkin Gobir (chief of Gobir). Today it is in the Sultan’s personal archives.”

Mighty drops of silence precipitated in the hall.

“The last icon is but the sword of Yunfa. The sword was confiscated after the Battle of tsibiri, it is believed to be of German origin and it possesses some mystical powers. Oral tradition has it that the sword is the bridge between a Sultan and his successor. A Sultan passes it to his successor before his death; it has been so from Sultan Muhammadu Bello. But the tradition was short lived, it stopped with Sultan   Attahiru I.” he stopped   briefly to clear his throat.

“The colonialists occupied Sakkwato during his reign; he fought them gallantly at Giginya, but   his army was no match to the colonial army. With a large following the Sultan left Sakkwato with the intention of migrating to the holy land, but he died at Burmi in present day Bauchi state after a fierce battle with the British, some of the survivors of the battle of burmi, undaunted went ahead to fulfill the Sultan’s intention, for most of them, the journey ended at Mai wurno in present republic of Sudan. My grandfather, who is also the son of Sultan Attahiru, was among those whose journey ended there.”

Chants echo from all corners of the hall: God is great! God is great! A descendant of the great Attahiru? God is great!

Normalcy returned to the hall as soon as Djibo resumed talking.  “Sultan Attahiru passed the Sword to my grand father; my grand father passed it to my father who in turn passed it to me. The sword is described in the masterpiece: Bayan al wujubul hijra. When the late Sultan saw the sword he collected it, it has been in his custody, he returned it to me four nights ago, with the instruction that I present it to the Majalisa after his demise.”

“Where is the sword?” demanded the Waziri.

“It is here”, Djibo said pointing to his body. He quickly raised the sleeves of his Alkyabba (Royal gown) and behold there it was, sheathed in a 17th century leather; The Sword of Yunfa.

  The whole Majalisa was silent. All eyes cast a probing stare at the Sword, in wonder and awe.

Then something strange happened. The door of the hall opened and a young man in royal robes who on getting closer was recognized to be the Sultan’s personal secretary walked up to Djibo and barked.

 “Unsheathe the Sword.” Djibo hesitated.

“Unsheathe it I command!” the young man repeated.

With shaky fingers Djibo unsheathed the sword. As soon as he did so, simultaneously lights went off, a violent explosion occurred, the building vibrated as if it was going to collapse and a hazy smoke from nowhere engulfed the Majalisa . There was confusion.

Then something happened again. The vibration ceased, the smoke vanished and peace was restored. It was a miracle. Many still don’t understand the events of that Wednesday and many never understand.

Three hours later, (Sultan’s Inner chamber) the Waziri was addressing the Majalisa in the Barayar Sarki: “Based on the unanimous decision of this council I hereby present you the 31st Sultan of Sakkwato.

2002: OCTOBER 14th

Piles of books were stacked on the table haphazardly. The table was also playing host to a vase containing a burning turare. The room was lighted by a 4“ fluorescent tube placed slightly above the entrance; it beamed its shiny rays on all corners of the room like the sun at midday. The digital table clock on the table read 2:21 AM.

Two men were seated on the bed with full glasses of juice in their hands.

“I love your drinks master” Bukar asserted after taking a sip.

“My drinks are carefully selected and carefully used” replied the Master.

“The right pegs in the right holes.”

“I do not understand.”

“I never expected you to. Everything was well arranged with military precision. You see, when Djibo unsheathed the sword, thunder rumbled, the building vibrated, there was power outage and emission of smoke. The miraculous suspension of the sword also took place then. Yes, the sword was suspended in the air to the amazement of all. But the young man saved the situation; he seized the sword and placed back in its sheath, immediately the vibration and thunder stopped light came back and the smoke vanished”

“It was a miracle,” the Master announced with seriousness, “ha ha ha haaaaa a miracle!”

Bukar’s thoughts and emotions were completely with the Master, he was all ears.

“Back in 1998 during the re-construction of the inner chambers of the sultan’s palace, underground cylindrical columns were created. Aluminium canisters containing karst dynamite capable of causing a thunderous explosion and vibration without necessarily collapsing the building were kept in the columns for use when the need arises. The canisters were designed to be remotely detonated. So, when Djibo unsheathed his sword, a button was pressed, the explosion and the vibration occurred, it was simple. For the smoke, smoke pipes were connected ton the AC unit of the hall. The pipes can be turned on or off to emit smoke or suck it as the case may be. As for the light that was the simplest, the central power control button did that.”

The expression on Bukar’s face was torn between surprise and unbelief.

“Have you heard of the law of magnetic suspension?”

Bukar answered in the negative.

“Well it is a recent discovery that an aqueferian metal containing charged ions suspends when acted upon by two opposite and equal magnetic forces. This magnetic field was created in the hall exactly where Djibo sat. And the Sword of Yunfa is of aqueferian metal. The magnetic emission can be controlled even remotely; this explains the sword suspension miracle.”

“So Djibo knew where to sit?” asked Bukar, betraying the surprise in his voice.

“Yes. When the young man held the sword, the magnetic field was turned off, so he was able to put the sword back in its sheath. He told the Majalisa that the disturbances where caused by kirikasa, the spirit guardian of the sword. Can’t you see? The young man has performed a miracle, a 21st century miracle, can’t you see?

By now Bukar’s legs were shaking and his body was trembling in fear.

“The Majalisa was captivated with the young man’s miraculous performance. He was even called a waliyi, a miracle working saint.”

“So the young man deceived the Majalisa?”

“Yes, Djibo and the Magajin gari were his pawns; he used them with the help of this.”

 The master brought out a drug case from his pocket and waved it across Bukar.

“This is the Hyacine; it is a mind controlling drug. Once a person is under its influence he does whatever he is told even if it is to his own detriment. It was first used on German soldiers during the Normandy operation.”

The Master took the drug case examined it closely and dropped it back on the table.

“The Sultan left no wasiyya; the wasiyya was programmed into Magajin gari’s mind when he had dinner with the Sultan seven days ago. And you think the Sultan died naturally?”

“Yes, he died in his sleep.”

“There you are wrong Bukar, he was poisoned, remember the young man was his personal physician. It is easier to poison him than to place him under the grips of the Hyacine. No one can stand up to the Sultan, not even a drunk, he is a man of greatness, and even in death he was charismatic”

By now Bukar was completely lost.

“And so the young man was proclaimed the Sultan three hours ago, he will be turbaned ten hours from now and coronated next week. The thirty one year old Muhammadu Kabiru, the Sultan’s personal secretary and physician is the 31st Sultan of Sakkwato.”

Bukar was now a living ghost, body without spirit.

“Let me tell you more about Djibo. He exhibited a dual personality; he was Djibo as well as Bukar. You were Djibo. Are you surprised? It is the Hyacine. The Hyacine did all that. Ha ha ha haaaa.”

Suddenly Bukar fell to the ground.

“It is intended to end this way, you have been most useful, but you have to go, you survival is detrimental to the reign of Sultan Muhammadu Kabiru. I am sorry Bukar, no one forced you to drink the juice, remember my drinks are carefully selected and carefully used, am I not a genius? Ha ha ha haaaa.”

When the light went off, the thin ray of the microscopic camera hidden on the table clock also went off.

Six hours later the Waziri summoned an emergency meeting of the Majalisa.  When the Majalisa entered the Fada, they met him there, magnificently balanced on the throne, as dignified, majestic and as charismatic as ever; His eminence Sultan Aliyu Ibrahim, the supposed late Sultan.


Muhammadu Kabiru’s activities were monitored, from the placement of the dynamite canisters in the underground tunnels to poisoning Bukar. Everything including the death of the Sultan, the selection process, the proclamation of Muhammadu Kabiru as the Sultan and everything were make believes. It was made to appear so before Muhammadu Kabiru. Every thing was arranged. The Magajin gari and Djibo acted not under the influence of Hyacine, every one played to the games of Kabiru on the instructions of the Sultan who wanted to give him enough rope to hang or save himself.

Djibo and Yalli who in reality were officers of the Police intelligence detachment of the Sultanate Council arrested Kabiru. He was later forgiven and banished from Sakkwato.

The miraculous sword is not the Sword of Yunfa but of the legendary Barbushe. Barbushe is believed to be the grandson of Kano; founder of the Kano city-state and the chief priest of the Tsumburbura cult. The sword was brought to Sakkwwato as a gift to Waziri Gidado. It was buried in buried in tsohuwar kasuwa before Kabiru’s men exhumed it. The real sword of yunfa was given to Field Marshall Aliyu Jedo, Chief of the caliphate army in recognition of his gallantry. The sword has been in the custody of his descendants until 1968 when it was loaned to the Sakkwato museum.


Readers are reminded that, though reference is made to some historical events, the preceding story is a fictional account, and is not to be construed as real.

Umar Abubakar Sidi
Umar Abubakar Sidi
Umar Abubakar Sidi:  attended the Nigerian Military School, Zaria and the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna.   A member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Kaduna Chapter, has written several poems and short stories, and was a nominee for poet of the year 2002 by the International Library of Poetry. His email. His website.


  1. Coming from within us I will rate this story very high. cos it had it all. What ever you could whis from any write up. Infact, a film should be done with this story. IT WILL SELL.

  2. The simplicity of narration, the historical flavour, the element of suspense (which kept my heart thumping) and the ability to relate the past with the present with so simple a plot , makes SIDI’s style unique. I stronly sugget for the expansion of this story. This style is unique, very very unique. I cherish SIDI’S boldness and courage. this is aclear indication that ; we are yet to fully harness our literary fruits, SIDI is sure one of them.

  3. The writer’s style of writing is confusing, he over exhausted is narrative technique, making the story a tiresome piece of work, even he started well from the beginning, with the description the voice and the suspence.

  4. I am speechless! this piece of work is a masterpiece i must say.i have gone over and over it,i just cant stop wondering how good it is.if there is a word SUPER EXCELLENT i would have rated this work that.Sidi i won’t lie to you, your work is very good. i love every bit of it.

  5. I rate this work EXCELLENT. It is creatively spellbinding and riveting. it also heralds the birth of a literary don inthe making. I am really impressed.

  6. I would like the copy right of the story if you don’t mind! I will translate in to the school children level and gives it the vigour which she likes

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