Femi Fatoba’s “Checkpoint” is a poem of twenty three lines, patterned into four stanzas. The poem depicts the abuse of power by security agencies; how they subvert the gun as an instrument of mass protection to an instrument of death and oppression.
“Checkpoint” is featured in Fatoba’s poetry collection, They Said I Abuse the Government. The poem, like other poems in this collection, examines the excesses and the oppressive stance of the government and its agencies. It particularly portrays “friendly policeman” and “protector-soldier” as trigger-happy fellows who await the slightest provocation from the masses to shoot at them.
The poet throws a visual image of security agents entrusted with the protection of lives and properties but who choose to silence or kill citizens they are meant to protect for one flimsy excuse or the other.
The tensed atmosphere in the poem is not very far from what is found in the poet’s home country, Nigeria, where citizens have been instilled with fear of any gun-carrying uniformed officer.
While it is obvious that it is the guns that the citizens fear, they also have every reason to fear the ones who wield the guns and be considerate of their swinging temperament.
Late Fatoba captures effectively a society where security agents, equipped with “the trigger of a gun,” go out of their assigned duties to instill fear into people and play gods. The poet’s use of generic pronoun “you” shows that the victims of these brutalities do not preclude any gender or social class.
Conscious of the “something formal/about the barrel of a gun,” people are forced into silence where they are supposed to question the heavy-handedness of security agents. People are coerced by this consciousness and reality to refrain from questioning the “friendly policeman” for “his rudeness”; or challenge the “protector-soldier” who beats you silly and “rearranges your dentition”; or to refuse to oblige the request “to tip the officer who supervises death on the roads.”
The last stanza shows the ultimate authority on people’s lives possession of guns confers on these security agents, and the consequence of questioning their authority or defying their orders. The “hot-leaded snout … coughs in admonition of your daring to argue with a policeman.” They simply pull “the trigger of a gun” at those who question them.
The poet lays particular emphasis on the capability of a gun to snuff out human life with the repetition of “there is always something formal/about the barrel of a gun” in lines 1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 18-19, and 23-24. As a result of this, commuters approach security persons with caution at checkpoint.
“Checkpoint” by Femi Fatoba explores the themes of abuse of power, and the brutality and oppression commuters are subjected to at checkpoints by security agents.