Soyinka’s early play The Road offers him a mirror through which he looks at, examines critically as well as laughs at the faults foibles and pretensions in emergent African societies. This is of course a very familiar concern in all genres of African Literature. Wole Soyinka is therefore not out of place in preoccupying himself and his readers or audiences with it in his play The Road
The Road assembles a ragtag band of thugs, would-be lorry drivers and layabouts who construct a shantytown near a used motor parts store. Presiding over this store and influencing if not leading this motley gang is a former Anglican lay-reader and Sunday School teacher who has assumed the title of Professor. As he wanders the roads of which he is the professor apparently, he searches for auto parts from wreckages emanating from accidents.
Though this play lacks a linear narrative flow it engages the audience well on the myriad issues bedeviling emerging Modern African societies: poor urban planning, rural-urban migration, unemployment, poverty, vagrancy, delinquency and corruption. Soyinka thus combines social commentary, bawdy comedy, and poetic philosophical okinawa flat belly tonic inquiry with a caustic satirizing of a heartlessly materialistic and pretentious society.
The prevalence of coercion and repression in running modern African societies is suggested .through Chief-In-Town and his recruitment of thugs to serve as bodyguards for political meetings. We are thus given a glimpse into the violent political methods by which African political parties endeavour to keep themselves perpetually in power, a phenomenon which seems to have persisted in Nigeria even up to recently.
Corruption, another feature of contemporary African societies, is portrayed. Corruption is embodied in the person of the policeman, Particulars Joe, who receives bribes from drivers who contravene the law, looks out for more bribes in other unexpected places. He shares hemp with the political thugs even whilst still in uniform. Ironically he who should be at the helm of maintaining law and order is the one who initiates its violation. The society presented in the play then strikes one as veering on anarchy with no one trying to uphold the law. Drivers, for instance, violate the law by buying forged licenses and driving without going through the necessary instruction and training. As a consequence deaths occur frequently on the roads. The corruption is pervasive, seeping through all areas even through the so-called crème de la crème whose depraved moral Samson satirizes here:
Now I want you to take the car – the long one – and
Drive along the Marina at two O’clock. All the fine girls
Just coming from offices, the young and tender faces
Fresh from school – them lift to my house. Old
Bones like me must put fresh tonic in his blood.
Samson in parodying the wealthy whom he mock-envies, blames the growing moral degeneration of the young on them. For as it seems normal for him as a wealthy man to behave so, he would send his sleek car cruising along the Marina at two o’clock when all the young girls would be out of school so that he could collect all the fine ones among them and lift them on to his house to gratify his lecherous desires. One could imagine the untold social problems such reckless activities create. But when we learn later of the criteria for upward mobility we should expect the worst outcomes. There is the case of the messenger who became a senator after winning ‘thirteen thousand’ with which he bought half the houses in Apapa.