On first hearing about this book, my thought was that how can area boys be beautified? In this book, or more precisely play, Soyinka paints a different perception of the street urchins otherwise known as ‘area boys’ in Nigeria. Where society generally views them as a group of no-gooders, thieves, pranksters and miscreants, Soyinka portrays them here as a set of people who are as responsible as the next person, and are only busy going about the business of survival.
Published in 1995 by A&C Black Pod, the play, which has its setting in Lagos, Nigeria, centers around a syndicate headed by one Sanda. Sanda is a university dropout, who is quite smart and has the ability to think fast on his feet. He works as a security guard in a shopping complex from where he can source for potential clients for his group. The group members are not just criminals because we see them engaged in various trades. Sanda is portrayed as a benevolent man and a freedom fighter of some sorts – depicted by his denigrating songs about the military government which was in power then.
Then comes Miseyi, a former University colleague of Sanda, who, at first, is shocked and disgusted on seeing Sanda at his security job post and is quick to condemn him. On getting to know the reason behind it though, she gladly joins forces with him. Miseyi later shuns her fiancé to marry Sanda.
Another character of interest is Judge, a mentally disturbed man really but who had once been a lawyer. He can be referred to as a cat with nine lives, because he has had two brushes with death in a day but escaped luckily. He comes to the realization that justice is not won through the law but through the paths of mercy.
‘Mama put’, a local food seller, is another interesting character. A mother of one, she lost her husband in the civil war and watched while her brother was killed for her sake. She doesn’t allow this drag her down but rather comes to Lagos to make ends meet.
Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy: A Lagosian Kaleidoscope touches on many themes such as the abuse of power by the military administration, oppression, poverty, fear, hope, and love. The play is also full of witty sayings and outrageous songs, many expressing Soyinka’s discontent with the military administration.