The primary conflict in the story exists between Baroka and Lakunle, two men who are competing for the love of Sidi. Both men are deceptive and in many ways not what they seem. Lakunle comes across as a modern liberal, a man very preoccupied with progress and what is new. In reality, he only has concern with marrying a young woman in the village.
He proves no match for Baroka, who is more cunning and devious than his outward demeanor suggests. By pretending to be impotent, he easily manipulates those around him and eventually seduces Sidi, winning the central conflict of the play.
This conflict is representative of a conflict on a national scale. It functions as an allegory for the Nigerian people who are caught between modernism and tradition. Baroka, the "lion" of the play, is a symbol of this tradition. While he feigns impotence, Sidi, who represents the heart of the Nigerian people, soon comes to know his power.