Odili: This is the protagonist and narrator of the story. He is the son of a moderately prosperous district interpreter who after retirement is struggling financially due to having several wives and children and a limited pension. When we first encounter Odili, he is a schoolteacher, but over the course of the novel he eventually becomes a politician.
Chief Nanga: This is the main antagonist of the novel. He is a powerful and corrupt politician who has succeeded as a classic "big man" by a web of bribery, patronage, and personal connections. He initially offers to use his influence to help Odili and appears benevolent, but as the novel develops we see that his power has a darker side, including the use of violent intimidation. He eventually loses power as the result of a military coup.
Chief Simon Koko: He is the minister of overseas training and a crony of Chief Nanga. He initially is shown as someone who can help Odili obtain entrance to a post-graduate program in London. He is also deposed in the coup at the end of the novel. He is described as fat and jovial.
Edna Odo: She is originally the girlfriend of Chief Nanga, but Odili decides to seduce her. He is initially unsuccessful but persists and by the end of the novel they are planning to get married.
Maxwell Kulamo: His is a successful lawyer and friend of Odili. He is described as mature and thoughtful and is active in politics. He is killed toward the end of the novel.