Abstract Mineralogical, geochemical and geotechnical analyses were carried out to evaluate the contributions of geological and geotechnical properties of subgrade soils to the incidence of failure of the Ipele–Isua road, south-western Nigeria. Field observations showed that the road is in a very poor state of disrepair as major portions of the road alignment have failed. The road alignment is underlain in places by Quartz Schist, Banded Gneiss and Granite Gneiss. The results of the laboratory tests revealed that the natural moisture content ranges from 6.5 to 23.3%, liquid limit from 20.1 to 55.1%, plasticity index 5.2 to 22.2%. The grain size analysis showed that the amount of fines ranges from 13 to 60.8%. Others are linear shrinkage between 2.9 and 11%, free swell between − 16.67 and 41.94%, maximum dry density from 1520 to 1792.1 kg/m3 and CBR between 2 and 17%. The specific gravity ranges from 2.51 to 2.63. The major clay minerals present are kaolinite and dickite with dominance in 50% of the samples. Major oxides present are SiO2, Al2O3, Fe2O3, K2O. Na2O, MgO and CaO are generally less than 1%. Based on AASHTO classification, 19% of the samples are classified as A-2-4, 33% classified as A-2-6 while 44% classified as A-7. Dominance of low California bearing ratio, low maximum dry density, high linear shrinkage and A-7 soil group expectedly contributed to poor geotechnical properties of the subgrade. Absence of drainage is suspected to have worsened the failure as exhibited on the road.