Photo via Instagram (@akinokoso)

The prominent Nigerian author and professor of African literature, Prof. Kole Omotoso, has passed on at the age of 80. He died on July 19, 2023. According to a statement shared on social media by his son Akin Omotoso, “he passed away after a long period of illness in Johannesburg, South Africa.”

His passing is a great loss to the African literary and academic community. The President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, shared similar sentiments in a statement published yesterday, in which he describes Prof. Omotoso’s death as “a loss to Nigeria, Africa and to the literary community.”

Prof. Omotoso lived a life of great achievement as a writer, scholar, and pop culture icon. Born in April 1943, Prof. Omotoso pursued secondary education at King’s College, Lagos, then the University of Ibadan and finally the University of Edinburgh for his doctoral degree. His doctoral thesis was on the Arabic writer Ahmad Ba Kathir. He went on to teach drama at the University of Ife.

Prof. Omotoso returned to the University of Ibadan to teach Arabic studies in 1972, then moved to the University of Ife to work in drama in 1976.

He published 16 books across genres, including scholarly works on African literature. His historical novel Just Before Dawn caused quite a bit stir and led to his fleeing Nigerian in the 1980s. He became a visiting professor in English at the University of Stirling and the National University of Lesotho, and also worked at the Talawa Theatre Company, London for a while. In 1992, he became a professor of English at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and in 2001, he switched to a professorship in the Drama Department at Stellenbosch University.

In addition to his accomplishments as a writer and scholar, Prof. Omotoso is well-known in South Africa for his appearances in a series of advertisements. During the mid-1990s and 2010s, he became a recognizable figure as the “YeboGogo man” in ad campaigns for the telecommunications company Vodacom. Former South African president Nelson Mandela even described Omotoso as “the most photographed man in South Africa” due to his iconic YeboGogo character portrayal, a classic of South African popular culture. Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said, in a statement on Prof. Omotoso’s passing, that the ad made him an “an iconic figure” and helped put the brand “on the map.”

At the time of his passing, Prof. Omotoso left behind a loving family. He had three children by his first wife Marguerita Rice, among whom are Pelayo Omotoso,  filmmaker Akin Omotoso and the writer Yewande Omotoso. Yewande’s recent novel, An Unusual Grief, is a moving exploration of loss. Prof. Omotoso was also survived by a second wife Bukky Omotoso, and her children, Taiwo and Olamiposi. His family cherishes the memory of him as someone who “lived a rich life with meaning and purpose.”

We are deeply saddened by the news of Prof. Omotoso’s passing. We extend our condolences to his family and friends, and above all, we celebrate his life as he joins the ancestors.

May his soul rest in peace.