Heart of Arts

Kole Omotoso (1943-2023): A Chemistry of Fiction and Faction

Toyin Falola


Within the field of African literature, the famous figure of Professor Kole Omotoso stands out as a luminary, exemplifying extraordinary intellectual acumen, firm ethical convictions, and steadfast devotion to advancing the welfare of society. He is seen as a figure who illuminates the way for others. My deepest condolences go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of this remarkable Nigerian author and professor, whose passing at 80 has left a legacy that will be felt for a long time in the world of literature and beyond. We were separated by two houses at the campus of the Obafemi Awolowo University, and I knew his late wife and three children in the 1980s. He supported my projects, most notably The Encyclopedia of the Yoruba, to which he contributed an entry and money for its free distribution.

Professor Omotoso is a highly esteemed scholar in the field of African Literature. He established himself as a prominent figure within the literary community by demonstrating extraordinary knowledge of various literary genres, showing competency as a playwright and essayist, in addition to his noteworthy achievements as a novelist. His writing abilities are readily apparent in his significant works, such as the books The Edifice, The Combat, and Just Before Dawn, on which I was privileged to have organized a Workshop. Each piece of his work thoroughly analyses the human condition by digging into topics such as personal identity, cultural dynamics, and the intricacies inherent in post-colonial African society.

In addition to his literary accomplishments, the quality that most distinguished him was his unshakeable commitment to maintaining his moral integrity. Professor Omotoso believed that the formation of human identity should be based on ethical standards, and he demonstrated these ideals by committing himself with unflinching determination. His writing was always infused with a powerful sense of integrity and conviction, which made them powerful catalysts for the development of society.

Throughout his life, Professor Omotoso was a zealous champion for folks on the periphery of society. As a result, he was looked up to as an inspirational figure by succeeding generations of authors and thinkers. Amid oppressive ideologies and authoritative governance, he courageously spoke the truth to those in positions of power. He did not fear the potential repercussions, aligning himself with the general populace to facilitate constructive transformations. His dedication to social justice was clear from his writings and his active participation in initiatives to support underrepresented communities and further values of fairness and impartiality. This made his commitment to social justice more obvious than it would have been otherwise.

Professor Omotoso exuded a sense of infectious confidence because he was convinced that his work ought to be self-explanatory. This belief was the source of his self-assurance. His literary works provided enjoyment and information, posed challenges to prevalent social problems, and pushed for a more just and equitable society. One of his most notable contributions to the field of African literature was his participation in the compilation of the anthology Modern African Literature, in which he collaborated with other esteemed writers. These efforts contributed to establishing African literary discourse as a canonical body of knowledge, which was one of his goals during these endeavours.

Professor Omotoso established himself as a prominent figure and an influential member of his social circle by taking a pragmatic approach to drawing attention to his actions, or lack thereof. He made a conscious decision to forego the pursuit of monetary fortune, focusing his energy on maximizing the transformative potential of his writing instrument rather than accumulating wealth for himself. Respect and reverence were bestowed upon him by those who had the good fortune to become acquainted with him because of his devotion to his values.

Professor Omotoso’s dedication to equality and fairness exceeded academic considerations. Omotoso fostered a spirit of camaraderie and generosity by cultivating robust interpersonal connections with individuals across various hierarchies. As a result, those with whom he connected were profoundly and indelibly impacted by this spirit. His compelling pedagogical style was an inspiration for a large number of students, which helped to establish him as a beloved mentor for aspiring authors and thinkers. Also, his genuine dedication to providing attentive support and doling out excellent advice further cemented his role in this capacity.

Professor Omotoso’s literary works are potent representations of his firm commitment to bringing about positive social change, and they function in this capacity admirably. He demonstrated a dual position within society, acting as a sharp observer and an involved participant. He also used his literary skills and works to advocate transformative measures, question prevalent norms, and stimulate constructive undertakings. His words have been an inspiration to a great number of people, and his thoughts will continue to provoke profound reflection and contemplation in the minds of readers all over the world.

Transcending territorial boundaries, Professor Omotoso’s literary skill has earned him acclaim and respect on a global scale. His works have been published in several countries, surpassing the bounds of geography and earning broad recognition and respect from readers worldwide. International fame was bestowed upon him due to the excellent ways he portrayed the complexity of human nature and African culture in his writing. The penetration of his literary works allowed the promotion of African literature to a wider spectrum of readers, enabling individuals from various cultural backgrounds to actively interact with his enthralling narrative.

Professor Omotoso rose to fame as a highly sought-after presenter at several global literary gatherings, academic conferences, and cultural festivals due to the growing acknowledgement of his achievements. His captivating narrative style and astute analysis of societal issues kept readers and listeners interested in what he had to say. By participating in these exchanges, he developed connections with authors and academics from different countries, thereby cultivating an international network of intellectual luminaries who shared the same goal of fostering intercultural comprehension and achieving societal change.

Notably, Professor Omotoso’s efforts to promote the transmission of African literature on an international scale played a significant part in increasing his admiration within the greater global literary community. He successfully challenged the prevalent Western-centric perspective on literature through his written works. In doing so, he expanded the intellectual horizons of global readers by demolishing preconceptions connected with Africa and ending misconceptions about the continent. In addition to his role as a professor, he played a substantial and pioneering part in the academic research field of African literature. His contributions have been both significant and groundbreaking. As a result of his extensive understanding of African oral traditions and the merging of those traditions with written literature, he produced powerful works that significantly altered the academic discussion.

Professor Omotoso’s scholarly works and literary compositions delve into the complicated interplay between culture, language, and literature. They illuminate the profound importance of language as a formidable instrument for preserving cultural legacy and articulating individual identity. His analysis in his writings highlighted the intricate interrelationships between literary texts and socio-cultural situations, offering a better understanding of common literary practices in Africa.

During his work as a teacher to many students, he was an example worthy of emulation, encouraging an emerging generation of academics to become involved with African literature. His scholarly contributions went beyond the scope of his research pursuits; therefore, he significantly impacted the academic world. This, in turn, was a factor in establishing a family tree of academics committed to investigating the complex and varied parts of the literary heritage of the African continent. Professor Omotoso’s literary works captivated readers and permeated various art forms. As a result, they have contributed to enhancing popular culture and elicited innovative responses from audiences. His engaging narratives have been brought to life through lively enactments in several literary works.

Furthermore, Professor Omotoso’s body of work has motivated contemporary artists, musicians, and visual producers to attempt to capture his narratives’ essential ideas and motifs within their creative mediums. The tales he constructed were a backdrop for intellectually stimulating artistic renditions about issues such as personal identity, societal equity, and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

Professor Omotoso’s work evolved significantly throughout his career, echoing the shifts that have taken place in the literary world and the social environment through which his narratives have been analyzed. The author’s earlier works garnered praise from reviewers for their insightful assessment of Nigerian society and their captivating representation of diverse characters attempting to navigate the difficulties of a post-colonial setting. These aspects of his work were particularly lauded. As he proceeded to investigate the complexities surrounding identity and cultural heritage issues, he gained recognition for his ability to successfully reconcile the contrast between traditional and modern components. This capacity served the purpose of highlighting the universal character of human experiences, which transcended cultural boundaries.

Professor Omotoso’s literary style underwent a discernible evolution as he progressed down his career path, gradually becoming more nuanced and including elements of experimentalism in the process. His works displayed a tremendous command of the English language, adopting intricate literary strategies to effectively transmit deeper levels of relevance. Critics have praised Omotoso’s talent for evoking a range of feelings through evocative imagery and poetic language. This has helped establish him as a leading figure in literary history renowned for his profound intellect and refined artistic sensibilities. His distinctive literary voice garnered increased attention and admiration due to the expansion of society’s ideas on African literature. Due to his propensity to challenge preexisting standards and experiment with alternative narrative structures, he was often regarded as a seminal figure in the history of literary innovation. This forward-thinking approach to African storytelling broadened the minds of aspiring authors and provided them with new paths to investigate, which enlarged their horizons.

As we reflect on the passing of this towering figure in the world of writing, we are compelled to realize the huge void that his passing has left within the world of literature and among those who were fortunate enough to have known him. His life and efforts have unquestionably left a positive legacy that has impacted our globe and will continue to impact future generations. This is a legacy that will endure for generations to come. Professor Omotoso’s excellent contributions have not only improved the field of literature but have also served as a source of inspiration for meeting the many problems that can be found in the world with an amazing level of bravery.

By remembering the life of Professor Omotoso, I am paying tribute to the one whose ideas and principles will continue to profoundly impact intellectual and emotional spheres into the foreseeable future. His significant contributions to literature, his dedication to advancing social fairness, and the mentoring provided to aspiring intellectuals have left an indelible mark on the literary conversation in Africa and beyond. For all of us, his literary legacy will continue to serve as a wellspring of motivation and illumination, and we pray that his soul will rest in eternal peace.



Kole, your tent pitched with the great

lined up with Petronius,

unravelling communal senses,

beating common sense into towers high.

So, the apex would mumble to beat back,

repairing the town or tuning you out of it.

Omotoso, keeper of the collective wisdom.

Well-laid down like Ifa,

provoking, invoking, and unveiling metamorphosis;

that could drive Africa to the coast of Olokun and Olosa,

bringing coveted hope, faith, and fate

Through ink-stained nights, rays from glass-stained windows

a golden heart and parchment’s grace,

you weave a tapestry of the human race,

and of Africa, of its giant and the rainbow nation

With quill in hand, scrolls allayed, and dreams in sight,

a vision and path, clear, bold, and right you crafted.

You spoke to the soul of the Giant of Africa,

Planting seeds on its soil to quicken it.

Told its crippling wills and limbs,

Of silent stories vast, and of salient hopes that feed

The minds of millions, young and old,

to hold the head to work the body.

Bankole Omotoso, your Baba named you well,

He saw the vision of a jewel social builder,

Building the mind, the town, and Africa.

You are an African pride evidenced by scrolls,

By your art, you called the world, and it marvelled

The Yebo Gogo man in the heart of the Rainbow Nation,

Painted joy, imagination, and theatrics,

Engaging the freedom calls,

The streets’ salutations,

And the limp for hope.

Just before dawn,

They say the darkest hour prevails.

But you, an epitome of hope of the dawn to come

Have left just before the dawn

You raised the dusk

And disappeared in the midst of this dark

From this plane, you have transcended,

But Kole, you have scrolled the fireflies,

Lighting our paths through these darks

Your ship might have sailed at Cape Town

But from the crust of the Soweto,

Through Johannesburg and the surge of Lagos,

To the cradles of Akure, where it all began,

Your footprints are evident even on the rocks

Good Night, Yebo Gogo Man.


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