Complicity of Nigerian media in intellectual 419 of academics

THE sensational but entirely false story about one Dr. Nura Yakubu (or is it Yakubu Nura) of the University of Maiduguri winning “the World Physics Competition by defeating about 5720 contenders from 97 countries,” which reputedly earned him the distinction of becoming “the father of modern Einstein’s planetary equation studies in Physics,” is another sad example of how the Nigerian news media help to give publicity to patent intellectual fraud by Nigerian academics.

I can forgive the Nigerian media’s failure to detect Philip Emeagwali’s intellectual 419. It was a sophisticated, well-layered intellectual con game that suckered even well-established media outfits like CNN and otherwise perceptive politicians like former US president Bill Clinton.

Emeagwali’s deception was believable because he actually did win a real award. It was just that he exaggerated the worth of the award and used it as a launching pad to orchestrate one of the most labyrinthine intellectual swindles I’ve ever come across in all my years of systematic study of the rhetorical strategies of fraudsters.

Although several well-researched reports have blown the lid off Emeagwali’s unfounded claims, Yemi Osinbajo recently repeated the discredited falsehoods Emeagwali had peddled for years. During an Independence Day speech on October 1, 2018, Osinbajo said, “the world’s fastest supercomputer was designed by a world-renowned inventor, Philip Emeagwali, a full-blown Nigerian.”

Premium Times was compelled to fact-check Osinbajo in an October 20, 2018 report titled “FACT-CHECK: Did VP Osinbajo goof in his Independence Day speech?” “There is no evidence that Mr. Emeagwali, 64, has ever invented anything, not to talk of the ‘world’s fastest supercomputer’,” the paper wrote. “A detailed investigation by the rested NEXT newspaper in 2010 indicated that Mr. Emeagwali’s biggest achievement at the time was his winning of the $1,000 Gordon Bell Prize in 1989.”

As I wrote in my November 6, 2010 column titled “Intellectual 419: Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo Compared,” “until the last few years, The Guardian often reported that Oyibo was among the top three candidates being considered for the Nobel Prize in Physics. This intentionally deceitful newspaper speculation was/is the basis for his unearned popularity in Nigerian elite circles.”

You would think after Emeagwali and Oyibo, the Nigerian media would be wary of future unverified claims by Nigerian academics. On the contrary, however, they seem to be falling for even less sophisticated, easily detectable scams.

For instance, on July 28, 2011, The Guardian publicized the false claims of a Benue State University lecturer by the name of Michael Atovigba who claimed to have solved a 262-year-old mathematical puzzle (for which he said he would win $1 million from the US-based Clay Mathematics Institute) based on an article he published in a predatory, pay-to-play Pakistani journal (with more than half of his references from Wikipedia!) The Guardian caused Nigerians to celebrate him wildly until I—and others— burst his bubble.

Four years later, the Vanguard of November 15, 2015 publicized the false claims of a Dr. Enoch Opeyemi of the Federal University in Oye-Ekiti who claimed to have solved the same centuries-old mathematical puzzle that Atovigba had claimed to have solved! As I pointed out in my November 21, 2015 column titled “‘Mathematical’ Enoch Opeyemi and the Making of Another Nigerian Intellectual 419er,”Opeyemi’s only evidence for claiming to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis was that he presented a paper on the puzzle at the “International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science” in Vienna, Austria.

It later emerged that the “conference”itself was a scam operation. An August 20, 2011 blog post titled “Fake Paper Accepted by Nina Ringo’s Vienna Conference” revealed that a scientist by the name of Mohammad Homayoun who was suspicious of the genuineness of the “International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science (ICMC)” decided to test his suspicion by submitting a fake, worthless, nonsensical paper to the conference to see if it would be accepted or rejected.

The researcher’s hunch was accurate: the ICMC in Vienna was an elaborate, money-making scholarly scam. His paper was accepted even though it was intentionally nonsensical.

Opeyemi also said he would be paid $1 million by the Clay Mathematics Institute in two years for his “feat,” and the media believed him. On November 25, 2017, I did a follow-up column titled “Remember Enoch Opeyemi Who Claimed to have Solved the Riemann Hypothesis?” where I pointed out that two years later, the puzzle Opeyemi claimed to have solved was still listed as “unsolved” on the Clay Mathematics Institute’s website. It’s still unsolved as I write this.

In spite of my pointing this out, many Nigerians continued to celebrate Opeyemi’s delusional claims to nonpareil intellectual accomplishment—until Dr. Nura Yakubu came and displaced him.

As I pointed out on social media, the truth is that Dr. Nura is the willing victim of a scam, a kind of scam I call scams of ego, which prey on the status anxieties and low self-esteem of insecure, fraud-prone people. World Championship, the “organization” that conferred the “award” on Dr. Nura, is a well-known scam operation that does not, for strategically fraudulent reasons, have a site with its own domain name. It uses a free sites.google.com account to perpetrate its swindles.

Anyone who pays a fee can get any—I mean ANY—award from the site. Check the site to see the list of “award winners” it features in every imaginable field. You will find many Nigerians there. Some past Nigerian “winners” even managed to defraud the ever credulous Nigerian news media into publicizing their “feat.”

For instance, one Dr. Kaywood Leizou of the Niger Delta University (NDU) got The Guardian to write a story about his “award” from this same fraudulent site on October 19, 2018. Titled “Bayelsa don wins global chemical sciences contest,” the report said, “The Bayelsa-born don beat 5,845 others from 89 countries whose nominations were screened for this year’s edition. Consequently, the International Agency for Standards and Ratings (IASR) has recognized Leizou as one the world’s 500 most influential experts on earth in chemical sciences for the year.”

In 2018, the same website “conferred” one “Dr.” Shuaib Idris Mohammed of Edo State (who hasn’t even completed his PhD) with the “World Champion in Agricultural Extension (Credit Facilities)” award “out of 91 countries.” The site added: “Dr. Shuaib Idris Mohammed is now recognized as Father of modern Credit Facilities in Agricultural Extension. The purpose of the award is to identify brilliant scientists and academicians around the world through World Championship. The World Championship is organized by International Agency for Standards and Ratings at international level.”

Sounds familiar? That’s the exact language used for Dr. Nura. It’s the same suspiciously atrocious grammar. The “contenders” for the “awards” are always in the thousands—and from more than 80 countries in the world.

But nothing in Nura’s scholarly record—and those of others who have been made “fathers” of whole disciplinary specialties by the fraudulent site—suggests that he is anywhere close to the pinnacle of his career. In fact, most of his articles are published in dodgy, predatory journals that publish ANYTHING submitted to them for a fee.

The scariest thing in all this is that Dr. Nura Yakubu was going to be hosted in the Presidential Villa and honored by Muhammadu Buhari. A friend of mine who is a close confidant of Buhari’s called to tell me this and to ask that I help verify the authenticity of Nura’s “award.” My findings and subsequent status update saved Buhari from a potentially momentous embarrassment.

Well, even Buhari himself fell for a fraudulent “MLK award.”So he and Dr. Nura Yakubu would have made good company in the Villa! Nigerians have to be the world’s greatest suckers for cheap scams!

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