The Nigerian Mathematics “Genius” Who fooled the British Media


In the last few days, you may have read about how a Nigerian mathematician, Opeyemi Enoch, solved the Riemann Zeta Hypothesis—a 156 year old mathematical problem—and bagged a $1 million prize. Even though it has been widely reported, it appears the story might be untrue. The Riemann Hypothesis, first proposed by German mathematician Bernhard Riemann in 1859, is one of seven Millennium problems presented by the Clay Mathematics Institute with a million dollar reward for solving each problem.

Leading British media including the BBC and the Daily Telegraph ran the story of Mr Enoch winning the award but a little digging suggests they might have jumped the gun. The US-based Clay Mathematics Institute has refused to confirm the news of Enoch’s solution to the problem instead saying “the current status of the problems and complete information about each” is available on the Clay Mathematics Institute website—and that’s where it gets interesting.

The Clay Mathematics Institute lists all seven Millenium problems and states whether or not they have been solved. Of the seven problems, only Poincaré Conjecture, solved by Grigoriy Perelman in 2003, is listed as solved. All the other six problems including the Riemann Hypothesis, supposedly solved by Enoch, remain listed as unsolved.
For his part Enoch, who is said to be a lecturer at a university in a small town in the south west of Nigeria, told the BBC in this audio interview that the motivation to solve the problem came from his students, who brought the problem to him with the hope of making a $1 million “off the Internet”. “Those my students trusted that the solution could come from me,” he said. He said he was motivated by their trust, “not because of the financial reward.”
Enoch has an page where the ‘proof’ of the solution to the Riemann Hypothesis has been uploaded but that has also come in for criticism as the proof is believed to have been plagiarized.
The irony is that even though Enoch’s genius appears to have been mistaken, Nigerians are well known for some original and verified achievements. Last week, in Perth, Australia, Wellington Jighere became the first African to win the World Scrabble Championship and in May, Ufot Ekong emerged the best graduating student from Tokai University in Japan breaking a 50-year old record in the process.
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