For weeks I pondered about writing this piece. This actually is my third attempt at it and I hope I am able to complete it. I have since read all the articles that were written on this subject both on SaharaReporters and Next and the only reason I am continuing with this is because my TV show had interviewed Philip Emeagwali on two different occasions and I want to believe I can add new perspectives to this arguably over flogged topic.
Before continuing I must first commend both SaharaReporters and Next Newspaper for having the courage to publish this story. I am sure it must have been difficult for them to expose a man that was so highly rated before now.
Back in 2002 I conceptualized a Television magazine show that celebrated professionally successful Nigerians in the UK and other quirky stuff we felt would interest the viewing public back home. Others who came to work on the show included Dr Femi Akorede, formerly with Thisday and Abiola Banire who was writing her post grad professional exams. We did not particularly have a budget to run the show but we all enjoyed putting the show on air and we all agreed not to take money from guests to appear on the show as was the case back home.
In the summer of that year I got an invite to an awards show that was going to celebrate this outstanding Nigerian who “pioneered the internet” and who was as intelligent as Bill Gates if not more. Until that day I had never heard the name Philip Emeagwali. Back then Google was not what it is now and so there was no question of running checks on him, moreover the person who called me was not given to careless talk and I believed him completely. I was understandably excited, my day time job was as an IT engineer with the UK National Grid then and the prospect of meeting somebody that high in my field, or so I thought was doubly exciting. Emeagwali ticked all the right boxes as to the caliber of persons we wanted on the show.
Our first meeting was at the award event at the Institute of Directors in London, we had little time to talk but he provided us additional information to what he had given the show organizers. The first interview was conducted by Dr Femi Akorede and as was our practice, we agreed salutations beforehand hence Dr Akorede calling him “Professor” in the first interview. After the interview, Emeagwali then stated his regret of not having enough time to do a comprehensive interview but told us of another planned visit to London and promised he was going to get in touch when he came into town.
A few months later Emeagwali got in touch as promised and this time it was Abiola Banire and myself who set out to interview him at his hotel; the Novotel at Kings Cross London. On that visit he was accompanied by his then 13 year old son Ijeomah who we also interviewed. The second meeting was more remarkable for the claims he made off camera than during the interview itself (more on this later) I remember him asking after the interview if the camera was switched off as he did not want me to record what he was going to say because it revolved round what he was working on for the US Government and was very “sensitive information”. Because we were using wireless microphones, I proceeded to unplug the microphone receiver from the camera and turned off the transmitter which was on the desk and it was only then that he started flowing. What he said then was mind boggling, but looking back now; I can safely say it was all a load of tosh. Midway through his talk I decided to take an arial shot of London since we were on the 6th floor. It was only when I played the rushes back at home that I realized Emeagwali had been caught on tape talking about his “sensitive work”!
What I thought of Emeagwali before now is best summed up in an unbroadcast piece to camera I did for AM Express back then in which I referred to him as “God”. Such was my adulation for the man that I had a picture I took with him as my desktop wall paper for over 1 year. Even when an English colleague back then said he was “dodgy” and questioned his claims as there was no any other external source apart from emeagwali.com, I refuse to doubt and put it down to “oyinbo envy”. You can then imagine my shock and horror when I read the “expose” on SaharaReporters and Next.
I have played the rushes of both interview back and have youtubed all except the interview with his son. Readers can come to their own conclusion but I will in the remaining part of this piece summarize all that Emeagwali claimed in the two interviews.
On the issue of his title:
We asked Philip Emeagwali before both interviews on how best to address him and at the event at IOD he agreed for us to call him “Professor” and strangely (in hindsight) he asked to be addressed as “Dr” at the second interview at the Novotel hotel. Please refer to both interviews (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-OQmjYIuAU @ 0.01 secs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYFxbQYO-8c @ 0.33 secs ) where he was addressed as “Professor” and “Dr” without any correction from him.
On Gordon Bell Award: He claimed this was the highest possible award in computing and personally told me it was more respected than the Nobel Prize. Please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuaCgCCvKRs @ 2:10 mins
Issue of Supercomputers: he claimed off camera that he conceptualized the idea of using 65 thousand processors in a computer and IBM disagreed with him and his position eventually won. He claimed there were problems super computers could not solve so he had to find another way round this by using 65K processors. Please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYFxbQYO-8c @ 07:46 mins. Off camera he created the impression it was his 65K processors versus supercomputers and he won.
On Internet: He claimed we are seeing today is as a result of his work over a decade ago and that his current works will become evident in another decade (from 2002).
On his current work: He claimed to be working on next generation supercomputers, internet and also an Application Grid” on behalf of the US government, his description of the proposed solution is what can now be loosely referred to as cloud computing. Please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZF6B9O4Pys @ 01:19 min. He also claimed to be working on an “immortality project” on behalf of the US Government. According to him the project was aimed at downloading the human mind or memory onto a disk and such can be uploaded again into another body. This was the “sensitive work” he did not want us to record. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPzQo9GdX9Y
Evidence of God: he claimed himself and 4 other scientists were commissioned by a wealthy European for a sum of $10 Million to find proof of the existence of God.
Job offer from Microsoft: Off camera he claimed he was offered a job by Microsoft which he turned down, but on camera he became shifty when asked about this. Please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-OQmjYIuAU @ 09:07 mins
On Sci-fi Movies: he claimed some movie had been inspired by his works and tried to claim credit for Jurassic Park. He only pulled back from this when I asked for clarification and claimed the name of the movie had skipped his mind
I have no shame in admitting that Philip Emeagwali fooled me and I unwittingly help rebroadcast his lies. After all news organisations like the BBC and CNN all fell for his tricks, all the information we used in the interview were fed to us by the man himself and unfortunately we did not verify his claims and who could have thought the man was dishonest? For those defending the man my advice to them is that they should set aside their bigotry tainted glasses and see through the web of lies the man has spun.
Philip Emeagwali’s feeble attempt at rebutting the recent claims of dishonesty is laughable. I have come to the conclusion that the man is a dyed in the wool liar. In 2002 he told us a super computer cost $40 million (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYFxbQYO-8c @ 07: 53 mins ) but that cost has shot up to a mind boggling $1.32 BILLION (http://emeagwali.com/discoveries/introduction_and_41-inventions.pdf ) surely we are not talking about Mugabe’s Zimbabwean dollars here or are we?
I have no doubt that Philip Emeagwali will get top read this piece and I will like to use this opportunity to ask him these questions:
• Why did you encourage us to address you as Professor and Dr? If we were wrong, why did you not set the record straight either on or off camera?
• Do you still maintain the Gordon Bell Award is more prestigious than the Nobel Prize?
• Do you still maintain that IBM built their Supercomputers based on your demonstration of using 65K processors as one?
• Did you play any role in design, build or UAT testing of the supercomputer you used in your oil exploration simulation?
• Do you still maintain that you, on behalf of the US Government, worked on an application grid? Are such developments not private enterprise led?
• Do you still maintain that you got a job offer from Microsoft? Can you please provide evidence of this?
• Do you still maintain that you were paid by a wealthy European to prove the existence of God?
• Do you still maintain you worked on a secret “immortality” project on behalf of the US Government?
• Have you been able to remember the name of the movie your work inspired?
• Do you still think you deserve to have your face on our stamp?
I have no doubt that Philip Emeagwali is a brilliant man, but as someone rightly said, he is still stuck in 1989, whilst not putting down the Gordon Bell award, one can safely say he sexed up the importance of the award. Rather than knuckle down and do some serious work, he has been talking for more than a decade without any academic of scientific thing to show. He needs to find his way out of the wilderness of lies and try and start doing some honest work instead of peddling lies all around. These are very harsh words I know but they need to be said. If he finds them libelous he knows what to do.
I am glad the Minister for Information has waded into this controversy and has promised an investigation. We must ensure that this matter is not swept under the carpet. What example do we want to set for our children, that it okay to lie and cheat and get rewarded with a stamp? It is bad enough that Nigerians are regarded as fraudsters but how are we expected to live down having a 419 scientist on one of our stamps?