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 $1 million reward for solving each one.
Leading British media, including the BBC and the Daily Telegraph, ran the story of 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, instead saying “the current status of the problems and complete information about each” is available on the institute’s website—and that’s where it gets interesting.
The institute lists all seven Millennium problems and states whether or not they have been solved. Of the seven, only the Poincaré Conjecture, solved by Grigoriy Perelman in 2003, is listed as solved. All the other six problems, including the Riemann Hypothesis, remain listed as unsolved.
For his part, Enoch, who is said to be a lecturer at a university in a small town in the southwest of Nigeria, told the BBC in this audio interview that the motivation to solve the problem came from his students, who brought it to him with the hope of making $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 academia.edu 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 as the best graduating student from Tokai University in Japan, breaking a 50-year-old record in the process.