Nigeria: ExxonMobil, others disown Emeagwali

The bottom has fallen out of Phillip Emeagwali’s basket of false claims. American oil giant, ExxonMobil, has told NEXT exclusively that it has never dealt with the American-based Nigerian scientist, contrary to Mr. Emeagwali’s repeated claim that he wrote the equations that the company used to simulate the flow of oil, water, and gas inside its reservoirs.

Authorities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a United States Department of Energy laboratory, where Mr. Emeagwali claimed he sourced the Connection Machine for his award-winning experiment, also said they had never related with the Nigerian scientist.

Even the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the world’s largest organisation of computer experts, has reacted to the scandal surrounding Mr Emeagwali by removing the scientist’s profile from its website. Mr. Emeagwali’s bio on the site contained some contentious claims, including one that he has a doctorate.

Mr. Emeagwali did not respond to email seeking his comment. He also did not return calls made to his Washington D.C. office.

In 1989, Emeagwali, 56, won the $1,000 prize for writing a programme for oil reservoir modeling. Afterwards,

he travelled around the world for over two decades marketing himself as one of the inventors of the Internet. A gullible Africa believed him, and his native Nigeria lavishly celebrated him as the country’s most influential scientist ever.

But in November, leading American computer experts, including Gordon Bell, the man after whom the prize he won in 1989 was named, exposed Mr. Emeagwali, describing his 20-year claim that his invention gave birth to the Internet as fraudulent.

However, Mr. Emeagwali continued to make other claims which are now considered largely untrue. For instance, in a series of weekly articles he wrote for, Mr. Emeagwali said he “scribbled the actual equations used by the oil company Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) to simulate the flow of oil, water, and gas inside its petroleum reservoirs.” He claimed that after learning about his discovery, Mobil Research and Development invited him (in a letter dated March 19, 1990) to help the company in “reservoir simulation.” Mr Emeagwali added that he discovered that Mobil’s equations did not reflect reality and corrected the company’s error.

But responding to a NEXT inquiry, ExxonMobil simply disowned Mr. Emeagwali. “We are unaware of Mr. Emeagwali’s claimed interaction 20 years ago with a prior affiliate of ExxonMobil,” Patrick McGinn of the Upstream Media Relations Unit of the company, said in an email from the Texas headquarters of the oil firm, after a 10-day investigation within his company.

Initially, Mr. McGinn described Mr. Emeagwali’s claim as speculations to which ExxonMobil Corporation won’t react. But when pressed, he came out to say clearly that his company had no record of ever having dealt with Mr. Emeagwali.

Before ExxonMobil disowned Mr. Emeagwali, Angela Burgess, executive director of IEEE computer society, had informed NEXT that the Nigerian scientist’s profile on her organisation’s website had been removed following doubts about some claims contained therein. Mr. Emeagwali provided the information for the article, which falsely portrayed him as having earned a first degree from the University of London and a doctorate from the University of Michigan.

From the Los Alamos National Laboratory also came another blow for the embattled scientist. Mr. Emeagwali had claimed in a January 2007 TIME magazine article that, through research, he found a “Connection Machine” at the laboratory which had sat unused after scientists had given up on figuring out how to make it simulate nuclear explosions.

Lost in Los Alamos

In 1987, Mr Emeagwali told TIME, he applied for and was given permission to use the machine. He said from his base in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he remotely programmed the machine (in Northern New Mexico) and used it to compute the amount of oil in a simulated reservoir, and perform 3.1 billion calculations per second.

But authorities at the 67-year-old laboratory said the claims were “unsubstantiated – at best.”

“Several current LANL scientists who worked directly on Thinking Machines CM-2 and CM-5 computing system development during that time frame have no recollection of working with Philip Emeagwali,” said Kevin Roark of the Communications Office of the laboratory.

“It is certainly untrue that the computers “sat unused after scientists had given up” on figuring out how to make them work. In fact, the laboratory successfully developed codes for the CM-2 and CM-5 that were very effective for conventional defense calculations and important aspects of nuclear weapon assessments/design.” Meanwhile, a source in the Federal Ministry of Information and Communication said the Minister, Dora Akunyili, was in the process of raising a committee to investigate allegations of fraudulent claims levelled against Mr. Emeagwali.

The source said the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, S.O. Willoughby, might head the committee.

Mrs. Akunyili had told NEXT on November 7 that government will investigate the allegations to enable it to determine whether to remove Mr. Emeagwali’s face from the Nigerian stamp. The minister did not return calls made to her mobile telephone on Friday.