Busted: Nigerian ‘inventors’ whose claims turned out to be false

Inventions are not a dime a dozen. Thus, they are usually noteworthy when some individuals are identified as inventors for the public good.

There have been cases of Nigerian scientists claiming to have invented what was not entirely innovative or totally true. However, there are also smart Nigerians who have made genuine innovative discoveries in various fields.

Not long ago, when a Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Dr Oludare Adeyemi, announced he made a major breakthrough in the treatment of prostate cancer through brachytherapy, words spread quickly through social media platforms.

The Benin City, Edo State-based medical doctor had said, “Brachytherapy is a unique form of treating the disease, especially as the new treatment is not only affordable but also less time-consuming.

“Although there are other options of treating prostate cancer, the brachytherapy method is unique, accurate and offers a high degree of cure to a patient with prostate cancer, especially when it is done at the early stage of the disease.”

Adeyemi went on to say “in this discovery of mine, what we do is to implant a radioactive inside the prostrate and right inside, the prostate begins to release radiations which end up killing the cells. It damages what we call DNA and when DNA is damaged, the cells cannot actually produce any longer.”

The way Adeyemi spoke fondly of the treatment method for prostate cancer, one would have thought he was the one who discovered brachytherapy.

However, the use of brachytherapy in the treatment of prostate cancer is not entirely new, an investigation by our correspondent showed. As a matter of fact, brachytherapy dates back to 1901, shortly after the discovery of radioactivity by a French physicist and Nobel laureate, Henri Becquerel.

According to the American Brachytherapy Society, Becquerel first discovered the method in 1896 when his colleague, Pierre Curie, suggested to a French physician and dermatologist, Henri-Alexandre Danlos, that a radioactive source could be inserted into a tumour and cause it to shrink.

Years later in the 20th century, Danlos pioneered brachytherapy at the Curie Institute in Paris while an American surgeon and pioneer radiologist, Robert Abbe, also pioneered the method at the St Luke’s and Memorial Hospital in New York.

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Also recently, 26-year-old Emeka Nelson claimed to have invented a generator that runs on water only, adding that he also invented the machine that could convert waste into petrol and diesel. Quickly, his story trended on social media and was published by some media houses.

But checks have revealed that Nelson’s story was not entirely new as it was shared about three years ago.

Be that as it may, Nelson’s invention claim might not be entirely new too because as far back as 2012, a Vietnamese newspaper, the Voice of Vietnam, reported a Vietnamese researcher, Dr Nguyen Chanh Khe, who announced that he and his staff had invented two machines that used water as fuel to generate electricity.

It was interesting to note that Khe and his colleagues were made to appear at a technology conference to clarify questions from local scientists, assess their research and reveal the technical details of the machines.

Likewise, in 2010, some Nigerian scientists claimed to have developed a generator which does not use fuel and made with almost 100 per cent locally sourced materials. The device was dubbed the “fuel-less electricity generator.”

A computer scientist who claimed to have developed the fuel-less generator with other scientists, Akinyefa Ajibola, said the product was aimed at tackling the electricity problem in the country.

He said, “Unlike the existing electricity generating sets, the device has no side effects. It does not fume and is noiseless. We don’t sell the product now, we only train people to do it themselves, but we may manufacture it for commercial purposes if the capital is there.”

But, it was discovered that the idea was phony and that the scientists who claimed to have developed it did not develop any technology of such from the ground up.

For instance, some Nigerians who called on the scientists to procure some of the fuel-less generators alleged that the scientists only dismantled their petrol generators and did some inexplicable connections to make them work like inverters.

More false claims

In 2017, a Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Virology, Maduike Ezeibe, who lectures at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, came into prominence when he claimed to have discovered a new drug for the cure of HIV/AIDS.

Given the lingering difficulty despite extensive research and development encountered while developing effective treatment for the disease, the don’s claim to have found a cure for the virus received acclaim as millions of Nigerians live with the virus. (As of March 2019, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS estimated that there were 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria)

Ezeibe claimed to have used synthetic aluminum-magnesium silicate nanoparticles, which he said binds to the HIV virus and could cure a patient within months.

The researcher claimed that 10 HIV-positive volunteers were successfully treated

Ezeibe

with his therapy, saying the drug was patented in 2014 and he presented his research findings at the World Virology Conference in Atlanta, USA in 2015 and San Antonio, Texas in 2016.

Several media outlets published Ezeibe’s claims, while one national newspaper, in its editorial, described HIV as “a conquered organism” due to the Ezeibe’s “groundbreaking discovery.” The paper in question even said Ezeibe’s drug and patent had commercial value that could rival oil as a revenue earner.

However, few days after Ezeibe made his claims, NACA and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, in a joint statement strongly criticised the researcher’s claims, stating that there was no basis for a claim for AIDS’s cure in his study.

It was discovered that the journals where Ezeibe’s research was published, including the British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research, were obscure, fee-charging journals.

“In the ‘clinical trial’ as reported, there was no evidence of the use of controls, which is the basis of all efficacy trials. Without controls, you can neither have randomisation nor blinding, two other critical factors in studying the effects of new medicines.

“Critically, the primary outcome measured in this study was based on plasma viral load levels that are known to fluctuate in patients, even in the absence of any intervention.

“It is also worth noting that virological suppression (viral load less than 50 copies/ml) was not achieved in six of eight patients. There appeared to be no medical doctor involved in the execution of this study and there was no evidence on where or how the patients were treated or monitored during this study, their clinical and treatment status at the beginning or at the end of it,” NACA’s Director-General, Dr Sani Aliyu, and the NCDC Chief Executive, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said in the joint statement.

They added, “The claim for a HIV/AIDS cure is not new. It is also not new to find a scientist using ambiguous scientific methods and practices to buttress this claim and to find obscure journals increasingly prepared to publish these claims.

“Following the discrediting of the claims of Dr Jeremiah Abalaka in the late 90s, we had also hoped that the Nigerian press would thoroughly investigate these ‘AIDS cure’ claims before going to press, given the huge impact that these could have on patients’ lives.”

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Also dismissing Ezeibe’s claims, a former Minister of Health, Dr Isaac Adewole, said the researcher’s claims were hostile and adversarial. “It is not even just simply skeptical, it is utterly dismissive,” Adewole said.

On his part, Abalaka in 1999 claimed to have found a cure for HIV/AIDS and sought patent from the government for his alleged discovery.

Abalaka

But his claim was ultimately dismissed by the Federal Government. In 2015, Abalaka retracted his words, saying he never claimed to have discovered cure for HIV/AIDS. He also said he had moved on after 16 years of legal processes his claim caused him.

Meanwhile, while some of the invention claims by some Nigerians were not new as they claimed, otherwise were totally false.

For example, for many years, Nigerian-American computer scientist, Philip Emeagwali, was alleged to have deceived the world with claims of being the “father of the Internet” and claimed to win the Nobel Prize in Computing.

He was celebrated by the world, especially by the blacks, and won the $1,000 Gordon Bell Prize in 1989. He was even dubbed the “Bill Gates of Africa.”

His stories of false invention claims were published by some of the famous international media houses, including the TIME and CNN, which later took down such reports.

However, in 2007, investigations showed Emeagwali was never a “father of the Internet” and made no significant contributions to the Internet’s development. Although he worked in supercomputing in the 80s, he was said to have not contributed to even one of the hundreds of Internet standards. His supercomputing research was found to be completely unrelated to the Internet.

Fake award claims by academics

Apart from false invention claims by Nigerian scientists, there have also been cases of false claims of scientific awards by Nigerian academics. Some of the academics have used such so-called awards to gain undue fame even in the international community.

On August 9, 2019, Nigerians woke up to a news report which later became viral that a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, Dr Yakubu Nura, won a so-called world championship in physics for purportedly solving the Albert Einstein Planetary Equation.

The organisers of the supposed award, the International Agency for Standards and Ratings, went on to describe Nura as the ‘father of modern Einstein’s Planetary Equation Studies in Physics’ and dubbed him the pride and ‘most important asset for (sic) Nigeria.’

The self-acclaimed award organisers said Nura’s research article, which was never stated, competed with 5,720 other entries from 97 countries  to emerge winner of the coveted 2019 world championship in physics. Nura was ultimately dubbed one of the world’s most 500 influential physicists in the world.

The IASR did not stop there. It also called Nura the ‘great legend on earth’ and said it had endorsed him to hold scientific meetings and conferences on physics and could be contacted by institutions for keynote speeches on physics.

However, an investigation has shown that Nura, a 51-year-old Yobe State indigene was probably a victim of a scam that has long been perpetrated by the self-titled IASR.

Before Nura’s story hit the social media and some media outlets in Nigeria, it was first published by one US News Corp, which could easily be mistaken for the News Corp, a reputable New York, United States-based mass media and publishing company founded by Rupert Murdoch, an Australian media mogul.

But, while the reputable News Corp’s website can be found via www.newscorp.com, the US News Corp uses a Google Sites, a free webpage creation tool offered by Google on sites.google.com.

Through this website, the IASR disseminates information on its illicit “world championship” awards to primarily the unwary scientists across the world. It was on this site that it announced Nura’s emergence as the 2019 world championship in physics award.

On the site, Nura’s portrait sits majestically under the bold headline, “Africa (sic) wins Champions League | Dr Yakubu Nura from Nigeria Wins World Championship in Physics.”

The lecturer was extravagantly depicted to be as brilliant as Albert Einstein, the German theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity and won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his services to theoretical physics.

To celebrate Nura, the self-appointed IASR asked international news agencies to spread the news and seek expert opinion from him on important national and international issues as well as publish his academic publications.

Obviously embarrassed by the so-called award, about two days after Nura’s story spread, the University of Maiduguri issued a statement to distance itself from the award. The institution said such a nameless award was capable of dragging the name of the university into ridicule and disrepute.

“For the avoidance of doubt, neither Nura nor the organisation that reportedly gave him the said award has officially contacted the university management with credible information on the matter,” UNIMAID’s Director of Radio and Public Relations, Prof Danjuma Gambo, said.

Danjuma said the university would do the needful whenever it received official and verifiable information from “impeccable sources” to put the matter into proper perspective.

“Therefore, the media and members of the general public are advised to react with utmost caution to the widespread reports and commentaries currently in circulation,” the don added.

The danger for intellectual community

Funnily enough, for an award body that claimed to be organising a ‘world championship’ in the various fields, including arts, science, engineering, management and medicine, investigation by our correspondent showed all it takes to be honored as a ‘world champion’ is a sum of $140 (N43,000) and submission of a few personal and academic details.

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For instance, an Indian scientist, Deepak Yes, in May 2019 posted on ResearchGate, a Berlin, Germany-based social networking site for scientists and researchers, how he received an email claiming his research article had been declared a winner at the 2019 world championship in rehabilitation medicine (bioassay).

He was asked to submit his passport photograph, curriculum vitae, registration fee ($140) and highlights of his research article to an email for the issuance of a press release and certificate.

An Associate Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at the Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, United States, Farooq Kperogi, described academics who got the fraudulent IASR certificates as either intellectually immature or morally bankrupt.

In an email to our correspondent, Kperogi said, “If in spite of ample telltale signs that these awards are scams, Nigerian academics didn’t know they were being scammed by two-bit Internet scam operations, then they are too mentally subnormal, too credulous and too intellectually immature to be real academics. An academic should be curious, questioning, skeptical and critical.

“If, however, they had foreknowledge of the duplicity of the awards and went ahead to accept them anyway – and even paid for them – just so they would invite unearned national admiration for themselves, then they are morally degenerate and unworthy of their calling. Either way, their actions are morally and intellectually indefensible.”

Nura was, however, not the only Nigerian on the so-called ‘world champions list,’ as investigations by our correspondent showed there were eight more Nigerians academics on the list posted by the IASR. But, they were not the only academics who have misled the public by displaying fictitious titles.

For years, Chris Imafidon, claimed to be a professor at the Oxford University in the United Kingdom and described himself as an adviser to governments, monarchs and presidents.

His LinkedIn profile showed him as one of the “world’s foremost scholars on leveraging informatics for learning and exceptional achievement (genius),” but no mention was made of what he was a professor of or the trajectory of his educational career.

He was invited to speak at convocations both in Nigeria and abroad and was called to speak on educational topics on international television stations.

However, an investigation in 2017 showed Imafidon neither lectured at the Oxford University nor affiliated to any of the foreign universities he claimed to have affiliations with, including Harvard University, Cornell University, University of Georgetown and the University of Miami.

We went after fake inventors in the past –NAS

Speaking on the development, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Mosto Onuoha, said in the past, the body had gone after some Nigerians who claimed to have made inventions. He, however, said there were challenges as the publicity such inventions garnered sometimes overshadowed their investigations.

He said, “As a body, we have gone after some of those who claimed to have invented something in the past, but usually, they would go to their state governors to seek their attention.

“Ideally, we should be a clearing body, but now state governors or commissioners for science technology should step in. For instance, if a mechanic is claiming to have invented something, in spite of all the noise, they should go and investigate. If the inventor can demonstrate it, they can then source more talents for them.”

Onuoha said Nigeria must be on the lookout for the spread of intellectual fraud in the country’s education sector because it was capable of damaging its reputation.

“It’s a global phenomenon, but we have to be on the lookout in Nigeria. People make all sorts of claims and in an attention-seeking age. Inasmuch as we have smart Nigerians who are truly doing great things, the watchword today should be fact-checking and not believing every report.

“It is a very serious matter when you claim what you are not; it means you are a fraud. We are serious about this dangerous situation,” the NAS president said.

In his contribution, President of the Academic Union of Universities, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said lecturers who fell prey to award scams such as the one issued to Nura were careless and ought to be more cautious.

Ogunyemi said the union did not automatically accord recognition to any award a lecturer claimed to have received from a body, except it if was a reputable institution that announced the issuance of such awards.

He said, “Anyone can be scammed. But if any lecturer falls prey to such scams, they are probably careless. We emphasise ethics in the process of receiving any award. If it’s not from a reputable institution or recognised award body, we are usually skeptical. We don’t just accord recognition to any award and there is a way we scrutinise them.”

The ASUU president further said university authorities had stringent internal control mechanisms while appraising lecturers.

He said, “During the appraisal of lecturers, they are expected to list the papers and awards they have got, which are then scrutinised. The various university management bodies are usuallyskeptical.

“There is an internal mechanism for screening awards received by lecturers. Not every award is automatically recognised, in spite of any publicity the media and the social media could have given it.”

Ogunyemi said ASUU would pay more attention to awards issued to its members but cautioned them to be wary of offers of certifications from award bodies.

Curbing spread of misinformation

Kperogi, who lectures at the Kennesaw State University, US, called for caution when awards were given to academics, especially by unknown bodies. He said doing so would curb the spread of misinformation capable of damaging the education sector.

He said, “Nothing can be done to stop people from sharing whatever catches their fancy, but news organisations and people who give a thought to the health of the truth and to accuracy and credible information have an ever-present responsibility to do due diligence by verifying too-good-to-be-true claims on social media and by offering credible counter-narratives to false news.

“Cross-checking and double-checking claims and immediately making available the results of such fact-checking is the best way to stop the spread of false claims.”

Also, a Lagos-based lawyer and social commentator Mr Bimbo Akinsola, also warned against “tweeting and retweeting every news of an unknown foreign body doling out certifications to frauds.”

He said, “I believe some of the recipients of the fake awards were aware of what they were going into; they wanted to be famous; they willingly fell into the ‘scams.’

“As a people, we are the ones who should not give them the opportunity to deceive us. We should question everything someone professes to be before asking them to make public opinions or presentations. Period!”

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