In his seminal work Civilization or Barbarism, the great Senegalese physicist and historian Cheikh Anta Diop showed how the origins of mathematics and science emerged in Africa (more precisely in ancient Egypt). In the twenty-first century, true to his predictions and hopes, a crowning monument to the mathematical achievements of the ancestors from the Nile valley of Egypt has emerged in the very young years of this century. And that monument is the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis by Dr Enoch Opeyemi of Nigeria and of Africa.

Long ago, in 1859, Bernhard Riemann formulated one of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics—The Riemann Hypothesis. This problem on the behavior of the zeros of the Riemann zeta function is arguably the most difficult unsolved problem in mathematics.

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Dr Opeyemi

Carrying high the torch of African brilliance and creativity, Dr Enoch Opeyemi of the Federal University at Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria announced a proof at the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science (ICMS 2015) held in Vienna, Austria from November 10-11 2015. The formal paper of the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis has been published in the International Scientific Journal – Journal of Mathematics, Vol. 1 2015 Issue 2.

In this interview I conducted with Dr Opeyemi, he discusses his life journey that led to his seminal triumph, signifying an epochal moment and breaking new ground in the intellectual history of humanity.

What motivated you to get interested in mathematics?

Dr Opeyemi: I initially did not have an interest in mathematics. This changed when two Ghanaian maths teachers, Mr. Otu and Mr. Kunmi, who were teaching in Nigeria taught me in primary school. They made the subject of mathematics interesting to me and awoke a potential that they saw in me. However, later on in life, my intention was not to study mathematics at the university level. I wanted to study electrical engineering and work in industry. But after not getting into the electrical engineering program at the university in Nigeria, the other choice that was available was the local math department. That is how I found myself in an undergraduate program in mathematics.

At the university, in the math department, were there any professors who had an influence on you, inspiring you to become a professional mathematician?

Dr Opeyemi: Well, those times were very difficult times in Nigeria; many people were just trying to survive. This was true of the professors also. Many would just come in to lecture us students and then get on with their own struggles in life. Despite that, there was one professor T.O. Opoola, who had studied in Russia. He always tried to show us the applications of mathematics. In all the courses that he taught me, he would say, this can be applied here or in that context. He made mathematics alive and showed its various connections to various fields and applications. He supervised my undergraduate thesis project. This project was on univalent functions in complex analysis.

After your undergraduate degree in mathematics, what path led you to your masters and PhD in mathematics?

Dr Opeyemi: My intention after my undergraduate degree was to go into industry and work in telecommunications. What ended up happening was that, I spent six years teaching, first at a private secondary school and then at various polytechnics. After that, I made the decision in 2006 to go back to get my masters and then my PhD. I did both my Masters and PhD in Nigeria. My PhD degree was in numerical analysis. My PhD advisor was a professor who had also done his PhD in Nigeria but he had spent some time doing research in South Africa. I believe that this shows young Africans, that they can stay in Africa and still do good work in any field of study. The most important thing is to have access to information. Once we in Africa have access to that information, we can make use of it. One does not need to step foot outside the continent to make things happen. All that one needs is access to information.

What was your family background like? Did your parents instill in you the importance of education, studying and working hard?

Dr Opeyemi: My father was a police officer and my mother a trader. We were of modest means. Despite that, my parents did everything in their power to make sure we had a good education. They wanted us to move beyond their station in life and their educational level. Therefore, my parents on their modest income managed to send my siblings and me to one of the best schools in the locality where I grew up. Many of the teachers, including the headmaster, were from Ghana, and they instilled in us a sense of excellence and discipline.

When you were a teenager, how did you spend your free time, what did you do that interested you?

Dr Opeyemi: I was never a soccer boy. Most of my friends would play soccer, but I would prefer climbing trees. I would climb the trees in the area I lived in and just stare into the horizon. I always liked the feeling of seeing so far into the distance and all around from the vantage point of the top of the tree. There was one favorite tree in my compound that I always used to climb—a mango tree that had been there before I was born. I also liked to watch my friends play soccer and spent time analyzing their play.

Did you graduate high school at the top of your class?

Dr Opeyemi: The years when I was in high school were hard years for Nigeria as the political situation was unstable. It was the era of the Abacha regime. Therefore, things were hard. My parents were struggling financially and exerting every effort to support me in high school. On their meagre resources that was very hard. There were tough times in school, but I graduated with average grades, no distinction or exceptional performance. Only in mathematics did I have very good grades. In all I made sure that, my grades were good enough to get into university, as I did not want to disappoint my parents and have their sacrifices be in vain.

Growing up as a child, did you have any role models?

Dr Opeyemi: I never thought about having a role model. My thinking since my youth was to carve a path where no man had trodden before. I always thought that if one had a role model, that means that one aspires to be like the role model but one cannot ever be equal to the role model. Therefore, I decided for myself that I wanted to be distinguished in whatever I chose to do, to tread a path never trodden before.

Are you married? Moreover, how is your family situation like?

Dr Opeyemi: Yes, I am married and have been married for twelve years now. It has not been easy but we have had our vicissitudes like in any relationship. My wife has had to be understanding about my devotion to my research work in mathematics and not having as much time for the family as I would have liked to have. Many times, I will disappear into my study spending countless hours working, and she has been supportive although it is hard, I will admit. I will say that it is important to have a wife who is not just a wife to you but an understanding friend. That makes it easier to deal with issues as they come.

Whom do you take more after, your dad or your mum?

Dr Opeyemi: I will say I take more after my dad. He has been a big molding influence on me growing up.

What would you say are your three best qualities?

Dr Opeyemi: I will say dedication, commitment and never losing hope.

Which do you most possess: talent, education or persistence?

Dr Opeyemi: I will say I have talent, but also, persistence is one of my main drivers—I never give up. I keep on pursuing a goal relentlessly until I achieve it. Of course, I also have education which itself also calls for commitment.

Do you have any favorite books?

Dr Opeyemi: I do not have any favorite books, per say. I prefer to listen to the speeches of influential people. I believe that by listening to people, you can learn a lot more about them, what drives them—by the tone of their voice, the expressions they use and in what context. By that, you can read in between the lines and know more about the person. The person speaking becomes the book that you are reading.

Who are the most influential people you admire?

Dr Opeyemi: I admire Nelson Mandela for his dignity and his never backing down in the face of adversity and hatred. I also admire Desmond Tutu for his fight against apartheid even in the dark days of racial oppression in South Africa; he never gave up fighting for the dignity and freedom of the South African people.

What would you do if you won a million dollars?

Dr Opeyemi: If I won a million dollars, I would like to establish a farm and an agricultural research complex where research will be carried out to produce natural fertilizer, just as our ancestors did without using any chemicals, in contrast to the synthetic fertilizers that the major chemical companies produce, which are detrimental to our health. I would also like to support African agricultural researchers to modernize traditional ways of storing and preserving food just as done by our ancestors. I will also like to establish a technology venture fund that will support young Africans with brilliant ideas to be able to actualize their ideas.

What has been your happiest moment?

Dr Opeyemi: My happiest moment was when I presented my work on the Riemann Hypothesis at the conference in Vienna and mathematicians from Europe and Asia applauded my work. I happened to be the only African at the conference. It was a big moment for me that my work was recognized for its significance. That after more than 156 years of being unsolved, the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis had come from Africa. It is a befitting monument to the origins of mathematics that started in ancient Egypt, especially to number theory as practiced in ancient Egypt.

What motivated you to start working on the Riemann Hypothesis? Did you have many failures?

Dr Opeyemi: I will start with the second question. Yes, I had many failures. There were times I thought I was close to the solution but I was not. It took me seven years of false starts, failures, near successes, blind paths until I came up with the approach that finally made me see the light to the solution. My students came up to me and told me that they were confident that I could solve the Riemann Hypothesis. Hence, I started working on it. And this has resulted in my work. I have found two other approaches to the solution of the Riemann Hypothesis that I intend to publish soon in a journal in China and in the United States.

I believe that the secret of mathematics is hidden in numbers. A deep understanding of the structure of numbers is essential to unlocking the mysteries of mathematics. This thinking has guided me in my work and my approach to mathematics.

In conclusion, how do you view life?

Dr Opeyemi: I have learned a lot especially in the past month. I have learned to ignore negativity and deprecating remarks about my work and my person. I tell myself, people have the freedom of speech to say whatever they want to say. It is their right, but I am not defined by what they say or write about me. I will continue to forge ahead and do my work, ignoring all their malice.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful interview. I want to hug this man! Nice job guys – Grandmother Africa. You guys show you care about your own children, no matter what. Unlike some people.

  2. Dr. Opeyemi is a very nice man. I gather he is a man with humble visions for his hometown. A man who was motivated by his students. A man whose students saw the best in him, instead of the worst. Grandmother Africa has seen the best in this man and has proceeded to do this interview while others fight and insult Dr. Opeyemi’s person. Let them! As for me, I am taking this story to my little boys JSS. I would like the teacher to read this interview to the children in that school. I want to see more Opeyemis. I want to see more people rise us to shed this lie about Africa.

  3. Maybe you should email the paper to Professor Wandera Ogana of the University of Nairobi for his comments. http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/PEEPS/ogana_wandera.html. The African Millennium Science Initiative has instituted a Maths Prize to recognise the great and inspiring mathematicians of this continent who toil in obscurity, achieving seminal breakthroughs in the pure and applied domains. It commences next year. Let’s see if this proof shall be considered. We all of course wish and desire to honour the path blazed by our illustrious ancestors of Sankore when it comes to extraordinary and world-pioneering deeds in science, technology, math and engineering. In this particular case of Dr. Opeyemi’s reported triumphs, however, there is a genuine anxiety in some quarters, which I can understand, that uncritical adulation might do damage to our cause in view of certain discrepancies and ambiguities. I have tried to locate the journals he cites in the bibliography at the end of the paper, and the key ones featuring his prior work simply don’t exist (try and find, for example, elixir International Journal of Discrete Mathematics). The journal the original poster (Jonathan) mentioned does not also appear to be either peer-reviewed nor published periodically. It has been impossible to find the editorial board, and when the publisher and editor, a certain Dr. Nina Ringo, provided an identifier, she gave an ISBN, rather than an ISSN. I searched with the ISBN nonetheless, and couldn’t find it; all results said it doesn’t exist. I tried to read the paper and make what I could of it with my limited ability and struggle to see how he surmounts the theoretical limits of the Hilbert-Polya conjecture and approaches genuine originality. I think I will save my attention for the Laureates of the AMMSI Prize when Professor Ogana and co. announce the shortlist next year. If he is in there, I will happily hail. I fully understand and appreciate the enthusiasm. The civilisation that gave the world Imhotep and Djoser must once again mount its throne astride the great feats of the world’s intellectual imagination. Asante sana.

  4. Bright Simons, I do not understand what you mean by “the theroretical limits of the Hilbert-Polya conjecture?” Could you enlighten me? Does this have anything, at all, to do with the proof? And where? All I see is the decomposition of a Third Degree Polynomial into a 3X3 Matrix! How Opeyemi did this is what I am currently concentrating on. There is nothing l see in the proof that requires a Ph.D in Mathematics to understand it. Plus, it is quite pedestrain to comment on something you do not fully undersstand, pouting CAUTION while at the same time admitting you do not fully comprehend the proof. How is that logical? Let your fellow Mathematicians come here and tell me where Hilbert-Polya conjecture is used, or zip it! I have little respect for people who think we ought to wait until some “Respected Members” of some “respested math communities” speak out before we can use our brains. That you cannot find papers he cited means absolutely nothing. But there you go demeaning the character of Dr. Opeyemi even though you shroud that attempt in empty rhetoric about Sankore, Imhotep and Djoser. Well, where in Imhotep’s writings did he cite other papers? Einstein wrote whole treatise without a single citation. I can supply you with his works if you please. But why belabor that point. Even a thief can tell the truth, otherwise, why waste money to try him in court? The facts must be examined on the facts alone. I strongly suggest, instead of trying to conceal your pedestrain understanding of mathematics in empty names, that you tell your so-called prophets to come here and raise better concerns. I will be here to engage!

  5. Can I reiterate that no African Scientist is “toiling in obscurity.” What is that? So we must wait for some “African Millennium Science Initiative” which COMMENCES next year to include Dr Opeyemi on their list before we can acknowledge the work Opeyemi has done? I don’t quite see how doubting what the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) should be, accomplishes in this discussion. The main difference between ISBN and ISSN is that the former one identifies the publisher whereas the latter does not identify the publisher. ISBN is given for monographs or books whereas ISSN is given to a series of monographs or books. In simple words, the ISBN is assigned for a single or separate book, and ISSN is assigned for a series of books. When ISBN identifies the specific volume or issue, the ISSN only identifies the series of the volume or issue. I think those who do no understand Mathematics or Publishing Journals should wait or save their attention for the Laureates of the AMMSI Prize (whatever this is) “when Professor Ogana and co. announce their first shortlist next year,” Or not – their choice! But save us your troubles.

  6. Dear Mr. Dade Afre Akufu I really don’t think we are acquainted. I believe this is the first time we are addressing each other. I don’t like emotive exchanges with people I don’t know on Facebook. It often tends to degenerate quickly because of prejudice and preconceptions derived from little prior knowledge of the other person. Cyberspace also has this property of making it too easy to be discourteous to people, often for no cause. I think it is because of the lack of eye contact. Growing up in Africa, I’ve come to put great stock on courtesy. It is in the water with which one’s navel is washed; in our upbringing, so to speak. I only came here to comment because Zowonu Worlanyo Korku tagged me in his comment. I have been receptive of this courtesy and discharged my obligation of etiquette. Frankly, I am not keen on further conversation with you or some of your friends in the vein that you have started with. I have shared my views in respect of why I am not going to be expending time propagating this particular proof in my circles, as I would if I was comfortable that it will fly the great African flag successfully. It in no way should, as we say in Ghana, ‘sit on your happiness’. We all have a right to choose our heroes. So propagate this far and wide. There is no compulsion in these matters. As the Akans of my native Ghana say: “a cultured person feels out the drums of his home clan even in the most noisy festival.” To each his own. We are not put on this Earth by Chukwu to please strangers. Zowonu, karibu.

  7. Forgive me Bright Simons if you felt I was discourteous. This is just a discussion. It ain’t personal. I am not taking your food from your table! Here is a Kenyan proverb: Only an experienced person climbs a slippery tree. The mathematics here is slippery! And I could care less how you feel. Prof. Acheampong would say, “You can quit.” You roamed with restless feet into a snake pit – into a discussion – involving high level mathematics, which is an art. Whether you were invited here by Togbe Zowonu Worlanyo Korku or not, you came on your own volition. No one tethered you here. You expressed unwarranted views about Dr. Opeyemi, insinuating that he might be a ‘thieve, a fraud and a fake.’ You call that a “great stock on courtesy”? I see you avoid demotic exchanges – you call it ‘emotive exchanges’ – but sure, perhaps for a cause? I felt it was my place, as a fellow African mathematician, a fellow dreamer, and a fellow climber of slippery trees to defend him since his work should be analyzed on its merits alone. I gather you do not have the requisite skills or tools to do that just yet? I asked a few questions about your quixotic rant, albeit, not in the way you would have liked me to address you – I guess you are Rich, some kind of a Paramount Chief? But addressing you I did and that’s my prerogative. I would rather not bother with your paternalism in excoriating my questions to you. Although you seem to think that’s courtesy! You may have learned it abroad. This too is not Ghanaian, or African, although you like to sprinkle Chukwu, karibu, drums, African flag, Akan, etc. around in your circumlocution. Do you even realize that all these African art forms were accomplished without foreign adulation, without peer-review journals, without approbation, without appeasement and without your anxiety? Hence, I questioned you fatuous and jejune apprehension for Dr Opeyemi’s work. I did not say you were a quisling, even though I have realized Dr Opeyemi’s character or person has been encumbered with such microaggressions. Our African philosophy of meliorism is what stokes my excitement for Dr Opeyemi’s work. For that I am absolutely guilty. Shoot me. So, if you don’t care for mathematics, you can move on. I’m frankly not up to this kind of badinage.

    • Wow, this plain speaking of the sort our grandfathers used to indulge in! I guess there’s no question as to where you stand on the issue and that has to be good for all concerned.

  8. People, what are you so afraid of with this anxiety about Opeyemi’s work? We do not want to defend an African because we fear that he might be wrong? As if it matters! What kind of mentality is this? We do we not have to agree with what white people say, or we don’t have to be afraid that they disagree with us. Who cares? I cheer and defend Dr Opeyemi. He is my truth right now. I cannot wait for white people to corroborate this truth. And I am not afraid if my truth does not align with white people’s truth – they are in the minority! I couldn’t give a damn. The Russians have already been down this road with western deniers of their science. When Perelman solved the first problem, he was called a fraud, a fake and a thief in the West. The man is so distraught he wouldn’t even take Clay’s million dollars! Why do we have to wait for other people to tell us who are heroes should be? Why, people? I am glad Grandmother Africa is making this judgement on Her own.

  9. THIS IS REFRESHING. DR.OPEYEMI. WELL DONE. AFRICA WILL BE PROUD OF YOU. GRANDMOTHER AFRICA ADMINISTRATORS, THANK YOU. WE NEED MORE OF THESE EXPLOITS BY OUR OWN.

  10. Scenario 1: Dr. Opeyemi solves the enigmatic mathematics and his staunch devotees here on and off Facebook are vindicated. Scenario 2: Dr. Opeyemi’s calculations are refuted and his critics are vindicated. Scenario 3: He’s proven wrong, but his audacious attempt lit a dim light that illuminates the path to actual discovery by a future mathematician. Scenario 4, 5 etc. This is what I think: Stripped of the pan-African ardor, and in the true spirit of scientific philosophy, it’s quite easy to side with the critics over the believers. In inferential statistics, for example, the null hypothesis, which negates what the researcher set forth to prove, is generally assumed to be true until evidence from the experiment indicates otherwise. Traditional science or mathematics, as we know it, has really no need for believers. There’s nothing like Muslim maths or caucasian math or African math or British maths. As Neil deGrass puts it, the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

  11. Gbemela Kobla admits that there are aspects of the proof that he doesn’t comprehend, and I believe almost all of us on this thread fall in that category to a varying extent. Now, if one doesn’t fully understand a purported solution to a particularly illusive mathematical problem, I’d assume that the default logical approach is to be skeptical of the solution until proven otherwise. The alternative is essentially anti-science and quite unattractive. Yes, Dr. Opeyemi is African, and yes, African scholarship tend to be marginalized and trivialized. However, our loyalty, in this particular case, ought to be for the mathematical solution itself and not for our cherished political ideologies. Passion for a cause can be beautiful and contagious, but it cannot render 1+1 to be 4.

  12. Hmmm Just passing by but could not hold myself to reply to this issue.
    I never claim I am a mathematician just borrowed it for my econometric class which basically depends on statistics due to correlation nature of social science practice.

    However there is one character I learnt from maths class; which is, getting the logic result, scientifically accepted as the truth that all methods should lead to that answer with a proof of transparent methodology. Because all methodology will never be the same but if it only gravitate to the truth should be a module to be accepted.

    My question is , do the Opeyemi methodology produce that logic result or not. Or the result is what they doubt or what? If they doubt what is their response because you can only doubt when you have access to some kind of answer as a proof we the pedestrians has not.

    What is Kwame E. Bidi trying to suggest in his last post if you think the proof could be separated from the scholar himself, I wonder what you seek to imply. Who do we associate MC-SQUARE with, do they celebrate him or not? You realise that he was only recognised and celebrated after a decade of his death. So to me is a normal behaviour among the Mathematics and Physics society. So Opeyemi should get use to, which I think he has.

  13. Dade Afre Akufu to me, if Math as a course study is to be seen as the way it is taught in Ghana, I would have forever concluded; such subject is a foolish program for someone to delight in it persuit of studies but most happier to me now is, despite it abstract nature of figures, produce meaning to society in it high level of studies, this Akosua M. Abeka elaborated the benefit of this proof in her earlier piece which gives some meaning to the Famers in my village working hard to earn a living. If not whether proof or not is just a noise to the ears of the pedestrians . Respect to Jonathan Nukpezah and yourself in climbing up as far in this journey of abstract world. Hahahaha

  14. Interesting that people say there is only one science. But I keep on reading ad nauseam about western science, western mathematics. They have built western civilization on Greek Science, Greek mathematics. They never say just science or mathematics. They qualify it with an ethnic or civilizational appellation. So should we, we can talk about African science, African mathematics in the classical Egyptian era and then in Songhai and Mali and other societies. Until they stop adding ethnic qualifiers, we should keep on doing same

  15. My friend Nana Kwame E. Bidi. Oh! First let us simplify what you just wrote. You use a concept in inferential statistics alright. But you misapply it. So, let us perform the task correctly.

    Ex. Let Opeyemi’s proof be the alternative hypothesis. And let the null hypothesis indicate that Opeyemi does not have a proof.
    Point of note: A null hypothesis is the statistical statement that Opeyemi’s Proof is bogus, and the null must be tested for possible acceptance/rejection under the assumption that it is true. The basis for rejecting the alternative hypothesis simply lies in showing that the null is true.

    Can you show me that the null hypothesis – against Opeyemi’s Proof – is true? See, you confuse skepticism with a proof. You think by being skeptical of Opeyemi’s proof, then you must have proven that he is wrong. That is infantile. You need more than that in math. You need to prove that Opeyemi’s Proof is wrong. I haven’t seen anyone do that just yet. So, you too, zip it. Unless you have a proof of the null hypothesis, there is no discussion.

    So, you see, stats is certainly more nuanced than you think. It actually works both ways. Not your way!

    Still, the exercise I have performed above is needless. We didn’t have to go there.

    In statistics, the term “null hypothesis” refers only to a general statement – a default position – that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena, or no difference among groups. This is the essence of inferential statistics. What are the two phenomena you are referring to when we speak of Opeyemi’s proof? Where are the two measures? This statistical concept, my friend, is not to be misapplied when you feel like it.

    But you started it so I feel I can continue to take you to kindergarten on this. Rather, the default hypothesis in this area of Mathematics as regards to the Riemann is that there is no proof. That is, Opeyemi is actually doing the work of disproving this null hypothesis. It is our duty to check fully to see if the null – that there is no proof – is rejected.

    Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis—and thus concluding that there are grounds for believing that Opeyemi has solved the problem is the relationship between two phenomena we are looking for. Understood? I can continue with any questions you may have!

  16. As for the second part of your analysis Nana Kwame E. Bidi, all I can assure you is that yes, 1 + 1 can equal 4. In fact 1 + 1 can equal 10 (refer to your Basic Education Math Books of Ghana). If you need proof for any of the above, I can suply them freely. Just give me an email so I can populate your inbox with helpful materials. See, what we are doing here has nothing to do with passion. We are concentrating on Maths. If you can assure us that you do not understand anything on Opeyemi’s paper, I would be kind enough to walk you through it and even share some of my apprehensions – which may just be due to my average grades in Number Theory. But, I can walk you through it. Thanks!

    • Bros, let’s all hope that Dr. Opeyemi’s solution gets accepted by the mathematical community. Nothing would make me or those ringing the bell of caution happier to have an African catch this phantom of a mathematics. Exercising caution doesn’t translate into, “one is not an African enough.” Condescending towards each other on this thread will only breed division and alienation; it won’t change the ultimate outcome of the hypothesis in any way. Even Clay Mathematical Institute (CMI) says it might take years before Opeyemi’s solution is accepted, in line with established protocols. Once again, the good thing about science (unlike religious dogma) is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. Happy Holiday!

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