British history books expurged the fact that black people were the first to discover Nigeria and the River Niger and that it was black people that gave science, mathematics, medicine and religion to the world.


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Philip Emeagwali
interviewed by Reuben Abati for The Nigerian Guardian.


What is your educational profile in general? : All this could come under a broadly phrased question: Could you please tell us something about your background?

I had my primary and secondary school education in Nigerian catholic schools. Catechism was a requirement in primary school and I was an altar boy in high school.

It was a British-influenced educational system in an African environment. The heroes and heroines of all our textbooks were British, particularly white explorers that discovered Nigeria and missionaries that risked their lives to save our souls. To maintain the myth of white supremacy, the British history books expurged the fact that black people were the first to discover Nigeria and the River Niger and that it was black people that gave science, mathematics, medicine and religion to the world.

I learned how the Englishman William Wilberforce lead the fight against slavery but the text book did not mention the famous Igbo author, Olaudah Equiano (Maazi Ekwuano), whose writings on the evils of slavery has been a classic reading for 200 years. I find it amazing that this Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, was the "Father of African-American literature" and yet his life and work is not studied in Nigerian schools. I learned about Equiano from African-American scholars.

We revered Englishman Mungo Park for discovering the source of the River Niger, which has been known to Africans for thousands of years. On the other hand, we were not taught that Mathew Henson, an explorer of African descent, was the first person to discover the North Pole.

When we fail to teach our children about the contributions of the black race to world civilization they grow up doubting their ability to intellectually compete with whites.

My secondary education in Nigeria was disrupted three-times and I eventually dropped out, even though I was considered an outstanding student. But don't feel sorry for me because some of my school mates who were outstanding students also dropped out for financial reasons. The sad part is that Nigeria can never reach her full potential if good students are forced to drop out of school to go into petty trading at Onitsha market.

Because of the Nigerian civil war and family financial problems, I completed eight and half years of formal classroom education in Nigeria. I taught myself various subjects and passed the entrance examinations to the University of London and American Scholastic Aptitude Tests with top grades.

I came to the United States in March 1974 to study mathematics, physics and/or astronomy.

I enjoyed the American system of education because it also allowed me to take diverse courses in fields such as philosophy and the liberal arts. The only drawback in my undergraduate education is that I was working full time while completing a four-year degree in three years, which didn't leave me much time to party, much to my regret.

The schools that I attended were predominately white and many black students find themselves socially isolated by the white students.

In graduate school, I studied various engineering subjects (civil, environmental, petroleum, ocean, coastal and marine engineering), mathematics and computer science. The reason I studied so many subjects is that American research organizations prefer to hire only white scientists and the only way I can compete in this field is to be ten times better than other job applicants.


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