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Did a 16-year-old Nigerian girl beat 49,000 others to win U$1 billion for her app? No, viral story misleading

IN SHORT: A Nigerian teenage girl did make headlines for being selected for a prestigious international programme in November 2021. But the article circulating online in 2023 about Tomisin Ogunnubi’s achievements is misleading.

In late February 2023 a story went viral on social media, claiming that a 16-year-old Nigerian girl won US$1 billion with an app she designed, beating 49,000 other teenagers in a contest.

Meet Tomisin Ogunnubi, the 16-year-old Nigerian who beat 49,000 competitors to win $1 billion with her app,” reads the headline of an article published on 23 February 2023. 

Several blogs republished the story with the same or similar headlines, including here, here, here, here, here and here.     

The article was also linked to or reposted on Facebook here, here, here, here, here, here and here

NigeriaTeenager_PFalse

Headline misrepresents facts

Contrary to the headline, the article says in the second paragraph that “as one of the 100 winners of the $1 billion cash prize, Tomisin received a scholarship to study abroad, mentorship, and career-shaping opportunities, as well as funding”. 

The article refers to Rise, which describes itself as an initiative that “seeks to find brilliant young people ages 15-17 from around the world and support them for life as they work to serve others”. 

Rise runs on a $1 billion commitment made in 2019 by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy

Each year winners attend a three-week-long resident summit and get full higher education scholarships, mentorship, access to a global network of winners and partners in the programme, and funding.

Rise’s website says the funding ranges from seed money to start a social enterprise to a grant for a non-profit.

“Funds will be designated for these purposes in a total pooled amount of at least $5 million per year of the program,” it says

So no one is taking home $1 billion, as the viral story suggests.   

‘Many inaccuracies’ in story debunked by Ogunnubi’s dad

About two weeks after the story began to circulate, Ogunnubi’s father Yinka posted a thread on Twitter to point out inaccuracies in how it had been reported.

“I feel the need to address a broadcast message that has been floating around WhatsApp about my daughter Tomisin Ogunnubi. The story has a lot of inaccuracies that needs to be corrected. The story conflates many facts and presents a picture that is completely inaccurate,” he tweeted on 7 March 2023

Yinka Ogunnubi said that the claim “Tomisin Ogunnubi, a 16-year-old Nigerian tech kid beat 49,000 competitors to win $1 billion from RISE initiative with her app” was incorrect.  

He said his daughter was not 16: “She would [will] be 20 in July [2023]. She won the RISE award in Oct 2021 at the age of 18. Tomisin did create a tracking app as part of a school project when she was 12 which got her national & international acclaim. But it was not because of the app that she with 100 other teenagers globally won the RISE Award.” 

He also shared when Tomisin Ogunnubi’s mother tweeted about her win in November 2021 and an interview she did with the BBC after winning. 

Her father also said she wasn’t the only Nigerian, but one of six Nigerians in the first cohort of 100 selected for the programme.

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