By Kunle Adeniran
A powerful vision pulls in ideas, people and other resources. It creates the momentum and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals, complementary organizations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best. Enlisting this enduring philosophy, unassuming Mr. Benedict Peters, founder of the giant energy conglomerate Aiteo Group, has demonstrated impeccable professionalism, discipline and persistence to change his life’s trajectory and impact his milieu positively.
But it clearly appears that these uncommon accomplishments are attracting unhealthy rivalry with shadowy forces out to undermine excellence and rubbish a hard earned integrity and reputation. But apparently, they are sadly misreading their target. The modus operandi this time around is to use a foreign media organization – The Washington Post.
The Washington Post, owned by Nash Holdings was founded in December 6, 1877. It is an American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C. and is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the Washington metropolitan area. It also has a large national audience. Has the times changed for The Post? Big question!
The Washington Post staff writer, Mr. Peter Whoriskey, who is said to report on economic and financial issues had generated some controversy when he recently alleged that Mr. Peters, Aiteo Group’s boss was part of an “international conspiracy” to obtain lucrative business opportunities in the Nigerian oil and gas sector in return for giving millions of dollars’ worth of gifts and benefits to the former Nigerian Minister for Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
What is Whoriskey’s tattle-tale? He claimed he was seeking to know alleged plans by Mr. Peters to transfer two of his companies – Rosewood Investments Limited and Colinwood Limited – to former Minister of Petroleum Alison-Madueke. Moving on from here and citing some vague authorities, the foreign journalist alleged the companies – Rosewood Investments Limited and Colinwood Limited – held valuable real estate in the UK and were among several to be transferred to Allison-Madueke.
Whoriskey also alleged that properties owned by Rosewood Investments and Colinwood Limited were intended for Alison-Madueke, strangely implying that Mr. Peters provided Alison-Madueke with luxury furnishings. Quoting an alleged forfeiture suit, the Washington Post journalist alleged that U.S. prosecutors charged that Mr. Peters gave these gifts to to induce Alison-Madueke to influence, or to reward her for using her influence, to direct Nigerian oil business to companies that he owned.
Significantly, Whoriskey has not been associated with any prior editorial exertions covering the subject matter under reference in Nigeria. There are also no known published works of his that touches on Nigeria, her politics, business or culture.
By sending quirky mails to his target quarry, Whoriskey’s restrained threat is unmistakable. His veiled reference to unfounded scandals readily exposes him out as a paid fifth columnist pushing a bankrolled agenda. Many are waiting with bated breath to see how he intends to publish the supposed smear ‘facts’ he erroneously believes he has on the Nigerian top businessmen. Undoubtedly, this will not pass the strict ethical test of the media.
It is worthy of note that the allegations being vended against Mr. Peters and Aiteo were the same matters which have already been conclusively determined by courts of competent jurisdiction or pending in court and the purpose of the publication could only be deduced to impugn the integrity and reputation of Mr. Peters and the company.
Out of the several issues the foreign journalist inquired about, several has been resolved by a competent court of law in Nigeria and the decision widely publicized. A simple internet inquiry would have availed Whoriskey of the judgment of the case and the present state of affairs and made his exertions unnecessary.
This key fact was repeated early in the week by a consortium of human rights lawyers, Council of Ethnic Youth Leaders of Nigeria, CEYLN in conjunction with some civil society organisations who stated that these allegations against Mr. Peters and his Aiteo Group have already been conclusively determined by competent courts, vindicating him or are pending in court.
This body of lawyers, CSOs and CEYLN had strongly piloried the US-media agency’s report linking the founder of Aiteo Group’s founder and former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, with alleged corruption ties.
Their spokesman, Tochukwu Ohazuruike, in a recent joint press conference, alleged that the story, written by The Washington Post Staff Writer, Peter Whoriskey reeked of a “smear campaign” against the Nigerian oil firm and its boss, capable of encouraging unhealthy business rivalry in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.
According to the group, questions 2-5 raised by Whoriskey were directly extracted from untested allegations contained in a first amended verified complaint filed before the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. They also called on media houses not to yield their platforms to writers whose objectives were not noble as such would encourage unhealthy business rivalry.
Reading a prepared text at a recent joint press conference in Abuja, on behalf of the different groups, Mr. Tochukwu Ohazuruike, stated that, “There is a plethora of questions which The Washington Post rather has to answer and which directly calls to question its genuineness in permitting this to happen. It will be damning to the long-held image of The Washington Post that its staff have yielded the platform of the medium to the use for a global smear campaign and unhealthy business rivalry.”
Against the background of what clearly looks like a blackmail project, the Benedict Peters has proclaimed severally that he has never received any favour by way of facilitation or otherwise from anybody, and there was therefore nothing to be grateful for. No furniture that belonged to him can be found at any other place other than in his property.
He has severally denounced any such attempt to link the purchase of his property with Dieziani under such premises. His purchase of the furniture under reference was in furtherance of his desire to furnish a property that belonged to him, and those furniture can be found, even today, at his said property at 58 Harley House.
No furniture that belonged to him can be found at any other place other than in his property. The furniture found at the UK address of Dieziani Alison-Madueke does not belong to him, and certainly could not have been the same found in his said property at 58 Harley House. Why the obsession with Benedict Peters?
As this unseemly drama unfolds, it would a good editorial idea for The Washington Post to do an extensive background check on Benedict Peters and the giant conglomerate he had founded and nurtured for over two decades.
Benedict Peters is unquestionably one of Africa’s petroleum sector top leaders and Nigeria’s local content champion. Which forces are targeting his unique entrepreneurial trajectory? The Aiteo Group is an integrated, global-focused Nigerian energy conglomerate founded by Benedict Peters in 1999. The company is the successor entity to Sigmund Communnecci Limited. The company name was changed to Aiteo during a major rebranding exercise. It has been experiencing exponential growth ever since. In 2016 the company was trading petroleum products to the value of over $11 billion.
As the founding GMD/Vice Chair of 22-year old Aiteo Group, the integrated, global-focused Nigerian energy conglomerate, Benedict Peters’ entrepreneurial savvy has directly impacted the entity’s strategic development, policy formulation and execution.
This has translated to meaningful indigenous participation in a sector dominated by International Oil Companies (IOCs) and considerably deepened Nigeria’s capacity to manage its oil assets and create critical local content.
Following the asset divestment by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Aiteo acquired Oil Mining Lease 29 (OML 29) and the industry’s 97-kilometre, Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) in a deal worth 2.7billion USD following a highly competitive bidding process. At the acquisition period, the assets were reportedly worth 5 percent of the Royal Dutch Shell global portfolio.
The acquisition made it Aiteo’s largest asset in Africa from local content point of view. Aiteo quickly augmented production on the asset from below 25,000 barrels per day (b/pd) to 90,000 in the space of 18 months, thereby installing it as Nigeria’s largest oil producing company.
Unassuming, press-shy Peters strongly believes that it is long past time that the oil sector is made to work for Nigeria and that the wealth created by oil and gas should lead to the sustainable development of the country’s economy.
Adroitly managing the disruptions wrought by COVID-19 pandemic, with his vast, invaluable industry knowledge, Peters is clearly a key force to reckon while he pushes a transformative agenda for the strategic oil industry in the new decade.
The Washington Post should review its steps and stay within the guiding rules of media ethics.
-Adeniran writes from Lagos