[OPINION] The obsession with Benedict Peters

By Louis Achi

It would seem that Africa’s big stage players in diverse entrepreneurial sectors are curiously becoming the target of Western media – for the wrong reasons. Currently, a global media smear campaign against Aiteo Group of Companies and its founder, Mr. Benedict Peters, using an international media organization, The Washington Post, is afoot.

If this quirky indulgence is being sheepishly subscribed to, many discerning folks would not expect The Washington Post to be part of it. The Washington Post owned by Nash Holdings, founded December 6, 1877, is an American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the Washington metropolitan area, and has a large national audience. But perhaps times have changed.

What is the narrative? Mr. Peter Whoriskey, a staff of the Washington Post who focuses on investigations of economic and financial issues had raised some eyebrows when he alleged that Mr. Peters 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.

Whoriskey claimed he was seeking to know alleged plans by Mr. Peters to transfer two companies he owned – Rosewood Investments Limited and Colinwood Limited – to former Minister of Petroleum Alison-Madueke.

Citing some nebulous 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.
He also alleged that properties owned by Rosewood Investments and Colinwood Limited were intended for Alison-Madueke, curiously 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.

Interestingly, Whoriskey has not been found to do any previous work covering the subject matter in Nigeria. There are no known published works of his that dwell on Nigeria, her politics, business or culture.

By deploying outrageous mails to his target, Whoriskey’s subtle threat is unmistakable. His veiled reference to unfounded scandals readily gives him out as a paid fifth columnist pushing a sponsored 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 businessmen. It certainly will not pass the strict the ethical test of the media.

It is noteworthy that the allegations being peddled against Mr. Peters and Aiteo were the same issues which have already been conclusively determined by courts of competent jurisdiction or pending in court and the purpose of the publication could only be to impugn the integrity of Mr. Peters and the company.

READ ALSO: Lawyers, youth leaders, CSOs condemn Washington Post’s attack on AITEO, Peters

Out of the several issues the foreign journalist inquired about, question one 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.

According to a miffed consortium of human rights lawyers, Council of Ethnic Youth Leaders of Nigeria, CEYLN in conjunction with some civil society organisations, questions 2-5 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.

This group also called on media houses not to yield their platforms to people 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.”

Mr. Benedict Peters is indisputably Nigeria’s oil sector leader and local content champion. Who is trying to undermine his unique 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.

With his vast, invaluable industry knowledge, Peters is clearly a key force to reckon with as a transformative agenda for the strategic oil industry in the new decade is unfolded.

Against the background of what clearly looks like a blackmail project, the Aiteo Group boss 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 Diezani 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 Diezani 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?

In what seems a valedictory warning, the consortium of human rights lawyers, Council of Ethnic Youth Leaders of Nigeria, CEYLN in conjunction with some civil society organisations stated that, “We also say to all such persons who would in the future want to regurgitate these issues that the answers are already available in the public space as there is nothing hidden and there is nothing any media house can unearth again so no need taking any jobs from the sponsors of this smear campaign.”

The emerging consensus is that the trend of media corruption gaining traction in recent times cannot be denied or glossed over. What is fast gaining notoriety is the rate at which foreign journalists are contracted by some unscrupulous entities to damage national growth of African countries through undermining indigenous players in strategic sectors.

While competition is a welcome development in a capitalist economy like Nigeria’s, healthy rivalry is part of the game. But when some greedy entities contrive smear campaigns to rubbish corporate rivals, this crossing the line of decency and ethics.

Beyond the boardroom now, major players appear to have taken their bitter rivalry to the newsrooms and go as far as contracting foreign journalists especially those renowned for their expertise and experience in paid media warfare to undermine competition.

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