November 18, 2017

Re: Why billionaire Benny remained elusive​

I have just read an opinion piece written by Funsho Arogbundade published on Saturday, November 11, 2017 in The Sun Newspaper and I am truly amazed at the insinuations and misrepresentation of facts expressed by the writer in an attempt to malign the character of Mr. Benedict Peters, the founder and CEO of AITEO Group.  The intention, clearly, is to create an illusion of his wealth as a function of his participating in and benefiting from acts of corruption.​

First, the writer attributes Mr. Peters’ shy public life to a well-orchestrated plan designed to keep him away from the spotlight. This is totally inconsistent with what the actual reality is.  As a businessman, Mr. Benedict Peters has always been in the spotlight, since he became involved in the oil and gas sector. Any contrary belief portrays the shortcomings of the writer’s research skills as this situation can quite simply be verified by a Google search.

Further confusion is demonstrated by the writer’s inconsistency as he contradicts himself by stating that Benedict Peters is “reclusive” and has “often refused to be photographed” while attaching a photo of the man who avoids being photographed! Mr. Benedict has a personal profile on a website registered on the internet with pictures of himself, his activities and the activities of his company,AITEO Group..  These assertions are hardly consistent with a reclusive life style. ​

Further, it is imperative to note that Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognizes, guarantees and protects the rights of all Nigerian citizens to live a private life. Why then would the writer have a problem with Mr. Peters’ exercise of a constitutionally guaranteed way of life? What mischief lies behind this complaint if not to malign and denigrate him. ​

The writer alleges that AITEO’s acquisition of OML29 for $2.58bn was “unexpected” and came as a surprise as they outbid several top players in the petroleum industry. The wry implication of such a statement is that there was illegality in the process of the acquisition of OML29, supervised by the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dieziani Allison Madueke.

What the writer refused to mention was that the AITEO Group had already established its presence as a number of separate, legal and corporate entities whose asset base included both substantial upstream and downstream assets developed over a 16 year period and had established itself as a major player in the Nigerian petroleum industry long before Mrs. Allison-Madueke was appointed as Minister of Petroleum Resources.​

The article also mischievously failed to mention that in 2014, AITEO Group acquired OML29 from Shell Petroleum Development Company because it had the technical competence and was able to assemble the financial capability to do so in a process that was both competitive and transparent.

It was only upon the completion of the bidding process that the Nigerian government became involved.  Any suggestion of inappropriate conduct in the transaction by the former Minister was not only false but also irrelevant.  The truth is that this was a disposal by one private company to another private company of its interest in an Oil asset – Period.

The role of the Minister in these transactions – as was the role of the former minister in this transaction – was to receive and process Shell’s notification of the transfer of their interest to Aiteo. This was one of several such disposals that was dealt with by the former minister.

There is abundant information in the public domain that it was Shell that wrote the former Minister to inform her of the successful conclusion of transaction on OML29, further demonstrating that there was no direct dealing between AITEO and either the minister or the Nigerian Petroleum Ministry in the entire transaction process.

The writer ought to have known that this was all the involvement of the minister in the transaction..  The responsible, professional approach that the writer could have taken was to set out this explanation but by choosing to do otherwise, he clearly confirmed his intention to malign Mr. Peters in any way possible.

The article deliberately asserts the AITEO Group’s worth as $2.7bn.  Even if this were correct, how was this determined? This information remains dubious and unverifiable.  No allowances appear to have been made for typical operating costs.  This appears quite deliberate and to give the impression that is not capable of being explained.

Allegations that Mr. Peters operated within the corridors of power are difficult to understand. Commercial reality dictated that all companies and CEOs of companies in the industry have a responsible corporate relationship with the leadership of the Petroleum Ministry given its role in the industry in Nigeria.

All key stakeholders in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry had corporate contact with the former Minister as well as personnel of the ministry. The relationships for and on behalf of the Aiteo companies were no different.  One is compelled to wonder why the writer decided to single out Mr. Peters for mention while discussing unavoidable corporate interaction within the oil & gas sector.

It is common knowledge that it is impossible to be a major player in the Nigerian oil and gas industry without having direct corporate contact with the Petroleum Minister.​

Reading the article leaves one with the unfortunate conclusion that the writer has been very economical with the truth and is certainly acting out a script. If this is the case, this attitude is as deplorable as it is despicable.​

King Ilemona Onoja writes from Abuja