Milestone

Undaunted by two years of persecutions and unsuccessful attempts to drag his company’s name through the mud of politically-motivated cases, the Chairman of integrated energy conglomerates, Aiteo Group, Benedict Peters’ unblemished records have continued to attract local and global accolades, writes Ejiofor Alike

The Chairman of Aiteo Group, Benedict Peters, is not new to awards and recognition. He has won several awards, including the Marquee Award for Global Business Excellence at the Africa-US Leadership Awards dinner hosted by the African Energy Association in 2014; and the Leadership Newspaper’s ‘CEO of the Year 2014’ award for championing Nigerian content and bolstering the capacity of Nigerians to manage the country’s oil and gas assets.
Peters has also won the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards in Washington, DC, in 2015, for driving “Economic Empowerment” in Nigeria. However, since 2015 after his company’s audacious acquisition of the Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29, reputedly Shell’s biggest onshore producing asset in Africa following an open and competitive world-class bid, the company’s success in the management and operatorship of the plum asset has attracted negative narratives designed to diminish the achievements of Peters and his company.
But Peters and Aiteo have remained undaunted and within one year, the company grew the production of OML 29 from 23,000 barrels per day (bpd) to a record 90,000 bpd, to the chagrin of naysayers, who could not come to terms with the fact that a Nigerian company could develop sufficient technical capacity and financial capability to operate and manage such big acreage, which was previously under the operatorship of a global oil giant, Shell.
Apart from his accomplishments in business, spanning about three decades, Peters’ philanthropy is said to be legendary as manifested in Aiteo’s unparalleled Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
Aiteo Group has added value to its host communities in the areas of providing social amenities and local capacity development, and a large chunk of the over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created by the group going to the host communities. The jobs were created by the company’s subsidiaries, including Aiteo Exploration and Production, Aiteo Gas, Aiteo Power, Aiteo Trading and Aiteo Marketing.
Peters also founded the Joseph Agro Foundation in July 2014 to improve the lives of rural farmers by providing the tools that can ensure their economic success. The foundation boosts employment initiatives to improve Nigeria’s school system. It also provides a number of awareness programmes to promote responsible water consumption by farmers.
As a de-tribalised Nigerian, his company also views the entire country as its host community and this informed the generous donations to the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency to help tackle the challenges facing the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
His interest in Nigerian and African soccer manifested recently with Aiteo’s adoption of football sponsorship with the signing of a five-year partnership agreement with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) worth an estimated N2.5bn in April 2017. By the terms of the partnership, Aiteo emerged as the NFF’s official Optimum Partner that funds the salaries of the coaches of the Super Eagles.
Sports analysts believe this singular gesture led to Nigeria’s emergence as the first African nation to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia because the gesture helped to stabilise Nigerian football through prompt payment of salaries of expatriate coaches.
Before Aiteo’s intervention, the issue of non-payment of salaries of coaches was hampering the progress of Nigerian football. As the sports industry was celebrating this feat, Aiteo signed a fresh sponsorship deal worth N2.5bn in June 2017 to underwrite the cost of the Federation Cup, now renamed Aiteo Cup.
In October 2017, Aiteo’s CSR initiatives went beyond the shores of Nigeria, when the company sealed a partnership agreement with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to sponsor the Annual CAF Awards 2018.  The CAF Awards, now renamed the AITEOCAF Awards, honours footballers who have made outstanding contributions to football development in Africa.

More honours, recognition
As a demonstration of his impeccable records, the Aiteo boss, who clocked 51 in December, received three big awards from three prominent national dailies – the New Telegraph, BusinessDay, and Leadership newspapers within the past few weeks in recognition of his company’s outstanding contributions to the development of local communities, Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, as well as local and African sports.
Indeed, all previous winners of the African Player of the Year, since its inception by CAF in 1992, are expected to grace the Aiteo CAF Awards Gala 2017, scheduled for January 4, 2018, at the International Conference Centre in Accra, Ghana, according to a statement by CAF.
The statement noted that from Abedi Pele, winner of the maiden edition in 1992 to Riyad Mahrez, crowned in 2016, the winners who represent various generations will be given prominence at the ceremony designed to celebrate the key stakeholders of African football.
Others are Nigerian trio, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba, Cameroonian and four-time winner, Samuel Eto’o Fils and compatriot, Patrick Mboma, Ivorian Yaya Toure, a four-time winner and countryman, Didier Drogba; and also El Hadji Diouf of Senegal.
The rest are George Weah of Liberia, Mustapha Hadji of Morocco, Malian Frederic Kanoute, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor.
Also, the women are not left out as previous Queens of African football are also pencilled for the biggest assemblage of football stakeholders.
The list of invitees is not only limited to previous winners, but also to other players and officials whose contribution towards the progress of African football cannot be overlooked.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Mohamed Salah, Gabon’s Aubameyang and Sadio Mane of Senegal are the contenders for the prestigious African Player of the Year while the trio of Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria), Chrestina Kgatlana (South Africa) and Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene (Cameroon) will battle it out for the Women’s Player of the Year.
There is no doubt that the company’s intervention in sports is changing the face of the game, while its giant strides have contributed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) worth over $4bn to the Nigerian economy. The success of the company has attracted enemies and friends alike.
To check the activities of mischief makers who are hell-bent to rubbish the accomplishments of the company and its chairman, the group has engaged reputable local and international law firms to argue their case.
One of the early mandates of the Nigerian legal team is to review defamatory publications commonly referred to as “open source” materials in which Aiteo and Peters were featured in the last few years and to redress these fabricated insinuations by all available means including court actions, a process which appears to have already started.
The team, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), comprises senior lawyers like Kanu Agabi (SAN) and Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), both former Attorneys General and Ministers of Justice of the Federation.
Other senior lawyers in the team include renowned Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Messrs Paul Usoro (SAN), Rotimi Ogunesi (SAN) and A. U. Mustapha (SAN). Others are Ebenezer Obeya, Chief Andrew Oru, Mrs Boma Alabi, Messrs Chidi Nobis-Elendu, Emeka Ozoani and Joseph Nwatu.
Aiteo Group Executive Director and General Counsel, Andrew Onyearu, had said in a statement that the company’s belief in the rule of law and the legal processes in Nigeria require engagement with both commitment and premium resources.
According to him, the company’s conviction in the infallibility of Nigeria’s judicial processes continues to be vindicated by judicial pronouncements deprecating the unjustified calumnious attacks on its business and personal outlook.
“The Group has been adversely affected by a litany of unsustainable unlawful developments affecting both reputational and commercial integrity in a manner that has negatively impacted its operations.  The Group can no longer allow this situation to continue and as such, has resolved to take steps to protect all its legal interests. Recent positive – and groundbreaking – outcomes from judicial interventions that we have achieved serve as clear pointers about the direction that we are now pursuing.  Increasing the successful utilization of the judicial process in areas where we have been wronged will be the main objective of the team we have now put together,” Onyearu added.