Aiteo: Benedict Peters’ Two Decades of Pushing the Boundaries

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Benedict Peters

If Benedict Peters were born of the sun, he would bathe the world in brilliant spokes of ambition and leave the air vividly signed with his exploits. Twenty years after, the Aiteo Group’s boss is perfect proof that it is not by spectacular achievements that man can be transformed, but by will, writes Lanre Alfred

Benedict Peters is a man of great will hence his sterling exploits in the fields of enterprise. His passion for greatness spirals to the sky, bolstered by a will as sturdy as an oak.

Starting out his genius had such electricity that the odds could not tame. He set out with the fervor of a man who understood, that, to succeed in the cutthroat world of commerce, he must be ready to lose himself in his objective, long-term goal, creation, and craft.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that his Aiteo Group clocked 20 years some days ago. The company, owned by the billionaire businessman, Peters, has grown in leaps and bounds in the last two decades.

The beginning was rough and tough and strewn with thorns and thistles. Except for a few people who noticed his stoic resolve, many perceived his idea as grandiose and unachievable. But he proved the bookmakers wrong. Twenty years after, Peters has a good story to tell.

As with every man with huge ambition, Peters and his idea of Aiteo were scoffed at. The intrepid businessman had conceived the idea of a conglomerate with capacity and competence to cause a positive transformation of seismic proportions in the energy sector. For him, Nigeria has all it takes to play big and rub shoulders with other countries whose organizations are playing global in the world’s energy industry. Those who knew Peters and were privy to his trajectory in banking and commodity trading had no doubts that his idea would fly.

His competence and deep insight on the industry were the traits that attracted him to Alhaji Sayyu Dantata of MRS Oil Nigeria Plc, who had head-hunted him to join his company as executive director experiencing rapid promotion on the strength of his integrity of character and became the company’s managing director in the spate of five years. Thereafter, he founded Sigmund Communecci (a petroleum products supply and trading company) in 1999.

Having conquered the downstream sector with great results to show, Peters would not listen to the naysayers who saw his dream as that conceived from a hubristic belief or be distracted by some myopic opinion moulders. He was no local champion; his ambition transcended his country and continent. Thus, he set out on the path he had envisioned. That was in 1999.

Twenty years after, Aiteo is a conglomerate with a turnover of over $20billion annually and a downstream business of bulk storage of over 300 million liters per annum. Indeed, it has been a worthwhile journey for a company whose only business concern was once in the downstream sector. Today, beyond exploration, refining, and production, the company is also involved in bulk petroleum storage, trading, marketing, supply, power generation, and distribution. Aiteo has also acquired three power plants that have a combined capacity of 2300 megawatts and has evolved into a full-service energy company exploring and conquering territories others dare not allow cross their imagination.

In the beginning

The story of Aiteo can never be disentangled from the founder, Peters. It is the story of a man who was bold enough to beat the odds of the uncertain and unstable international oil business because of a personal and profound belief in the Nigerian system. Sigmund Communecci was Aiteo’s forebear. Sigmund Communecci owned and operated a petroleum storage terminal in Abonnema Wharf, Port Harcourt. In October 2000, the company sought and secured a credit line of N250 million from City Express Bank with a 365-day repayment window. Having satisfactorily fulfilled its end of the bargain with an inspiring performance of the first loan, the company got another loan of N500 million from the same bank in May 2002, and another N350 million a month later. The company became attractive to several top banks as facilities were extended to it on the strength of its corporate uprightness. In his quest to make it a 360-degree energy conglomerate and ensure phenomenal growth and transformation, Peters rebranded Sigmund Communecci in 2008 and renamed it Aiteo.

Aiteo’s Big Stage Arrival, Continued Financial Integrity

Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited, the succeeding entity for Sigmund Communecci, was founded with a commitment to provide responsible energy extraction and production and fuel economic growth while improving the quality of life of Nigerians through its diverse activities.

Many had expected that the change in its corporate identity would come with concern and uncertainties from banking partners and perhaps, the likelihood of withdrawal of the financial goodwill that the company used to enjoy under its former name. Rather, the credit facilities increased as Aiteo became more audacious and ambitious.

On March 6, 2009, Aiteo got a $30-million inventory finance facility from Ecobank “to part-finance the local purchase/importation of petroleum products under a warehousing arrangement for open market sales”. Later in that year, Union Bank offered a $25-million ITF/BA facility which was increased to $50 million while renewing an existing N2-billion term loan facility to “finance the importation/local purchase of petroleum products from reputable refinery/supplier for onward sale to local off-takers”. Aiteo obtained a N1.1-billion loan from First Bank on June 11, 2010, to finance tank farms at Apapa and Abonema, which gave the company considerable leverage in the sector.

Aiteo would announce its big-player status in 2013 when Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) announced its decision to divest some onshore assets it considered ‘disposable’ in the Niger Delta. The challenges SDPC was facing had started taking their toll on the profitability of its operations in the then troubled region. In 2014, Aiteo raised the single largest debt-financing in the Nigeria oil and gas sector from local banks to become a successful bidder for 45% percent of OML 29 at Nembe Creek Trunkline.

Before the divestment, OML 29 was operated by SPDC in a joint venture that had the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (55%), SPDC (30%), Total E&P Nigeria Limited (10%) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited (5%). OML 29 was the biggest of the four oil fields that were divested by Shell with the average production of 23,000bpd at the time Aiteo acquired it. The story changed as production output experienced exponential growth between August 2015 when Shell fully exited the facility and December 2016. Aiteo recorded an impressive 400% increment of the average production of 80,000bpd, peaking at 90,000bpd in one year.

Proven Strategy

From its humble roots in 1999, Aiteo has grown to become one of Africa’s biggest energy leaders contributing in no small measure to the advancement of the Nigerian energy industry. Its integrated value chain in the upstream, downstream and power sectors is underpinned by extensive local capacity development with significant opportunities to sustain Aiteo’s future business. Its major fields now include Nembe (Flowstation), Santa Barbara, Ogoroba, Oloibiri and Nembe Creek Truckline. Aiteo’s strategy is to be a vital part of the world’s energy solution by developing its core assets in the areas of oil, gas and electrical power areas. Aiteo is further positioned for growth with strong experienced leadership and excellent physical and intellectual asset base.

In July 2019, the energy giant announced plans to inject over $5 billion investments in its operations to boost its production to 250,000 barrels per day, thereby increasing the country’s gas supply. Explaining Aiteo’s strategy at the last Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition in Abuja, Chief Executive Officer of the group, Victor Okoronkwo, said Aiteo has a development plan that has been submitted to its joint venture partners “and because the government is exiting the cash call situation, we are negotiating an alternative finance package to be able to fund about $5 billion of investment which would move production to 250,000 barrels per day”.

However, Okoronkwo said, “This will increase our gas supply to about 300 million standard cubic feet, SCF, of gas per day, which will be enough to power more than 1.2 gigawatts of electricity in Nigeria. On finances, it is going to be a cocktail of financing options depending on how we land with the alternative financing mechanism we are working with our joint venture partners NNPC.”

Exceptional Social Responsibility

As Aiteo grows, so have its environmental health and safety programmes expanded. The health and safety of its employees and customers, and the preservation and protection of the environment in the communities in which they work and live have continued to be accorded premium attention.

Aiteo has reportedly contributed Foreign Direct Investment of about $4.5 billion to the Nigerian economy while creating about 12,000 job opportunities. And this is not hard to fathom. With offices in Lagos (its headquarters), Abuja, Port Harcourt, Warri, London, and Geneva, and operating in a region and country bedeviled with pervasive poverty and unemployment, Aiteo Group has provided numerous jobs. There is also a productive engagement of natives in its host communities, which has largely been responsible for its outstanding success where other multinational companies failed.

It comes as no surprise that the conglomerate can boast of the best in the energy industry in terms of personnel and technology know-how. Every staff member of the company from the lowest cadre to the top echelon is considered an integral part and constantly invested in and empowered through training, career development, health, and well-being. From time to time, employees receive the tools required to explore new career opportunities, embark on communal collaborations and bring economic prosperity to their communities.

The host communities come first in economic benefits through employment and offers of training programmes and support for local businesses. Communal needs of hosts are not only attended to, but their cultural values and festivities are also embraced and supported. Donations to charities and religious and cultural organizations are made regularly while interventions in social investment projects are recurrent in the company’s corporate social responsibility policy. Awards of scholarships and encouragement of indigent students of host communities to take up engineering and technical courses also prominently feature in its CSR.

In May 2019, Aiteo showed again that its social investment is not a fluke by donating a whooping N500 million to the Bayelsa Education Development Trust Fund, marking the largest donation received by the foundation since its enactment into law on March 29, 2017. This is a telling commitment to the fundamental development of the state, which hosts a considerable part of Aiteo’s operations.

The leadership of Aiteo has also reached out to a substantial number out of the over two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria with generous donations to IDPs in Adamawa through the State Emergency Management Agency.

Also, through the Joseph Agro Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation founded by Peters with a focus on the improvement of the lives of the farmers in rural areas, Aiteo has been involved in a series of initiatives and projects that improve the Nigerian educational system. They also organize awareness programs to enlighten farmers on clean water consumption.

Scoring Big with Nigerian Football

Aiteo rewrote the story of Nigerian football when it took up an official optimum partner status with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) by signing a five-year partnership agreement of about N2.9 billion with the federation – the most lucrative deal ever signed by the football body. The non-payment of salaries of national coaches was a recurring bane in the administration of football in Nigeria as coach after the coach left unceremoniously and contributed immensely to its continued plunge into the abyss. It was so bad that the duo of late Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu were owed even in death. It took the intervention of the National Assembly to have the departed souls paid posthumously.

With the N2.5 billion five-year-contract (renewable for one year after expiration), Aiteo, in a manner reminiscent of the ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy explored the hitherto unexplored terrain of football sponsorship in Nigeria. Pinning its CSR focus on terms of contracts of national teams’ coaches is a masterstroke. What the NFF used to have was a system where the burden of sponsorship of the whole Nigeria football ecosystem – the league management, national teams’ management, and other related aspects – was placed on one sponsor. The Aiteo-NFF deal is unique in that it singles out and takes care of ‘a critical area’ of the NFF’s expenditure.

Aiteo extended its tentacles by partnering with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to fund the annual CAF Awards which honours and celebrates the best of African footballers across the world.

The Honours Roll

It was no surprise, therefore, that at the Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference Awards 2018, Aiteo Group was declared ‘Indigenous Oil and Gas Company of the Year’. Regarding the award, Peters said, “We remain committed to our vision of shaping the future of sustainable energy in Nigeria and beyond, strategically deploying resources and technologies that lead to sustained economic development and value for all stakeholders. This honour from the NOG is fulfilling, particularly coming from our peers and a reputable industry platform. We dedicate this award to the highly committed, talented and industrious people working at Aiteo and making things possible daily.”

On December 20, 2017, Aiteo was named ‘Company of The Year’ by BusinessDay, a month after it received another ‘Company of The Year’ award at the New Telegraph Awards in Lagos.

In recognition of the visioner’s philanthropic gestures, Peters himself has been receiving global recognition and accolades. He is the chairman of the Otuoke University Council, which oversees and monitors the implementation of the plans and policies of the institution.

Forbes honoured Peters with the ‘Africa’s Oil and Gas Leader of the Year’ award in September 2018. The Guardian (Nigeria), named him ‘Oil and Gas CEO of the Year’ in June 2018. He was on the BusinessDay’s list of ‘50 Most Influential Nigerians in 2017’.

Peters was one of the four recipients of the Marquee Award for Global Business Excellence at the Africa-US Leadership Awards dinner hosted by the African Energy Association in 2014. He won the Leadership newspaper’s ‘CEO of the Year 2014’ award for championing a local content deal facilitating Nigeria’s greater capacity to manage its oil assets.

Likewise in 2015, Peters was one of the recipients of the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards in Washington, DC for driving “Economic Empowerment” in Nigeria.