Despite being one of the most enterprising countries on the planet, Nigerians loves to do businesses down. What’s more, it’s often our own home-grown businesses. This week, one of those business has decided to hit back.
Having been the subject of corruption allegations as part of Buhari’s anti-graft witch-hunt over the last few years, allegations were made against the founder of Aiteo Group Benedict Peters concerning proximity to the Goodluck Jonathan administration and, in particular, ex-oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Allegations of nine-figure (dollar) bribes floated around the Nigerian media – seemingly without basis and without any charges being brought against Peters. When the accusations were first articulated in 2015, it was two years before one heard anything about Aiteo other than the same rehashed allegations.
Aiteo certainly seemed to have done well in a very short space of time – notably in 2014 when it successfully led a consortium bid to acquire Shell’s OML29 and Nembe Creek Trunk Line for $2.7 billion. Sweeping up stakes of Shell, Total SA and Eni, Aiteo took a controlling 45% stake in both assets, thus becoming one of the biggest players in Nigerian oil virtually overnight.
The Nigerian media is a fundamentally salacious one, impenetrable to giving credit but with virtually no threshold of proof for bad news. It is no wonder therefore that Aiteo hit back this week after being the target of a slew of tedious accusations.
Aiteo – founded by Benedict with brother Francis – stepped up and took hold of an asset at a time when global players were in retreat. Within one year of taking on OML 29, they tripled output to 90,000 barrels per day. It was actually 1999 when Aiteo’s predecessor, Sigmund Communecci was founded, and 2008 when that firm was repositioned as Aiteo. So the firm is hardly the overnight success which detractors seem to want to believe.
At the time of the accusations, Aiteo undertook minimal engagement with the press – presumably knowing it would only fan the flames. Why would your typical Nigerian journalist let the truth get in the way of a good story? Credit to Aiteo for getting on with their jobs whilst bullets were being fired their way.
With 2017 came a change in fortunes for the company’s reputation as they announced that they were sponsoring the Nigeria Football Federation to the tune of N2.5bn; covering the salaries of coaches, sponsoring the Federation Cup, culminating in a 4-0 thrashing of Cameroon in Nigeria last week.
So, when the accusations started up again in recent weeks, for no apparent reason, it is no wonder that the company has started hitting back this time. Aiteo stated that they have brought US$4bn of foreign direct investment to Nigerian, over a period when FDI has been desperately flagging, and proudly boast of the billions of Naira in the Treasury originating from their operations.
Aiteo has every right to hit back at allegations lingering against its name, and every right to be proud of their record. The accusations around Benedict Peters have hung around long enough that it is surely time EFCC – and the rest of the media who perpetuate them – put up or shut up.