Benedict Peters: The maverick from Uniben


When you walk the corridors of the Department of Geography and Regional planning at the University of Benin (Uniben), it is always quiet.

Except for a few students waiting to see their professors, you barely know that the department has any student. You also would not know that men like Emeritus Prof. Andrew Onokerhoraye and Prof. Gideon Omuta who were endued with exceptionally bold and creatives minds once walked these corridors without pageantry.

Indeed, you never know that it was here, on the third floor of the faculty of social sciences that the great minds which shaped the thinking of Benedict Peters, the founder and Executive Vice President of the Aiteo Group, had their offices years ago.

I was at that great school, which prides itself as the greatest in West Africa, a few weeks ago and thought it a rear opportunity to find out the kind of student Mr. Peters was in his days at the university.

“Benedict Peters? …yes, yes, yes, he was one of my students in my early days here in the 1980s,” one of the lectures who is now an associate professor at the department told me.

“I read about him in the newspapers these days. Yes, he is one of our boys,” the professor said as he nodded furiously with a sense of pride and fulfilment. “Its common to hear that our students have become business leaders, it’s a unibest thing!” he added as he tactically refereed to Uniben as the best university in West Africa; something the school’s alumni and dons do often.

“What I can tell you is that Peters was not the kind of student who sat in front during classes, neither was he among the backbenchers. But he sure communicated well, passed his exams and dressed neatly and impressively too,” the associate professor said as he reclined into his seat as if he had delivered a homily.

These days, when Mr. Peters tells the story of his life, he still speaks about the University of Benin, his father and then the dream he had about starting a small business that would cater for his mother after his father passed away.

His professors however say that there was something about the way the young Peters communicated in class back in the day that made “you know that he was on a journey. “But being an academic, I couldn’t fathom what the young man’s destination was,” a female professor who teaches at the department told me.

A tale of small beginning

Mr. Benedict Peters was not born to a family with great privileges. He in that difficult year, when Nigeria was plunged into civil war. His father hailed from Onicha Oloma an Ibo speaking community by your left, after Agboh on the road to Asaba.

Somewhat close to the river Niger, the town is known for its deep Roman Catholic heritage. (That may explain why Mr. Peters and his younger brother share names with two contemporary popes: Benedict and Francis.) Growing up, their father was a middle-income banker.

At his father’s retirement, Benedict Peter’s was still a student at the University of Benin and that incident put some pressure on the small family which was residing in Benin at the time. Mr Peters lived in the small town of Ekosodin as a student.

After completing his education at the age of 22, he ventured into banking, traded in commodities, and later Nigeria’s biggest industry: Oil and gas.

“At some point, I had to do large scale trading of tomatoes from the northern parts of Nigeria to the south,” he told a group of young Africans who gathered to hear his story recently. In his normal hypnotic oratorical style, he told the room packed with teary eyed young men: “I know what it means for a young man to struggle and make it from nothing.”

The journey to OML29

Mr. Peter’s voyage in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is perhaps the most epic of his odysseys. In the 1990s when the industry was dominated by Europeans and Americans, he joined forces with a group of ambitious young Nigerians who founded Ocean and Oil, the entity now known as Oando Nigeria Plc.

After a while, he moved to MRS Oil Nigeria Plc as Group Executive Director, ending his stay at the company as its Managing Director. He left in in 1999 to establish Sigmund Communecci.

Those were days where Nigerians really lacked the capital and technical know-how to manage major businesses in the oil and gas industry. But a crop of Nigerian entrepreneurs was doing what they could to make the landscape different.

Frist, it was Imo Itsueli, who ventured out in 1989 to found Dubri Oil Company Limited which is Nigeria’s first independently owned Exploration and Producing Company. Now, it was the likes of Mr. Peters who were leading the way in the industry. (Although, in the downstream segment of the industry.)

In 2014, Mr. Peter’s founded the Aiteo Group, the successor entity to Sigmund Communecci. The company owns one of the largest petroleum tank farms in Nigeria with facilities in excess of over 250 million litres on over 100,000 square meters of landmass. It also owns and operates the Abonnema Storage Terminal.

It is because it had established a visible footprint on the industry that it had the effrontery to bid for Shell’s OML29.

In 2010, the Nigerian government made a law that ensured that all offshore divestment in the oil and gas industry were in favour of local oil and gas companies. That meant that if an international oil company was spinning off any of its onshore Oil Mining Leases (OML) local players were priority in the purchase process.

Incidentally, Shell was about to sell OML29 at exactly the same time that the new law came into force. Mr. Peters saw in it a brilliant opportunity. His company, the Aiteo group put in a bid for a 45% stake in the asset, along with several other Nigerian companies, in what would be one of the most competitive and most transparent processes in the industry’s history.

A statement by Shell was later to state that: “This divestment is part of the strategic review of SPDC’s onshore portfolio and is in line with the Federal Government of Nigeria’s aim of developing Nigerian companies in the country’s upstream oil and gas business.”

The process was primarily between Shell and a consortium led by Aiteo and the laws of Nigeria were followed to the letter. There were no irregularities on the side of Shell neither where there irregularities from Aiteo. In the end, the contract was ascended to by the Nigerian government and the asset was successfully transferred.

But what’s even bigger news is what Aiteo did with the asset upon acquisition. As of September 2017, there were estimates that the asset had grown output by 200%!

As I sat listening to Mr. Peter’s lectures tell about the outliers that have been produced by their department, I wondered if they knew that Benedict Peters will turn 50 on 5, December 2017.

Dafenone writes from Warri, Nigeria

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