African visionary and founder of Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil-producing company, Benedict Peters, is unquestionably one of the topmost pacesetters in the long history of the country. From his days as a senior staffer in the banking industry to heading a major oil company and, therefrom, founding Aiteo, Peters’ business acumen and resolve have been evident to all.
As his flagship company, Aiteo, marked its 20th year anniversary in November 2019, it is worth tracing the laudable rise of the company to the summit of Nigeria’s oil & gas scene and his pivotal role in the achievement of the feat.
Peters discovered his innate entrepreneurial inclination when he ventured into trading while studying as a student of Geography and Urban Planning at the prestigious University of Benin. The commercial shrewdness he possessed was laid bare right from his formative years, but Peters, like other successful businessmen before him, studied the operations of other companies through his years occupying several top positions therewith before setting out to establish his.
Great minds tend to gravitate towards themselves and it was par for the course that he joined the budding team at Ocean and Oil (now Oando) to immensely contribute to the growth of the business following his stint in the banking sector. Peters’ exceptional performance at the company precipitated his being headhunted by the renowned MRS Oil Nigeria to occupy the role of Group Executive Director, which he did until he rose to the position of Managing Director.
It became apparent to Peters, in 1999, that the leap of faith had to be taken by him regardless of the socio-political disposition of the country. As a matter of fact, the transition of the Nigerian government from military rule to a democratic government, was viewed as an opportunity for the billionaire to empower the citizenry. He subsequently founded Sigmund Communecci – a petroleum product supply and trading company – to this end.
In 2008, the very successful Sigmund Communecci metamorphosed into the company now referred to as Aiteo. Since its formation, Aiteo has experienced exponential growth in the Nigerian integrated energy sector, with much of the credit rightly assigned to the innovative leadership of Benedict Peters and his knack for identifying and recruiting exceptional talents.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles
To say that Peters ventured into business with the sole intention of making profit would be factually incorrect as the goal, which was to be the future of energy, informed the business strategy of Sigmund Communecci from inception. The backward planning not only set the company on a course for unparalleled growth, but also helped all stakeholders understand the sheer enormity of dedication and passion required to attain the shared goal.
No sooner had the company been incorporated, it assumed ownership and operatorship of a petroleum storage terminal in Port Harcourt, in Southern Nigeria’s leading city. Therefrom, the firm fulfilled its mandate to stakeholders and balanced its books but the overarching goal of disrupting the status quo necessitated the search for extra lines of credit to upscale its portfolio. The search yielded dividends in 2000 when the company secured a credit line of 3million United States Dollars (USD) from City Express Bank (now United Bank for Africa) with a 365-day repayment window.
The newly injected cashflow engendered unparalleled success for the company, which resulted in the fulfilment of its obligation to the creditor. Soon afterward, the firm received fresh lines of credit worth over 9million USD that ensured the business maintained its upward swing up until the need to offer enhanced energy services emanated and the resultant transformation into Aiteo.
A Bold New Day
The rebranding and restructuring process that led to the emergence of Aiteo from Sigmund Communecci was concluded in 2008 and the company assumed a more integrated viewpoint in accordance with its strategic mission of redefining the future of energy. The new focus implied that the downstream petroleum sector was but a microcosm of the overall business operations which now spans exploration and production, power, refining, trading, marketing and supply.
Due to the managerial acumen of Peters and his string of successes, securing credit facilities from top banks across Nigeria became a stroll in the park. Ecobank became the first to offer credit facility worth 30million USD to the company to part finance the purchase of petroleum products. The agreement allayed the fears of other banks that further added an extra layer of confidence in Aiteo’s ability to perform optimally on its financial obligations. Union Bank and First Bank soon towed the line of growing creditors by offering loans worth over 86million USD to the company to consolidate its foothold in the indigenous oil & gas space.
Aiteo was destined for greatness. Nigeria as a nation commenced clamouring for increased participation of indigenous oil companies in the sector to the benefit of companies that have positioned for growth. Following the asset divestment by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Aiteo’s ensuing acquisition of Oil Mining Lease 29 (OML 29) and the industry significant 97-kilometre, Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) in a deal worth 2.7billion USD following a highly competitive bidding process. The assets, at that time, were reported to be worth 5 percent of the Royal Dutch Shell global portfolio. Stakeholders and the public who were in awe of the firm’s single mindedness in gaining control of the assets were even blown away by knowledge of the company tripling crude oil production on the acquired asset in less than two years of operations. Aiteo augmented production on the asset from below 25,000 barrels per day (b/pd) to 90,000 in the space of 18 months, thereby installing it as Nigeria’s largest oil producing company.
Sustainable Development: The Future Belongs to the People
Minutes into any interaction with Mr. Peters and one can infer that he is a future thinking leader. He considers deeply the impact his businesses have on not only host communities but the countries of operations and the African continent at large. Peters makes it a point of principle to regularly strategize methods to ensure that African states compete favourably in the comity of Nations.
It is common knowledge that Benedict Peters is averse to needless public attention. This is evidenced in the paucity of his images available in the digital space. Peters is a man who rates precision over needless buzz as he would rather allow the impact of his action do his speaking. This practice extends to his philanthropic endeavours – he gives and implores that these deeds do not be subject to public disclosure. That is how much he loathes unearned publicity.
As a corporate firm rooted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the company actively promotes the attainment of the goals as part of its sustainability strategy. Owing to the slow pace of development in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of the country which doubles as the base of the company’s exploration activities, much has been done by it to afford indigenes better lives.
The company remains undeterred by the constant instability in the region that has set it back significantly in financial terms and continues to contribute to the development of the region. In May 2019, the company made public a donation of 3million USD to the Bayelsa State Education Trust Fund and Primary Health Care Scheme, empowering kids with free and qualitative education which will enable them to secure a better future for themselves and their families. This moment stands out in the series of isolated events which have seen Aiteo contribute immensely to the development of host communities.
Furthermore, the company revamped the fortunes of the football-loving Nigerian populace with a series of investments in 2016 which ended the infamous practice of national team coaches and players being owed salaries for months on end after fulfilling their obligations to the nation. Aiteo has a standing agreement to bankroll the salaries of national team coaches for five years and paid off what was owed previous coaches. The firm also took ownership of the country’s oldest cup competition, Federations Cup, renaming it the Aiteo Cup and sizeably boosting the prize money for both the male and female categories.
The Story Continues
There is no gainsaying the fact that Benedict Peters has built a business that has stood the test of time to become a mainstay in the oil & gas scene. Through sheer hard work, trusted allies and innovative leadership, Peters has typified what it takes to build a world-class company from scratch in Nigeria. Young entrepreneurs adopt his playbook for inspiration on how to create corporate legacies of their own. Besides Aiteo, the African billionaire overseas multiple businesses crisscrossing several sectors, such as mining, agriculture and infrastructure to name but a few, with operations in Europe, Asia and Africa.
His illustrious leadership style, peculiar for its people-centric nature, has received worldwide recognition from world class organisations. In 2018, he was crowned Forbes International’s African Oil & Gas Leader of the Year. Prior to that honour, Peters had been a recipient of the Marquee Award for Global Business Excellence at the Africa-US Leadership Awards dinner, organised by African Energy Association in 2014. His economic empowerment drive was also recognised at the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards. On the home front, he has carted multiple awards including the 2018 BusinessDay Newspaper Man of the Year and 2019 Leadership Newspaper Businessperson of the Year Award amongst others. Peters has certainly placed Aiteo on a pedestal that has seen it assume control of considerable market share in the oil & gas sector and leads one into envisaging what could have been if more business owners possessed his unrelenting spirit and candour.
Stevens is a seasoned Oil & Gas expert based in London and Lagos