I write quite a bit about leading energy figures in the oil and gas world in Nigeria. Last week I did a profile of Arthur Eze, the bombastic prince of Oranto's sprawling oil network. I don't believe that these visionaries get the credit they deserve so I want to make a point of drawing attention to the work they have done.
I also write about Aiteo Group quite a bit and I've enjoyed watching their emergence as an oil and gas powerhouse over recent years. At the top of the tree is the quiet emperor of Nigeria's oil and gas market, Aiteo's Executive Vice Chairman: Benedict Peters.
Benny Peters, or more formally Benedict Peters, is a very successful businessman, an innovative entrepreneur and one of the truest oil and gas industry pioneers that Nigeria has produced in recent years. Today, Benedict Peters is best known as the founder of the insurgent Nigerian energy conglomerate Aiteo Group, but he came from more humble origins than you might expect.
Benedict Peters is a deeply private man, so there isn't quite as thorough a biography of him as there are other Nigerian energy or commodities tycoons like Aliko Dangote or Arthur Eze. His personal website and Wikipedia page does tell us that he was born in Onicha Oloma in Delta State in 1966, but that's about as much as we know about his early life. Snippets of news elsewhere say that Benny Peters wasn't a rich man growing up and lived a modest home life in his youth.
A proud Nigerian, Benedict Peters wouldn't dream of beginning his education outside of his home nation, and enrolled at the University of Benin. His LinkedIn page tells us that in 1989 Benny graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Geography and Regional Planning. This is when his real story begins, sparking the first cinders in a career that would light up all Nigeria.
Benedict began various senior roles in banking, commodity trading and the Nigerian oil and gas industry but, like many Nigerians before him and many more today, he felt the call of entrepreneurship and wanted to be a self-made man. Some time in the mid-nineties Benedict became the co-founder of Ocean and Oil Limited, known today as Oando, another pretty successful petroleum exploration and trading company in Nigeria. Oando has itself found some favour in the business commentariat as an exciting ‘one to watch' in Nigeria, so it seems Benny's entrepreneurial spirit leaves some sort of a mark wherever he goes.
The real fun begins when, in 1999 after gaining quite a bit of experience in the global energy industry, Benedict Peters founded Sigmund Communecci, the company that, in time, would eventually become Aiteo Group. This is where Benedict really came into his own and recognised for the first time the potential of well run, well funded indigenous energy companies. Many of the values that Aiteo Group has lived out in its work today have their origins in the learnings of Benedict's time founding Sigmund Communecci. The company's primary focus the downstream sector.
The big move came in 2008. Whilst the global financial markets were quaking under the stress of the global financial crisis, Benedict was busy building and working and making ready his move. Aiteo Group launched the same year and has become a mainstay of the Nigerian oil and gas sector ever since. Building on the success of Sigmund Communecci, Benedict Peters decided to make Aiteo Group active in both upstream and downstream sectors of the Nigerian petroleum industry and the results have been quite astonishing.
Benedict Peters has been very careful to ensure that the foundation values of Aiteo Group are preserved, regardless of the stresses and strains of the market, regardless of the success of the business, and regardless of the opposition of some of the people Benny's vision is working to disrupt. The steadfast commitment to local producers, local technicians, local expertise and local marketing has created a company that is Nigerian in its bones. For a long time, that might have been a bad thing, but Benedict has turned that around. He is the living embodiment of all that Goodluck Jonathan's 2010 Local Content Act set out to achieve, and truly it is a vision that others could learn from.
The big coup for Aiteo Group came when Benedict led a consortium of smaller businesses, including Taleveras, to beat off serious competiton to the coveted OML 29 block just off Bonny in South South Nigeria. Why the competition? OML 29 is thought not only to be bounteous, but thought to be the most valuable oil block in all Nigeria. What's more, the true potential of the block had never been realised. It was a sleeping giant and Benedict was determined not just to wake him up, but put him to work! In May this year, Benedict realised that when Aiteo announced that they had broken almost 100,000 barrels per day at OML29. Even when Shell were at their most optimistic in the block, they were just about managing 30,000 bpd. 100,000 was the golden goose and it was singing for Aiteo.
Outside of Oil, Benedict Peters is also reasonably well known in the Agricultural sector in Nigeria. There was a time when Nigeria actually accounted for about 1% of global agricultural exports. It seems a long time ago now, especially when we consider that Nigeria imports most of its rice. This is perhaps where Benny is trying to work next: his other company, Joseph Agro Industries, is committed to growing new rice paddies in Nigeria and to training farmers to realise greater yields from the fields they work in. He's even set up a sort of exchange programme with China so that his Nigerian farmers can learn from the world's best rice farmers.
Benedict Peters is also very well known for his philanthropy. His commitment to Nigerian and its people has seen Benny involved with several philanthropic initiatives. Through Aiteo Group, he has provided a number of selective grants, donations and seed capital to local individuals and groups. Through the rice business, he has also worked to increase his investment in local society and founded the Joseph Agro Foundation in 2014 to improve the education and support for Nigerian rice farmers. Rightly, he has been named ‘CEO of the Year' by Leadership News Nigeria for his efforts both in Nigeria's infrastructure but also for the 12,000 plus jobs he's created for Nigeria.
Benny has kept a very low profile in recent months, only popping up to comment on a number of Aiteo's appointments for ambitious international growth, or to comment on Aiteo's bold sponsorship of the Nigerian Football Federation. Whatever you think of him, Aiteo is certainly one to watch and is keeping everyone on their toes, asking: whatever will Aiteo do next?! One thing we do know: it will be exciting.