By Abubakar Idris
“We are a nation that kills our best. Generosity is a tainted word. Largeness of heart is regarded as a medical condition, like an enlarged heart, requiring drastic intervention. Tolerance is ridiculed as a mark of weakness. And so we kill the generous, the large of heart, the tolerant. Even the symbols that should heal and bind the nation together are turned into agencies of death, including faith, piety and religion.” – Wole Soyinka
Still smarting from the catastrophic effects of corona virus pandemic on my business and Nigerians in general, the last I wished was to be locked in a tete-a-tete with a Chinese, and so soon for that matter! I must warn: this is not about racial profiling. But China dealt a huge devastating blow to businesses in Nigeria. The debilitating 2020 lockdown literally snuffed out lives of millions of compatriots and I hold China responsible for it.
Despite Fate’s obduracy in ensuring we sat beside each other, I buried my head in the papers. Then suddenly, I thought I heard the sound of a cough or was it a sneeze? – which literally sent jitters down my spine!
Never mind you must have been vaccinated to be eligible to be on the fight in the first place. I soon realised he was trying to engage me in a conversation. I kept a straight face nonetheless. Everything seemed to work well until a nudge jolted me out of reverie after some time.
Well, I shouldn’t wear my pain like a shirt and trousers. This folk might not even have visited or stayed in his birthplace for a week in the past decade or more. I warmed up to him at last. He was on a business trip and wished to know more about his destination.
“A great businessman in Africa from Nigeria,” he wanted to add a name but seemed to have some momentary difficulty.
“Oh, you meant Aliko Dangote? He’s a business tycoon from Nigeria!”
My interlocutor shook his head in the negative. He was attempting to mumble some names.
“We also have Abdul Samad Rabiu, Danjuma, Mohammed Indimi, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga…”
By then he had reached out to his tablet. He mentioned a name I had vaguely heard about – Benedict Peters. “He is involved in a lot businesses across Africa,” he added. Since I didn’t want to sound stupid, I had to play along. However, I succeeded in diverting his attention to other matters of interest, not least, the impact of COVID-19 on the economies of the world.
Economically, Nigeria is in dire straits and can ill-afford business flight in whatever form.
My memory of Benedict Peters related to his sports philanthropy such as payment of salaries of the technical adviser of the Super Eagles and the national football coaches. Even this aspect I could only faintly recall – I wasn’t sure of the details again. But my flight friend was leading me to something else about the man, business wise. I made up my mind instantly to research about this business mogul.
The revelations are mind-boggling. Benedict Peters must be self-effacing by nature. I thought all our billionaires are well known to the public. Yes, I heard about Aiteo Group, possibly saw adverts about the company in the papers but I’m not sure I ever paid particular attention to the company, which is said to own one of the largest petroleum tank farms in Nigeria with facilities of about 250 million litres on over 100,000 square meters of landmass. So Peters is a major player in the oil and gas industry!
However, I wanted to know more because in this clime millionaires, not to talk about billionaires, are quite untouchables. I was shocked to the marrow, even stupefied. The man was in the eye of the storm at a point in time. I could not imagine the EFCC going after the Dangotes of this world, the Theophilus Danjumas, Mohammed Indimis of this world, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia and a host of others.
These are respected businessmen in Nigeria involved in legitimate businesses. So also is Benedict Peters, who founded the Aiteo Group, Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil producing firm. Hence, why the exception? Does it have to do with his ethnic background? Does it have to do with his business competitors, such as attempts by some IOCs to undermine him? Is it an offence for Peters to champion local content, empowering his compatriots as against foreign interests? Why the endless media campaign of vilification against Peters?
Let’s celebrate our heroes. Let’s praise the Dangotes, the Indimis, the Adenugas, the Peters and others who invest their time, money and energy in Nigeria, creating millions of direct and indirect jobs. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
After perusing settled court decisions in matters affecting him, the conclusion of any independent observer was a calculated campaign of calumny directed against the man, the Pull Him Down mentality in Nigeria.
For instance, in one settled court verdict, the FCT High Court had stated unambiguously that Benedict Peters legitimately owned the said properties in the United Kingdom, which could therefore not be forfeited to the Federal Government. It was however shocking, that the anti-graft agency manifestly with intention of persecution, did not disclose this subsisting judgement when it went ahead to obtain an ex parte forfeiture order in a court of coordinate jurisdiction without putting the defendant on notice! The court took cognizance of the EFCC’s “gross misstatements, concealment and misrepresentation of facts”.
In her July 6, 2018 judgement, the Honourable Justice Nyako declared: “…a subsisting judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction has found and held inter alia that … these said properties amongst others having being legitimately acquired by the Defendant, they cannot be forfeited to the government under any circumstances… The order of interim forfeiture that was made in this case cannot override or supersede an order of final judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction.”
Why should we not provide an enabling environment for indigenous entrepreneurs of Peters’ ilk to flourish across Nigeria? Why should we push away the needed capital and production to other capitals in Africa while our people are dying of hunger
What is more, it was completely appalling and unwarranted to seek to impugn the reputation of one of Nigeria’s foremost industrialists, who never had any criminal record in his distinguished career. The egregious act of the agency was later declared by a court of competent jurisdiction as ultra vires, unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of his fundamental rights. Again the question must be asked.
Peters, just like Dangote, Adenuga, Danjuma, to mention a few, are not just commoners in this country. Does it have to do with the ethnic background of Peters? Why the slur campaign against the man? Why the unremitting attacks? Why levitating dead issues?
It’s high time we stopped cutting our nose to spite our face in this clime. Let’s stop the campaign of calumny against genuine Nigerian businessmen who seek the good of the country. Let there be a paradigm shift.
My mind is really exercised. I’m so worried for this country, which is the main reason for this public intervention. Rather than concentrating his businesses in Nigeria and offering further employment to thousands of our jobless youths, Benedict Peters is expanding, geometrically, his businesses to other African countries. Why should we continue to cut our nose to spite our face in this clime? At a time when major businesses are relocating from Nigeria to Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, why should we not provide an enabling environment for indigenous entrepreneurs of Peters’ ilk to flourish across the country? Why should we push away the needed capital and production to other capitals in Africa while our people are dying of hunger?
It is time the (media) campaign of calumny against Benedict Peters and other genuine Nigerian businessmen facing similar persecution is stopped in the interest of our country. The hatchet job must stop without further ado. Economically, Nigeria is in dire straits and can ill-afford capital or business flight in whatever form.
We call for a paradigm shift. Let’s celebrate our heroes. Let’s praise those who invest their time, money and energy in Nigeria, creating millions of direct and indirect jobs. They seek and are interested in the prosperity of this country. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
*Dr Abubakar Idris writes from Zaria, Kaduna State