Aiteo and global media blackmail, By Jackson Afagha –

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There seems a scurrilous pattern among Western media to willy-nilly tar home-grown African entrepreneurs who dare to swim above the waters with their foreign counterparts in ugly colour. Many successful African entrepreneurs have come under the hammer of Western media in a manner that raises curiosity than acclaim.

The latest is The Washington Post, an American upscale newspaper, said to be currently planning a damning report on Nigeria’s oil and gas sector with particular focus on Nigeria’s former Petroleum Minister, Deziani Alison-Madueke. In the said investigative report, one Peter Whoriskey, a writer with the US-based newspaper, is up and about trying to sniff out the faintest information about Benedict Peters and his company, Aiteo Group.

The Washington Post Whoriskey is alleging that Peters was among a ring of international investors and entrepreneurs who offered exiled former Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Madueke, bribes and sundry inducements and gratifications to get juicy contracts and deals from the minister. As it has already turned out, Whoriskey’s investigation and inquisition are nothing but mere arm-chair attempts to scoop up something from nothing. The Washington Post writer’s inquiries are based on matters that had earlier been settled in the court of competent jurisdiction, and therefore do not need any further interrogation or self-assigned disquisition by any journalist, home or abroad.

Except of course, this is part of a growing international conspiracy to taint and impugn the integrity of Peters, one of the dynamic and goal-driven entrepreneurs coming through for Africa. Mr. Whoriskey’s sudden interest to investigate a dead and settled matter is curious, but not so curious. Curious because when a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled on a matter, responsible journalism demands that such matter should be rested unless the judgment of the lower court is being contested in an upper court by way of appeal. Not curious because it’s become the trend in a section of western media to yield their space and airtime for the deprecation and shellacking of rising African entrepreneurs who are competing favourably with their foreign counterparts in Africa.

Examples abound. When Zimbabwean billionaire, philanthropist and Founder of Econet Global, a major player in the telecoms ecosystem, Strive Masiyiwa, was targeted by competition, they looked to Western media for an ally.

Recently, it was the turn of Nigeria’s Allen Onyema, the CEO of Air Peace, currently the biggest and fastest growing airline in Nigeria. Western media descended on him feasting on phoney documents allegedly ferreted from the dunghill of the global infodemic by US Intelligence personnel. Now, it’s Peters and the conglomerate he’s sweating to build. A man who has given his all in the oil and gas business for about three decades has suddenly turned rogue. It’s a vicious cycle. Each time there is a rising African hero on the entrepreneurship horizon, there is a willing Western media to pull him down.

What is strange about the extant kite being flown by Washington Post is that it’s feeding from an old matter sufficiently settled by a court of law. How would the same Washington Post feel if a journalist in another medium – in Africa, Europe, US or elsewhere – in 2021, begins an investigative journalistic expedition into the 2009 scandal that rocked the newspaper in which it was accused of hosting a show (exclusive ‘salon’ at the home of Katharine Weymouth its publisher) with intent to charge lobbyists  and association executives as high as $250,000 for off-the-record access to “those powerful few”  including Barack Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors? The outrageous ‘pay-for-dinner’ show which ran contrary to the grain of ethics of journalism was scooped by POLITICO and it more than rubbished whatever claim of integrity and high professional standard Washington Post was bandying at that time. The scandal was overbearing such that Weymouth and the newspaper’s Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli had to issue disclaimers. Brauchli in his response to POLITICO inquiries made the now famous statement: “You cannot buy access to a Washington Post journalist.” The stench was so putrid and the show was eventually cancelled

Well, the dust had since settled and Washington Post has moved on. It would be a disservice to journalism if POLITICO or any other newspaper over a decade after the scandal begins to dig up the dreg with all its smelly slants. It’s for such logic and sound editorial judgement that one finds the action of Whoriskey and Washington Post curious. But hey, we’re talking about Aiteo, Nigeria’s antidote to the leeching oil majors exploiting oil and gas in the country and poisoning the Niger Delta ecosystem.

Aiteo Eastern E&P, one of the biggest and well-heeled indigenous oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria has been wrestling with these oil majors. Nigerian media is awash with reports of how Shell short-changed Aiteo in crude oil sales and how a Federal High Court in February, this year, froze Shell accounts in Nigerian banks for allegedly under-counting crude export sales to the hurt of Aiteo. This generated bad blood between the competitors.

By March this year after the court ruling, Aiteo had raised the alarm of a brewing plot by the oil major to embark on a scathing media campaign against Aiteo and its Founder. Aiteo alarm had earlier been raised by a coalition of civil society groups of Concerned Nigerians, Arewa Consultative Youth Movement, African Human Rights Centre and National Association of Nigerian Students. They had forewarned of an impending media campaign to blackmail Aiteo for daring to take on an International Oil Company (IOC).

And in August and September, barely five months after the warning, Washington Post suddenly remembered its investigative reporting duties. This is more than coincidence. But the US newspaper is merely dancing in the graveyard long after the living had finished burying their dead. All the cords the newspaper is striking impinge on a matter long settled in court with a Federal High Court in Abuja ordering the EFCC to return two UK properties of Peters seized by EFCC to him. Justice Binta Nyako ruled that the said properties had no link to Mrs. Madueke, hence cannot be classified as seized properties of Madueke.

Rather than dissipate energy on Peters, Whoriskey and Washington Post can serve humanity better by exposing the unwholesome activities of the IOCs in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. The world is more eager to read from Whoriskey and Washington Post details of the death, misery and wretchedness visited on the Niger Delta by Shell and other oil majors which rake in billions of dollars in annual profit but leave the Niger Deltans in perpetual mess and their environment in eternal despoliation. Please visit the creeks of Nembe, Kolo, Bodo, Benikrukru and other communities in the Niger Delta to see the damage done to humanity by IOCs.

Does life, human life, not mean anything to Whoriskey? Now that he’s become so addicted to reporting Nigeria’s surreal crude business, he would do better service to journalism and to humanity if he should, first, expose all the decades-long cover-up and underhand deals perpetrated by the IOCs in the exploration and export of crude oil. As a responsible journalist writing for a responsible newspaper, a public censure of the vicious activities of the IOCs which include American companies should be Whoriskey’s primary responsibility. To look away from such savagery is itself an act of professional barbarism.

·         Afagha, an environmentalist, writes from Ogbia, Bayelsa

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