Barkindo, the steady hand that steered OPEC through worst times is dead at 63

Muhammad Sanusi Barkindo, the outgoing Secretary-General of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) steered the organisation through its most turbulent times wading through geopolitical unrest in Eastern Europe, a war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and intense inflationary pressures across the globe died July 5, in Abuja.

His death was first reported in a tweet by the group general manager of the NNPC, Mele Kyari.“We lost our esteemed Dr. Muhammad Sanusi Barkindo. He died at about 11 pm yesterday 5th July 2022. Certainly a great loss to his immediate family, the NNPC, our country Nigeria, the OPEC, and the global energy community. Burial arrangements will be announced shortly.”

Barkindo is dead

Barkindo’s shocking death came one day after he received the nation’s gratitude conveyed by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing him as a worthy ambassador of the country and said posterity will remember him kindly for making the nation and himself proud during his six years of meritorious service at the helm of affairs as the fourth OPEC Secretary-General from Nigeria.

The President directed the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited to mobilise the oil and gas industry to organize a befitting welcome reception in honour of Barkindo.

‘‘You have indeed been a worthy ambassador of our country. We are proud of your achievements before and during your appointment at OPEC and the proud legacies you will leave behind. Your time in charge of the affairs of OPEC has been a very challenging one for the global oil industry. Oil producers were finding it difficult to come together to address challenges that were crippling the oil market.

‘‘Not long after, the world was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic that sent crude prices spiraling down at an alarming rate. You showed incredible leadership to rally industry players and pushed through the turbulent times.

‘‘There is no doubt about your efforts in putting together the Declaration of Cooperation, which is the largest cooperative effort in the history of OPEC and the global oil industry and also the longest in duration in the history of the organization. This was a herculean task,’’ the President said.

Barkindo’s biography

Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo was born in Yola, Adamawa State on April 20, 1959. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Barkindo went on to achieve a postgraduate diploma in petroleum economics and management from the College of Petroleum Studies at Oxford University and a master’s degree in business administration from Southeastern University in Washington, DC.

He is also a holder of an Honorable Doctorate Degree in Science from Modibbo Adama University and the Federal University of Technology, Yola, and is a fellow member of various international petroleum institutions such as the Institute of Petroleum, London.

But over the years he also worked in several key roles at OPEC. In 1986, he was appointed to Nigeria’s delegation to OPEC, and from 1993 to 2008, served as Nigeria’s National Representative on the Organisation’s Economic Commission Board. In 2006, he was Acting OPEC Secretary General, and represented Nigeria on OPEC’s Board of Governors from 2009 to 2010.

From 2009 to 2010, he was Group Managing Director and CEO of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Previous to that, he served as Deputy Managing Director of Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas. Earlier in his career, he was Special Assistant to former Minister of Petroleum Resources and OPEC Secretary General, Rilwanu Lukman KBE.

Barkindo has also been the leader of Nigeria’s technical delegation to the UN climate change negotiations since 1991. He served as Chair of the Group of 77 and China at the UNFCCC and was elected to serve three terms as Vice President of the Conference of the Parties – COP13 (Bali, Indonesia), COP14 (Poznan, Poland) and COP15 (Copenhagen, Denmark), where he chaired the opening session.

Read also: OPEC’s Barkindo condemns opposition to oil investments

Barkindo at OPEC

His tenure as Secretary General of the OPEC started on the 1st of August 2016 but was not without drama. The organisation has been looking for a replacement for Libya’s Abdalla El-Badri, who was elected acting secretary-general in December until the end of July after serving full terms.

The 13-member oil cartel has tried unsuccessfully for more than three years to find a replacement for the then secretary-general, who was due to stand down in 2012 after serving two terms in the role. It could not agree on a successor and at OPEC’s last meeting in December, El-Badri’s term was extended until July 2016.

Determined to find a successor because even El-Badri didn’t have the stomach for more, OPEC settled on Barkindo.

“For Nigeria, like other member countries in Asia, South America, and Africa- the selection processes and procedures were highly competitive,” notes Ndu Ughamadu, a former spokesperson of NNPC and editor of Daily Times in an opinion article.

Ughamadu noted that Ibe Kachikwu, former minister of State, Petroleum, supported by other technocrats handled Nigeria’s headhunt exercise for the job that had many qualified contestants including former ministers of different including petroleum.

After weeks of painstaking screenings, Barkindo was shortlisted as Nigeria’s Candidate for the position.

“Going by antecedents, countries do raise lobby teams to canvass support for their candidates. In the case of Nigeria for Barkindo, little of such was done. For a reason, the name Barkindo was a brand in member countries- he had, before the job, visited all member countries, severally, and was friendly with heads of government of member countries, their ministers, and other oil technocrats,” writes Ughamadu.

Consequently, he was unanimously appointed the Secretary-General of OPEC, an uncommon feat in an organisation where your diplomatic chops are tested to their full limits.

Barkindo who has honed his negotiating skills in several roles put it to the task at the helms of OPEC. Among his biggest accomplishment was cobbling a disparate group of oil producers with different interests to agree to cap oil production to rein prices that were practically on the floor.

‘There is no doubt about your efforts in putting together the Declaration of Cooperation, which is the largest cooperative effort in the history of OPEC and the global oil industry and also the longest in duration in the history of the organization. This was a herculean task,’’ Buhari said, praising Barkindo.

The Declaration of Cooperation, which is now in its sixth year, withdraw an initial 9.7 million barrels per day from the market – the highest ever adjustment in its history – helping OPEC navigate the turbulence in the market stemming from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Barkindo’s diplomacy skills brought countries that had left OPEC, and grew the organisation’s membership from 11 to 14 until recently when Qatar left mainly to focus more on gas than oil. Under Barkindo, Africa had a stronger voice in OPEC, and Western efforts to wean Africa off fossil fuels saw the biggest pushback.

During his tenure, the global oil market saw one of its worst periods on record on account of years of underinvestment. Currently, market tightness and razor-thin spare capacity margins is the worst on record. Barkindo has steered OPEC to moderate the calls against fossil fuels always striving for balance.

Speaking at the 2022 edition of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference (NOG) on Tuesday in Abuja, which coincidentally was his last public outing, Barkindo said the oil industry is now facing huge challenges along multiple fronts, and these threaten its investment potential now and in the longer term.

“To put it bluntly the oil and gas industry is under siege,” he said.

In OPEC’s 62-year history, spare capacity has never been as low as it is today, and this takes into account periods of war, natural disasters, and other market shocks. If this trend continues, it could haunt us in the future, he warned.

He said the evolving geopolitical developments in Eastern Europe, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and inflationary pressures across the globe have come together in a perfect storm that is causing significant volatility and uncertainty in the commodity markets, more importantly, in the world of energy.

“Against this backdrop, a number of industrialized countries and multilateral institutions continue to pursue stringent policies aimed at accelerating the energy transition and fundamentally altering the energy mix.

Aside from these issues, Barkindo said that the oil industry is still reeling from the enormous investment losses of recent years.

“In a very short timespan, the industry has been hit by two major cycles – the severe market downturn in 2015 and 2016, and the even more far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic upstream oil capital expenditure fell by around 30 percent. This exceeded the colossal 26 percent annual declines experienced during the severe industry downturn in 2015 and 2016, he said.

Read also: Al-Ghais replaces Barkindo as OPEC secretary-general

OPEC’s most recent World Oil Outlook shows the global oil sector will need cumulative investments of $11.8 trillion in the upstream, midstream, and downstream through to 2045 to meet expectations for significant growth in energy demand.

A champion of energy security, Barkindo at every forum, warned that the world needs energy and should not be in a hurry to demonize its fossil fuels, especially in Africa and parts of Asia without widespread energy poverty.

“Oil and gas together will continue to supply more than half of the world’s energy needs for many decades. These hydrocarbons are especially vital to the energy mix in regions like Africa, which will see massive population shifts and economic growth in the coming years. These developments increase the urgency of eradicating energy poverty,” Barkindo said.

Due to leave OPEC by July 31, Barkindo departs OPEC and the world leaving the organisation to find an emergency replacement just as it did in 2016 when he came in. But he left OPEC in much better shape than he found.

Note: Updated with details to include 
biography and tenure at OPEC 8:04 am
July 6, 2022
First published July 6, 2022 at 5:06 am

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