Nigeria’s Mohammad Barkindo, who led OPEC during global shocks, dies at 63

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The secretary general of oil producers group OPEC, Mohammad Barkindo, has died, the boss of Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC) announced on Wednesday.

Barkindo, 63, a veteran of the oil industry, was due to step down at the end of this month after six years in the top job at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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“We lost our esteemed Dr Muhammad Sanusi Barkindo,” NNPC CEO Mele Kyari wrote on Twitter, adding that he died late on Tuesday.

The death is a “great loss to his immediate family, the NNPC, our country Nigeria, the OPEC and the global energy community,” Kyari added.

Kyari said Barkindo died hours after meeting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and giving the main speech at an energy summit in Abuja.

Six-year tenure

Barkindo, 63, was in the final weeks of his six-year tenure as the top diplomat at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, where he headed its Vienna-based secretariat. He had returned to Abuja in preparation for a post-OPEC career.

His tenure as the head of OPEC has been marked by global shocks that have battered the industry.

During his keynote speech in Abuja hours before his death, Barkindo said the oil and gas industry is “under siege” and still reeling from the enormous investment losses of recent

“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,” Barkindo said.

Barkindo oversaw one of the most turbulent periods in the organization’s history, beginning with the creation of the OPEC+ coalition just months after his appointment in summer 2016. That saw the group enter into a once-unthinkable partnership with non-members such as Russia. Barkindo engaged in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy to bring the oil producers together, personally meeting leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

His term spanned a series of production cuts intended to keep global oil markets in balance, culminating in the unprecedented reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

His successor, Haitham Al-Ghais of Kuwait, was already due to assume the position from the beginning of next month.

Barkindo’s career in the oil industry began in Nigeria in the early 1980s. He served in various capacities at the NNPC and represented Nigeria on OPEC’s Economic Commission Board.

He was acting OPEC secretary general in 2006 before returning to the position 10 years later and has led the organization through a turbulent oil market period including steering it towards greater cooperation with non-OPEC oil producers.

“Serving as Secretary General of OPEC for two terms has been the honor of a lifetime. Over the past six years, we have witnessed both challenging and historic moments, which have underscored time and again the importance of cooperation and teamwork,” Barkindo said in his keynote speech on Tuesday.

Diamantino Azevedo, oil minister for OPEC member Angola, told Reuters that Barkindo was always striving to seek consensus for the good of the organization.

After leaving OPEC, Barkindo was due to join US think tank the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center as a distinguished fellow, the Council recently announced.

“This tragedy is a shock to the OPEC Family. We express our sorrow and deep gratitude for the over 40 years of selfless service that Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo gave to OPEC. His
dedication and leadership will inspire OPEC for many years to come,” the OPEC Secretariat said in a Tweet.

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