Barkindo never shied away from visiting leaders around the world and advocating for abundant, cheap and reliable energy.
By NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Chamber of Energy (EnergyChamber.org)
Many will agree that OPEC Secretary General HE Mohammed Barkindo walks in the same shoes as the late world leaders Kofi Annan, who served as United Nations Secretary General, and former Minister Dr. Rilwanu Lukman. Nigerian and Secretary General of OPEC, who has been described as one of the most influential and respected ambassadors of the oil industry. Barkindo, throughout his tenure in OPEC, fought the good fight, finished his career, and kept the faith. After six years of what can best be described as remarkable leadership, he will hand over the reins to his successor, Kuwaiti Haitham al-Ghais, this July.
We knew the day was coming. After all, the position has a limited term and no one can lead the group forever. Barkindo has always been against staying one day longer than his term.
Yet the industry has grown accustomed to Barkindo’s steady hand at the helm, guiding OPEC through the volatile waters that global oil and gas producers must navigate, including growing public sentiment against fossil fuels.
Had he maintained order during his tenure, that would have been enough, especially given the turmoil caused by the pandemic. But Barkindo is not one to settle for the status quo, even in the most difficult moments.
Of course, he could never have anticipated the global control of COVID-19. But he had the foresight to imagine how much of an impact OPEC could have through cooperation on an even more global scale, and that turned out to be key to stabilizing the market when demand hit record lows.
Barkindo cultivated a highly respectful relationship with oil-producing nations inside and outside OPEC, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, and Russia, as well as with U.S. shale producers. His talent for building bridges it was just what OPEC and producers around the world needed. In 2017, Barkindo steered OPEC towards a mutually advantageous relationship with 11 non-OPEC producers (10 nations since Equatorial Guinea joined OPEC in May 2017), including Russia. The benefits of the OPEC + alliance were very evident in 2020 when the pandemic hit and travel almost stopped in its tracks. It didn’t help that an oil war broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia in March of that year, boosting production when demand was at a dramatic low. In April, oil futures plunged, for at least a day, into negative territory and the oil industry was in jeopardy. It was Mr. Barkindo who deftly brought all parties together to find a solution: the 23 members of OPEC and OPEC + agreed to record cuts in production, a move that helped oil prices to recover faster than they could. they could have done it differently. This result is a testament to Barkindo’s skills as a leader, though of course President Trump took credit for solving the crisis. The OPEC Secretary General knew that the longer the price war continued, the more economic damage would be inflicted on Africa and many poor people around the world.
A champion for Africa
As head of OPEC, Barkindo has a duty to be impartial. However, it is not surprising that during his tenure the number of African member countries has increased. The homeland of Barkindo, Nigeria, joined OPEC 50 years ago. In his own words, the nation “played an important role in promoting the organization’s focus on cooperation, goodwill, a sense of belonging and unity, and in working to achieve the stability of the oil market, aware of the benefits that This brings both producers and consumers. Since then, that sense of belonging and unity has spread to Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo. Today, those countries have a seat at the table, so to speak, a greater say in how their oil resources are used to benefit their people and grow their economies.
Recognizing its support for the continent’s energy industry, in 2018 the Africa Oil & Power Conference named Barkindo its Africa Oil Man of the Year. His leadership demonstrated that “if you want to go far, you go together,” said Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons of Equatorial Guinea.
“He has been a great defender of African countries and has given them a voice to help stabilize oil markets,” added Obiang Lima.
Barkindo has also been an advocate for Africa in the larger discussion on the energy transition. Having led Nigeria’s technical delegation in the UN climate change negotiations for 30 years and serving three times as Vice Chair of the Conference of the Parties: COP13 (Bali, Indonesia), COP14 (Poznan, Poland) and COP15 (Copenhagen , Denmark) – is realistic about the way forward. He strongly believes that a world eager to meet the challenges of climate change must also accept that all sources of energy will be needed to meet current and future demand, especially as energy poverty remains a reality in large swaths of the continent.
Barkindo never shied away from visiting the world’s leaders and advocating for abundant, cheap, and reliable energy. He also didn’t shy away from difficult conversations. I remember him going against the advice of his advisers to have a civilized discussion with a climate change activist who insisted on protesting OPEC in Vienna. A pin could be heard drop as he spoke about energy poverty and his own experience growing up in poverty in Nigeria. His eloquence, transparency, and respectful approach gave many of us chills. He urged the young protesters to hold on to the idea of making the world a better place and welcomed them to be part of the solution to global solutions.
Over the past year, Barkindo has been a particularly outspoken opponent of the current move to restrict investment in hydrocarbons. Unless more is spent on new oil and gas developments, he warned, the world should prepare for energy shortages and rising prices. Shortly after the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Mr. Barkindo said that oil and gas had been unfairly flagged at the event as unsuitable for the energy transition, a claim that is blatantly false. The global gas shortage that occurred in the fall of 2021, when European countries became increasingly dependent on burning coal instead, should have been a global “wake-up call,” he said, that investment is required in the entire oil and gas industry.
During a visit to Congo Brazzaville, Oil Minister Bruno Jean Richard Itoua and the current OPEC president described Barkindo as a true son of Africa, a man with a love for the continent who embraced the Congo without reservation. There are so many stories that it would take a book to cover everything Mr. Barkindo does when it comes to encouraging investors to look at Africa and urging Africans to create an environment conducive to doing business. I can tell you this: he does it with class.
Served with integrity
For many African companies and countries, Barkindo has been a source of encouragement and inspiration, broadening their belief that success is possible. He raised their sights and encouraged them to serve with integrity and maturity.
In turn, leading OPEC has been a positive experience that changed Barkindo’s life. He has made amazing friends whom he calls family, and I think if you asked him quietly if he would do it again, the answer would be yes. He will still tell you: “I am proud of OPEC and I am a proud Nigerian and Africa is my home.”
Although Barkindo has not publicly said what his plans are after al-Ghais succeeds him, his legacy is assured. A veteran of Nigeria’s energy industry, equal parts businessman and diplomat, and a humble person of unfailing faith, his wisdom, strength, advice and direction are greatly appreciated and will be deeply missed in OPEC. But, knowing Barkindo, he would be quick to ask us to be patient with him; he would point out that God is not done with him yet.