Tributes have been pouring in following the sudden death of outgoing Opec secretary general Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, who died late in the evening of 5 July, aged 63.

“He was the much-loved leader of the Opec Secretariat, and his passing is a profound loss to the entire Opec family, the oil industry and the international community,” the Secretariat in a statement said.

“Throughout HE [His Excellency] Barkindo’s long career, there have been several central themes that have driven him: an infectious passion for the petroleum industry; an unwavering belief in oil’s poverty eradicating potential; a steadfast commitment to sustainable development; the importance of dialogue and multilateralism; and, most fundamentally of all, treating everyone with respect and kindness,” it added.

Born on 20 April 1959, in Adamawa State in Nigeria, Barkindo leaves behind a wife and children. He was buried on 6 July in his hometown of Yola. The cause of death is not yet known.

His education included a BSc (Honours) in political science from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, in 1981, followed seven years later by a postgraduate diploma in petroleum economics from Oxford in the UK. He subsequently earned an MBA in finance and banking from Washington University in the US.

From 1982 to 1985 Barkindo worked for the Nigerian Mining Corporation, and from 1984 to 1986 he was a special assistant to the nation’s minister of mines, power & steel at the time, Rilwanu Lukman.

It was also in 1986 that Barkindo first attended Opec ministerial conferences as a Nigerian delegate.

In 1992 he joined the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) where he held various posts over a 24-year tenure, including president of Duke Oil, chairman of NAPOIL and chief executive of Nigeria LNG.

From 2007 to 2009 he oversaw all Nigerian federal government projects vested in the NNPC as co-ordinator. Barkindo was a member of the committee that produced the original draft of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill and led NPCC’s transformation programme as enshrined in the Oil & Gas Industry Reform Implementation Committee report of 2008.

He was elected secretary general of Opec in 2016, replacing Libya’s Abdullah al-Badri, to serve a six-year term. A decade earlier, he had served a stint as acting secretary general of the Vienna-headquartered oil producers’ group.

Barkindo died just hours after giving a speech at an energy summit in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Later that day, he was welcomed at the State House by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who called him a “worthy ambassador” of the country.

“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,” Buhari told Barkindo.

“There is no doubt about your efforts in putting together the Declaration of Co-operation, which is the largest co-operative effort in the history of Opec and the global oil industry and also the longest in duration in the history of the organisation. This was a Herculean task,” Buhari added.

Focus on climate issues

Barkindo led Nigeria’s technical delegations to the climate change negotiations that produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC.

He was elected vice president of the Conference of the Parties at COP13 in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007. Barkindo was re-elected vice president at COP14 in Poznan, Poland, the following year and again at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

Barkindo was a founder delegate to the formation of the African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA) in 1986 and a delegate to APPA ministerial conferences from 1987 to 2010.

He was also a pioneer member of the International Energy Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and helped strengthen and consolidate Opec/non-Opec co-operation and dialogue.

He played a crucial role in the Opec+ deal that saw non-Opec producers collaborate with the cartel to moderate global prices when demand plummeted in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite the attainment of so many heights in his career, HE Barkindo remained a selfless man of great humility and decency, treating everyone, irrespective of rank or office, with dignity and courtesy. A trailblazer widely admired and respected throughout the globe. A dear friend to many,” the Opec Secretariat added in its obituary to a “genuine Opec icon”.

“This is indeed a very sad day for the Opec family,” said Haitham al Ghais, the Kuwaiti oil official who was earlier elected to become the next secretary general.

Al Ghais has an official start date of 1 August.

“Barkindo has led the organisation during extremely turbulent times for the global oil market, and his remarkable role and valuable contributions, along with our organisation’s long history of dialogue and co-operation, put us in a strong position to continue supporting stability and balance in the global oil market,” al Ghais said.

Kindness remembered

Barkindo’s kindness was remembered by Yesar Al-Melaki, an analyst at MEES Energy.

He said in a tweet: “First time I met Mohammad Barkindo I was a nobody, just a fresh energy economics graduate. Talking to him, he put me immediately at ease, asked for my business card — I didn’t have any. He offered his, gave me another one and asked me to write my info on the back.”

Outside of work, Barkindo engaged in charity work, and he also enjoyed reading — one of his favourite scribes was poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi — and football.