OPEC: The Shuttle Diplomacy that Produced Barkindo

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After 10 months of shuttle diplomacy by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the oil ministers of the member countries of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in an unprecedented unanimous decision at their meeting in Vienna, Austria, appointed Nigeria’s Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo as the Secretary General of the cartel. Ejiofor Alike reports

Before he was confirmed minister of state for petroleum in November 2015, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, already had a good grasp of the global politics of oil, having effectively combined the roles of the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the minister since August 2015, when he was appointed the boss of the state-run oil company.

Since he became minister, Kachikwu has shuttled between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, visiting some of these countries twice each to canvass support for Nigeria’s bid to clinch the position of OPEC secretary general, taking into consideration the huge influence of Saudi and its Gulf allies in the politics of the cartel.

Having recommended Barkindo to President Buhari, he had hit the ground running to galvanise international support for Nigeria’s official candidate.

The minister presided over the 17TH ordinary ministerial meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Tehran, Iran on November 21, 2015 to complete the tenure of the former minister of petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.

He also attended the Fourth Meeting of High Level Ad Hoc Group (HLAHG4) as well as the Executive Board (EB) Meeting to discuss internal and procedural issues.

Following the HLHAG4 and EB, the 17th Ordinary Ministerial Meeting was chaired by the Nigerian minister, while the Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting was presided over by Iran.

The Ordinary Ministerial Meeting discussed the internal issues on the agenda such as budget and election of secretary general.

On Monday (November 23), the 3rd GECF Gas Summit was held with President Buhari in attendance to discuss market outlook and strategy.

With the strong support of Buhari, Kachikwu not only used his position as the President of the 17th ordinary meeting of the gas exporters to push Nigeria’s agenda but also used the opportunity to hold bilateral meetings with other dignitaries on the sidelines of the working sessions, where Nigeria’s agenda was promoted.

Buhari also met with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani during his two-day visit and also held bilateral talks with other participating heads of state and government on the sidelines of the GECF summit, where the Nigerian dream was pushed to the front burner.

The 2015 meeting of the member countries of GECF in Tehran reviewed the current market outlook on gas and discussed strategies for boosting gas production.

The summit also provided a framework for exchange of experience, views, information and data as well as coordination in gas-related developments among member countries.

GECF consists of 17 main and observer members with its permanent secretariat in Doha, Qatar.

Many OPEC members belong to GECF, whose members include: Russia, Iran, Qatar, Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and the United Arab Emirates.

Netherlands, Iraq, Oman, Peru and Norway enjoy observer status of the body.

GECF members account for 42 per cent of global gas output, 70 per cent of global gas reserves, 40 per cent of pipe gas transmission, and 65 per cent of global trade of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

OPEC Shuttle

Kachikwu also presided over the 168th (Ordinary) meeting of the OPEC in Vienna on December 4, 2015, to complete the unfinished tenure of Alison-Madueke.

Before the meeting, Iran had rejected Saudi Arabia’s call to join OPEC production cut.

Iran’s Oil Minister, Bijan Zanganeh, said he was not sure whether his country would bow to pressure to accept production cut just to stabilise the market.

On his plans for OPEC, Kachikwu had promised to do his best to delay Iran’s intended oversupply of crude oil.

Speaking to reporters in Lagos, he had said: “I think the key thing will be obviously crude oil price. There is a lot of sensitivity on that, $42 currently and with potential to go down if Iran throws their barrels into the field. My first target as I meet with ministers one-on-one is to try to delay Iran’s flooding of the market to the last quarter of next year. I will be talking with Iran’s oil minister on that so that we can stabilise the price. Maybe, hopefully, by the first or second quarter of next year, we will begin to see how that statement can now embolden us to go and begin to address removing the 1.5mbpd production that is lying in the market internationally,” he had explained.

Benefits of Shuttle Diplomacy

After months of shuttle diplomacy anchored by Kachikwu, Nigeria’s quest to clinch the top job at OPEC, yielded dividend recently as the cartel in a rare compromise, decided unanimously to appoint Barkindo as its new Secretary-General after years of friction over the issue.

The group has been looking for a replacement for Libya’s Abdullah al-Badri, who was elected acting secretary-general in December and whose tenure will end in July after serving full terms.

Barkindo is expected to occupy the position for three years in the first instance with effect from August 1st 2016.

Rising from its 169th Ordinary Meeting, OPEC expressed its appreciation to the outgoing Secretary General, His Excellency Abdalla Salem El- Badri for his leadership of the Secretariat and the Organisation during his tenure.

Barkindo is coming to the position with a 23-year career in NNPC and the oil and gas industry.

He was a one-time group managing director of NNPC and had actually served as acting secretary general of OPEC in 2006 and handed over to his predecessor where he served with distinction.

Other positions he has held were: deputy managing director/chief executive of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas: managing director/chief executive, HYSON/CALSON, an international trading arm of NNPC: general manager, NNPC London Office; Head, International Trade, NNPC London Office.

He served for a record 15 years on the OPEC Economic Commission Board as Nigeria’s National Representative. Apart from chairing the OPEC Economic Commission Board, he also chaired the Strategic Production Quota Committee of OPEC.

According to a statement by the NNPC, Barkindo is an advocate of Climate Change Initiative and has led Nigeria’s technical delegation to the climate change negotiations that produced the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC and the Kyoto protocol to the UNFCCC during which he served on the Bureau of the UNFCC at various times.

He obtained a B. Sc degree in Political Science in 1981 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, a post Graduate Diploma in Petroleum Economics in 1988 from College of Petroleum Studies, Oxford University, UK and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the South Eastern University, Washington DC.

With his appointment, Nigeria now has a strong voice in the global oil market with its attendant benefits in the areas of quota and output allocation.