Nigeria Pushes for OPEC Sec-Gen as Rivals Keep Low Profile

  • Angola backs fellow African member to head organization
  • Nigeria, Indonesia have only credible candidates, says U.A.E.

Nigeria accelerated the campaign for its candidate to become the next secretary-general of OPEC, receiving the backing of Angola as rival nominees kept a low profile.

Mohammed Barkindo, who was acting head of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2006 and previously ran the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., met in Vienna this week with ministers from Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to garner support for his candidacy, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private. The group plans to replace current Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri when it meets Thursday.

Indonesia’s Mahendra Siregar -- a former deputy finance minister described by U.A.E. Oil Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei as the only other credible candidate for the post -- didn’t make a public appearance in Vienna Wednesday. His country’s delegation was scheduled to arrive in the Austrian capital Thursday morning.

African Support

Nigeria is “working very hard” to secure the role for Barkindo, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said Wednesday. There has been “lots of encouragement” from other OPEC members, he said.

Angola, the only other member of OPEC in sub-Saharan African, supports Barkindo, Minister of Petroleum Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos told reporters Wednesday. The Nigerian candidate also plans to meet with Iraq and Iran prior to Thursday’s OPEC meeting, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Venezuela’s Ali Rodriguez, 78, who was nominated last week, won’t attend the meeting in Vienna, said two people familiar with his plans. He was OPEC secretary-general from 2001 to 2002, cutting his term short to head state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA, also known as PDVSA.

El-Badri, a 76-year-old Libyan, has occupied the role since 2007. He was originally due to step down in 2012 after serving the maximum two terms permitted by OPEC’s regulations. Squabbling members weren’t able to agree on a replacement, as political rivals Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq blocked each other’s applicants, and El-Badri’s tenure was extended at successive meetings.

OPEC Feud

At OPEC’s last meeting in December, the feud over the group’s role in managing oil markets spilled over into the selection of its most senior official. Venezuela, Algeria, Iran and Ecuador -- frustrated at their inability to press Saudi Arabia into cutting production -- insisted that El-Badri’s term shouldn’t be extended another year. A compromise was reached, with the extension limited to July and his title modified to acting secretary-general.

If no unanimous decision is reached to choose a new secretary-general, the position “shall be appointed on a rotational basis for a term of two years,” according to article 28 of OPEC’s statute. This is what happened for much of the decade before El-Badri’s appointment, with the position filled by representatives from countries holding OPEC’s presidency -- a largely ceremonial role that is transferred alphabetically between members.

Barkindo spent more than 23 years at NNPC, where he served in various capacities including deputy managing director of Nigeria LNG, head of the international trading unit and manager of the state-run company’s London office. He also served for 15 years as Nigeria’s national representative to OPEC. 

In January 2009 he was appointed as group managing director of NNPC, only to be removed from the post a little over a year later by then-President Goodluck Jonathan.

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