Nigeria’s Candidate for OPEC’s Top Job Emerges as Front-Runner

  • Iran, Angola and Kuwait back Mohammed Barkindo to lead group
  • Indonesia’s Siregar seen as only other “credible” candidate

Nigeria’s candidate to become the next secretary-general of OPEC emerged as the front-runner after Iran, Angola and Kuwait pledged their support.

Mohammed Barkindo, who was acting head of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2006 and previously ran Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., has met ministers from multiple countries this week in Vienna to garner support, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private. OPEC plans to replace current Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri at its summit on Thursday.

Barkindo is a “good” candidate, Kuwait’s Acting Oil Minister Anas Al-Saleh said in the Austrian capital. Angola also backs Barkindo, Petroleum Minister Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos said, while Iran’s Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said “first we will support Nigeria” for the candidacy.

Barkindo is vying with Indonesia’s Mahendra Siregar, a former deputy finance minister, and Venezuela’s Ali Rodriguez for the role. While the Nigerian candidate has energetically canvassed support since arriving in Vienna, the Indonesian delegation wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Thursday morning and Rodriguez decided not to attend, according to two people familiar with his plans.

Field Narrows

There are now effectively only two candidates for the position: the Nigerian and Indonesian nominees, Iran’s Zanganeh said. “First we will support Nigeria, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t accept the Indonesian candidate," the minister told reporters in Vienna. United Arab Emirates Oil Minister Suhail Mohammed Al Mazrouei also said the field had narrowed to just two “credible” candidates.

El-Badri, a 76-year-old Libyan, has been secretary-general since 2007. He was originally due to step down in 2012 after serving the maximum two terms, but squabbling members weren’t able to agree on a replacement and his tenure was extended at successive meetings. On this occasion Nigeria is set on achieving a consensus, and has received “lots of encouragement” from other members, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said Wednesday.

Rota Fallback

If no unanimous decision is reached, the position “shall be appointed on a rotational basis for a term of two years,” according to article 28 of OPEC’s statute. That is what happened for much of the decade before El-Badri’s appointment, with the role 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. 

Venezuela’s Rodriguez, 78, who was nominated last week, was OPEC secretary-general from 2001 to 2002, cutting his term short to head state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA. His candidacy has been supported by Ecuador.

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