Mohammad Barkindo, the secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has passed away unexpectedly at the age of 63.
Barkindo, a Nigerian, died late Tuesday, a spokesperson for Nigeria’s petroleum ministry said. The reason for his death was not immediately known.
He was due to step down at the end of this month after six years in the top job at the oil producers group.
Mele Kyari, the managing director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC), described the death as "great loss” to Nigeria, the OPEC and the global energy community.
Kyari said Barkindo died hours after meeting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and giving the main speech at an energy summit in Abuja.
"This tragedy is a shock to the OPEC Family. We express our sorrow and deep gratitude for the over 40 years of selfless service that Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo gave to OPEC. His dedication and leadership will inspire OPEC for many years to come," the OPEC Secretariat said in a Tweet.
Barkindo was a supporter of Iran and Venezuela in their fight against US sanctions, saying oil from the two OPEC members could help address the market's current tight supply.
He said the oil and gas industry is "under siege" due to years of under-investment, the cause of which in the case of Iran is the draconian US-led sanctions.
Iran’s OPEC governor Amir Hossein Zamaninia offered condolences, praising Barkindo as a “nobleman and a scientist”.
“With shock, disbelief and a heart full of sadness, I received the sad news of the death of our brother Barkindo, the honorable secretary general. As I said in the gratitude ceremony for his many services to OPEC members and the international community in the last meeting of the Board of Directors (BoG), he was a ‘nobleman and a scientist’. His absence as a friend and as an international leader will be keenly felt. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” he wrote in his message.
"My deepest condolences go out to his family, his friends, the people of Nigeria, as well as to all the representatives of the countries in the OPEC Executive Committee," Zamaninia added in his message published by Shana news outlet.
Barkindo served as acting OPEC secretary general in 2006 before returning to the position in 2016, leading the organization through some of the most turbulent times, including during the pandemic when oil prices plummeted due to declining demand.
The highlight of his tenure and legacy, however, was his initiative to steer the group towards greater cooperation with non-OPEC oil producers such as Russia, helping to steady the volatile oil market during the coronavirus pandemic.
That agreement, known as OPEC+, is set to expire this year at a time when the US and the Europeans are trying to squeeze Russia's economy over the war in Ukraine and Brent crude is traded at over $100 a barrel.
The 13-member OPEC includes members which have 1.24 billion proven crude oil reserves among them, or 80% of the world's share. Last year, OPEC member states contributed to around 48% of all world crude oil exports.
After leaving OPEC, Barkindo was reportedly due to join US think tank the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center as a distinguished fellow.