It is hard-hitting for me to pen down this tribute. You will understand my grief if you can relate with the thoughts of French poet and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine who said that “Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated”. I am still in shock by the events that took place on 5th of July, 2022 in Abuja. Prior to that day, on Monday, June 27, I received a message from His Excellency, Dr. Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, now late, informing me of his arrival in Nigeria the previous Friday with the whole of his family, and that he would be observing self-quarantine till the following weekend, promising that we would see after the period. In our usual way of communication, I replied him with cheers, expressing my joy on his safe return and welcoming him home finally, since I was aware that he was coming home finally after a very tasking assignment as the Secretary General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that lasted for six years. Thereafter, we continued with our daily communication which was usually done via WhatsApp chat.
The following week, precisely on Monday, 4th July, I set out from my house in Kaduna under the early morning rain with the hope of attending the first session of the Nigerian Oil and Gas (NOG) Conference and Exhibition 2022, which was scheduled to begin that day. After a journey of about 100 km on the dangerous Kaduna-Abuja Road, an unfortunate life-threatening incident happened that made me abandon my vehicle and continued the journey with commercial cab. Little did I know that that incident was a lesser calamity that will befall me that week.
I arrived Abuja later than expected, and I was able to attend the first day of the Conference, though, I missed the earlier sessions. I later sent message to His Excellency, to inform him that I was in town which he later replied that we should meet the following day. I was at the event venue early so that I can get a seat knowing fully that almost who-is-who in the Nigerian Oil and Gas will attend the official opening ceremony that day. The event started as scheduled, but the Hon. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and some of the Heads of government agencies under his ministry were conspicuously absent, though their seats were reserved. However, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Otumba Niyi Adebayo, who was there earlier, delivered his speech and left the venue for another engagement as we were told by the master of the ceremony.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, the VIPs that everyone was waiting for, started arriving in droves. Dr. Barkindo was looking good in his trademark Indian suit that normally distinguished him among the crowd. Except for the little stress visible on his face, which I attributed to his busy schedule, especially in the last one month before his tragic demise, who on earth could have predicted that His Excellency was at the conference to bid us farewell?
How could a person who survived the COVID-19 pandemic, who was elated to join NOG in person after two years of participating in the event virtually, die that very day? How could a person who paid tribute to the founders of NOG, his mentor – Late Rilwan Lukman and Dr. Allirio Parra, both of blessed memory, join them in heaven that very day? How could a person who said the oil and gas industry was under siege due to global geopolitics, COVID-19 pandemic and inflationary pressures across the globe, and that for the NOCs to continue to innovate and flourish, they need predictable and unfettered access to investment capital, depart the world he was trying to make a better place that very day?
How could the pilot who weather the storm of two major oil circles – the severe market downturn in 2015 and 2016, and the almighty COVID-19 pandemic, die after the dust has settled and threats disappeared. Did he die from the ‘hidden injuries’ he might have sustained during the voyage? How could a man that was celebrated by his President at a highly publicized reception in the Presidential Villa die few hours later? How could a man who spent about 30 minutes to deliver 25 pages of speech, one of the longest speeches ever at NOG, die later same day? Only God knows.
I remembered after the speech, the applause by the audience wasn’t satisfactory not until the President of the Independent Petroleum Producers Group (IPPG), Mr. AbdulRasaq Isah came on stage to deliver his speech, that he reminded the audience that His Excellency, Dr. M.S. Barkindo deserves a standing ovation from the audience going by his excellent intellectual and diplomatic acumen which he always displayed at all the international energy gatherings such as Cera Week in Houston, and was always greeted by a wave of standing ovation by foreign nationals.
Dr. Barkindo was phenomenal! I have never seen an individual who understands the power of communication like him. He utilized information technology to the core. Despite his busy schedules at OPEC, he reached out to many people every day to the extent that many wonder how he practically managed himself to be that flexible.
I will not forget how he kept checking on me to make sure I was safe for almost two hours after the train I boarded, the March 28 Kaduna – Abuja train was attacked by terrorists. He happened to be one of the few people who were in touch with me when the rescue operations were going on by the Nigerian Army. I remember him asking me that please I shouldn’t hesitate to inform him of any help I needed at that time.
I didn’t know Dr. M.S. Barkindo when he was the GMD NNPC. The only GMD that I met prior to my sojourn in Valuechain Magazine was Engr. Funsho Kupolokun, because I used to be the only media reporter then, working on the business desk of the New Nigerian Newspapers, that was given unrestricted access to the then GMD whenever he came to Kaduna for NNPC management course graduation that usually took place at the city.
My path with His Excellency crossed in 2018 when I sent him some copies of Valuechain Magazine. He was in Nigeria for the end of the year holiday if I could remember well. As fate will have it, he picked interest in the magazine from the moment he saw it. I remember him sending me a word of encouragement about the quality of the publication through his close confidant, Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim. Since then, my relationship with him continued to bloom to the extent that hardly a day will pass without us chatting.
I met him face-to-face in August last year when he accorded me and my team a great reception. I and my media colleague, Sopuruchi Onwuka had a two-hour media interview with him in which he took us through his adventure at OPEC, politics of climate change and energy transition. That engagement opened my eyes on his versatility in knowledge, diplomacy, humility, and above all, his devotion and faith to his religion and love for his family and mankind.
Wali, as he was popularly called, didn’t discriminate. Everyone was his own. He treated people based on their quality. He loved young people that were creative, who were willing to change the status quo narratives in Africa. Every young man I met that was once close to His Excellency has good testimony of him. People like NJ Ayuk of the African Energy Chamber, Tonye Rex Idaminabo of Arkflix and many more can testify to what I am saying.
My heart bleeds up till this moment that I am writing this tribute. Any time I think of his family – his aged mother, Hajiya Sa’adatu (Hajja Kudi); wives – Hajiya Safiya and Auntie Hadiza, his children – Sadiq, Yahaya and Asmau; close associates, people such as Sen. A.B. Adamu, Ndu Nghamadu, Hasan Hafidh, Suraj Matori, Umar Lukman and others too numerous to mention; I usually ask myself who will fill the vacuum His Excellency created. A big Iroko tree has fallen, and all the people under its shade are now under the sun. Who will give them umbrella?
May the soul of His Excellency, Dr. Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, Wali Fombina, rest in Aljannat Firdous.