Exit of Nigeria’s Oil Czar


Rilwanu Lukman, former minister of Petroleum Resources and secretary-general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, dies in Vienna, Austria. His death is regarded as a great loss to the nation and the oil industry

By Olu Ojewale  |  Aug. 4, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

HE was a colossus in the oil industry. He traversed the industry with so much verve and deftness that the world could not but mourn the passage of Rilwanu Lukman, former minister of petroleum, who died at the age of 75 years. The former secretary of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, between January 1995 and 2000, died in the early hours of Monday, July 21, in his residence in Vienna, Austria.

Since his passage became public knowledge, industry stakeholders and government officials have been abuzz with glowing tributes for the man whom many people have described as one of the best petroleum ministers the country has ever had. Mourners also agree that the outstanding engineer is a great loss to the country. While commiserating with the deceased family, the  people of Kaduna State and stakeholders in the oil industry, President Goodluck Jonathan said he shared their sorrow as “they mourn the brilliant engineer, technocrat and administrator, who spent almost all of his working life serving his country and the global community in various capacities.”

The statement issued by Reuben Abati, the president’s spokesman, said in part: “As Alhaji Lukman’s soul returns to its Maker, President Jonathan joins all who knew him in giving thanks to God Almighty for bestowing him on the nation and for the great intelligence, integrity, competence, and humility with which he distinguished himself in all his national and international assignments.”

In a similar tone, David Mark, president of the Senate, noted that Lukman was one of the few Africans who left positive footprints on the global stage. In a statement by Paul Mumeh, his chief press secretary, Mark maintained that the country had lost a bright, fertile mind in the late petroleum minister. “As a public servant, he was extra-ordinary. As OPEC secretary-general, Lukman demonstrated competence, excellence and a high sense of wisdom before the international community and, indeed, raised the reputation of Nigeria as a strategic and important global player especially in the oil and gas sector.”

On his part, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, who expressed shock and sadness over Lukman’s death, said the former petroleum minister was, indeed, a global ambassador.  Imam Imam, the speaker’s spokesman, in a statement, described Lukman as a thorough-bred technocrat who served his country diligently at home and abroad. “Lukman was a pioneer authority whose deep knowledge of the petroleum and gas sub-sector led to the formulation of various policies that have impacted positively on Nigeria. He was one Nigerian respected globally for his diligence, creativity, honesty and commitment to duty. We will miss a global ambassador who did his best for his fatherland whenever he was called upon to serve,” the statement said.

Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, who expressed shock at the death of the former minister, in a statement by his media office in Abuja on Monday, July 21, described the deceased as the nation’s best oil minister. Abubakar recalled that the elder statesman’s contribution to the management of the nation’s oil and gas sector provided the impetus for his elevation as secretary-general of OPEC. He described his death as a monumental loss and prayed that Allah would grant his family and the nation the fortitude to bear the loss.

Also shocked by the death of Lukman, Babangida Aliyu, chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, who is also the governor of Niger State, said Lukman was Nigeria’s gift to the world, adding that his intellectual inputs to the petroleum sector and science as a whole, were indelible. According to Aliyu: “Humanity has lost a thoroughbred professional, a fine gentleman, a world-class petroleum engineer and an astute manager of human and material resources, who has left indelible footprints on the sands of time.”

In his tribute, Governor Mukhtar Yero of Kaduna State, expressed grief over the death of the longest serving petroleum minister. Yero, in a statement in Kaduna on Monday, said the demise of Lukman was a great loss to the nation considering his wealth of experience in the energy sector. He said: “The passage of Dr. Lukman at this critical point of our nation’s history, will definitely create a huge vacuum difficult to be filled  as he died at a time the country needed his experience in its quest to modernise the petroleum sector to attract more foreign direct investments.”

Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum resources, who described Lukman as an exemplary statesman, in a statement released in Abuja by Ohi Alegbe, group general manager, public affairs, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, stated that his death was a personal loss to her. She said: “Our dear country and the global petroleum industry have lost an astute diplomat, a seasoned technocrat, and a trailblazer, who achieved many firsts in his lifetime.”

The OPEC, in its condolence message, acknowledged that Lukman garnered great respect among other ministers and staff at the 12-member OPEC secretariat that worked with him at the organisation over the years. His commitment and service to the organisation, it observed, was something to be praised and admired. As secretary-general of the OPEC, many achievements were traceable to Lukman’s tenure, including “helping guide the Organisation through the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998; managing OPEC’s participation with member countries in the very early United Nations COP meetings; overseeing the second OPEC Summit of Heads of State and Governments  in Venezuela in 2000; and helping evolve the producer-consumer dialogue.”  The organisation said in conclusion that: “Dr. Lukman will be fondly remembered, through his commitment and enthusiasm for Nigeria, OPEC and the petroleum industry, and his warm smile, amiable manner and positive outlook.”

Indeed, a lot of people within and outside the oil industry would miss Lukman whose humble beginning started in Zaria, Kaduna State, where he was born on August 26, 1938. He first trained as a mining engineer at the College of Arts, Sciene and Technology, Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University) and obtained his higher degree in the same subject from the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben, Austria, between 1967 and 1968. A brilliant engineer, Lukman also obtained a degree in Mineral Economics from McGill University, Montreal, in 1978, and also an honorary doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Bologna, Italy.

He had his first job in the mining industry as an assistant mining engineer with A B Statsgruvor of Sweden, a position he held between 1962 and 1964, before returning to Nigeria, to be appointed inspector of mines at the Federal Ministry of Mines and Power, Jos, Plateau State. In 1970, he became General Manager of the Cement Company of Northern Nigeria, a position he held until 1974. By 1979, Lukman had become General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Mining Corporation, Jos. He was appointed minister of Mines, Power and Steel from 1984 to 1985. He became minister of Petroleum Resources between 1986 and 1990, when he also served as chairman of the Board of the NNPC. He served as minister of Foreign Affairs between January and September 1990. He chaired the board of the defunct Nigeria Electric Power Authority, NEPA.

From 1986, he served eight consecutive terms as president of OPEC before he was elected  secretary-general of the organisation on  November 22,1994. He was re-elected to a second term in 1997, holding office until the end of 2000. He was a central figure in the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to control oil prices early in 1999, followed by agreements to reduce production levels, which led to a surge in prices towards the end of the 1990s.

He was presidential adviser on petroleum and Energy Matters to former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2000 to 2003. In December 2008, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua appointed him minister of Petroleum Resources, a position he held until March 2010. His services were recognised with various awards he received. Lukman was made a Knight of the British Empire, KBE, in 1989. In 1990, he was conferred with Officer of the Legion d’Honneur of France as well as being conferred with the First Class rank of the Order of the Liberator from the Republic of Venezuela. He was the first African ever to be honoured with the Fellowship of the Imperial College, University of London.

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