Here today, gone tomorrow is a common saying. But with the then outgoing Secretary-General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Alhaji Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, it was here in the morning, gone at night.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari had a schedule by 10 am to receive Barkindo, the OPEC scribe who was rounding off his tour of duty after six years.
We started congregating in the council chamber, venue of the meeting, from about 9.30 am. Barkindo came with two of his sons, and some members of the OPEC Secretariat. Bigwigs of the oil industry, led by Timipre Sylva, Minister of State Petroleum Resources, GMD NNPC Company Limited, Mele Kyari, and other top shots were equally on hand, to be part of the tribute to a true Nigerian son, who had made the country proud both at home and abroad.
I was Master of Ceremonies, and Barkindo sighted me from afar, behind the podium, before the event started. He got up from his seat, and strode briskly towards me. We had known each other since between 2009 and 2010, when he had served as Group Managing Director of the NNPC. All our meetings since then had always been genial, convivial. Just last December, he had sent me end of the year gift all the way from Vienna, seat of OPEC.
I came from behind the podium to receive Alhaji Barkindo. We shook hands, and he thanked me for what he called the good works I’d been doing “for President Buhari and for the country,” praying that God would reward me. I said amen, congratulated him for a successful tenure at OPEC, and gave best wishes for the future.
But there would be no future beyond that day, at least not on this side of the divide. However, it was unknown to me, to Alhaji Barkindo, and possibly to everyone in that chamber at that time.
At the dot of ten (he rarely misses it), President Buhari strode in. And the event started. We took the National Anthem, and I invited Minister Sylva to give the introductory remarks. He thanked the President for the support he gave Barkindo to be OPEC scribe, and recalled how he helped the man to succeed during his tour of duty.
Next to speak was the outgoing scribe himself. He had always been a corpulent person, but was he looking a bit trimmer? I didn’t dwell too much on it. As you grow older, you tend to shed some weight. He was looking very well kept, and that was all that mattered.
Barkindo spoke passionately, straight from the heart, thanking the President. Whoever knew it was an au revoir at that time.
“Mr President, Excellencies, distinguished colleagues from the oil fraternity. I am deeply humbled by this audience you are giving me today, with my colleagues from the OPEC Secretariat, and my compatriots in the oil community in our dear country.
“Mr President, may I say it’s honor of a lifetime for you to have given me the opportunity to serve as OPEC Secretary-General Number 28. I’ll forever remain grateful.
“I recall vividly that when I assumed office in the summer of 2016 in Vienna, oil prices had dropped to below ten dollars per barrel. It was very obvious to me that it was beyond OPEC alone to handle. I recall that I consulted with you on telephone, and I benefited, indeed, drank from your deep knowledge of OPEC affairs. And we were able to steady the oil market.
“Throughout the period I served, I benefited from your tremendous goodwill. Everywhere I went in this world, both within OPEC and outside, the first person that Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings ask for is you. They say, how is my brother, President Buhari? I, therefore, benefited from this charisma of yours, the international gravitas you have, and it made my job much easier.
“I try to follow your large footsteps. And the future looks very promising.
“On behalf of OPEC, I thank you very much. I wish you good health, long life, and continued service to humanity.”
It’s honor of a lifetime, he said. Did he know that the life was ebbing out, indeed, to terminate that very day?
I’ll forever remain grateful, he also said. Did he know that forever was just at the door, and about to knock? Oh, this world is fleeting, ephemeral, will-o’-the-wisp. What is man that thou art mindful of him? Man, whose breath is in his nostrils, the Good Book says.
We are as good as that breath in our nostrils. When it ceases, we are done, gone, across the bridge, to eternal life. If only we are conscious of this daily. But as human beings, we often forget, and live as if it would last forever. But the masquerade festival always ends, no matter how long it lasts. Therefore, whether it’s long or short, let’s make our life matter. Barkindo did, and it ended at 63. He now rests, after what Shakespeare calls“life’s fitful fever,” where we are like actors on a stage, and we have our entrances and exits.
President Buhari applauded Barkindo’s service to Nigeria and OPEC. He then directed stakeholders in the oil industry to organize a befitting reception to welcome him home. The directive was followed by massive applause. But it won’t happen. He won’t need it now.
We dispersed from the event, full of joy. The honored guest spoke at another oil and gas event in Abuja later that day. And by 11 pm, he bade the world goodbye. Out in a blaze of glory.
Rest, they say, is sweet after labor. Barkindo had a lifetime of work. He was poised to have his due rest. But the rest became eternal. He has been laid to rest in his native Yola, Adamawa State. May God grant him Aljannah Firdaus. Amin.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity