Remembering the Oil Supremo, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman

July 21, 2014 was not only a sad day for the family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances of Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, but for the entire global oil and mining industry. It was the end of an era for the man fondly called the ‘Oil Man’ in the industry. 

According to an ancient saying, ‘God preserves humanity despite its many transgressions because at any period there are individuals who, without being aware of their role, redeem mankind’. 

Late Dr. Lukman was such a man, propelled to prominence by a sequence of unpredictable events. He had an impact so profound that it’s rightly to be considered providential. Unassuming and without guile, he undertook to restore the confidence of achieving every task vested on him. Never having aspired to national office, he was never consumed by driving ambition. In his understated way, he did his duty as a leader and technocrat, not as a performer playing to the gallery. 


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He was, in the reckoning of many, a powerful figure in Nigeria’s and global contemporary political history. His beliefs and ideas went on to mold not just the development of the Nigerian oil sector, but OPEC and the global oil industry. He was a recurring decimal in the oil industry for almost half a century, holding portfolios in the sector both in Nigeria and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). 

Dr. Lukman was born in Zaria on August 26, 1938. He attended Tudun Wada Elementary School, College of Arts, Science, and Technology (now Ahmadu Bello University) and trained as a mining engineer at the Royal School of Mines of the Imperial College London. He holds a Master’s degree in Mining and Mineral Exploration from the University of Mining and Metallurgy Leoben, Austria (1967-68) and obtained another Master degree in Mineral Economics from McGill University, Montreal, in 1978. His first job in the mining industry was as an Assistant Mining Engineer with A B Statsgruvor of Sweden (1962-1964). 

He served the country in the following capacities; Inspector of Mines, Senior Inspector and Acting Assistant Chief Inspector in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Power from 1964 to 1970. He was the General Manager, Cement Company of Northern Nigeria (CCNN) 1970 to 1974 and Chief Executive officer of the Nigerian Mining Corporation from 1974 to 1984. He served as the Minister and Special Adviser in the following ministries; Mines, Power and Steel 1984-1985; Petroleum Resources and Chairman of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) 1986-1990; Foreign Affairs, January 1990 to September 1990; Chairman of Board of Directors of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) 1993-1994; Special Adviser on Petroleum and Energy Matters 1999-2003; Honorary (unpaid) Adviser on Petroleum and Strategic matters 2007-2008; Petroleum Minister 2008-2010. 

From 1986 to 1994 he served eight consecutive terms as OPEC president. He was elected OPEC secretary general on 22 November 1994 and was re-elected for second term in 1997, holding office until the end of 2000. He was the 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 the Chairman of Afren Nigeria which was established in May 2005, served as members of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), SPE board as regional Director for Africa, member of Ivanhoe Mines (South Africa), member of the Supervisory Board of Dietsmann NV of the Netherlands, a leading International Operation & Maintenance company in the upstream energy sector. 

Dr. Lukman’s influence and impact at the global energy industry might be well known in his native Nigeria, but he was more revered internationally. For decades at the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, he ran the affairs of the influential body as its Secretary General and President. He was widely recognized and acknowledged as a consensus-builder who helped guide OPEC through the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998. 

He also managed OPEC’s participation with member countries in the very early United Nations COP environmental meetings and oversaw the Second OPEC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Venezuela in 2000 after a very long gap of 25 years. He played a pivotal role in the evolution of the producer-consumer energy dialogue, a hallmark of the organization’s collaborative approach towards a stable oil market, with non-OPEC producers and consumers. To the staff at the OPEC Secretariat, the ‘Oil Man’ was a perfect gentleman – quiet, kind and fair in his dealings with them which no doubt explains why the secretariat’s press release described his commitment and service to OPEC as “something to be praised and admired”.

Dr. Lukman was a champion of the oil and gas sector reform in Nigeria. When the Oil and Gas Sector Reform Implementation Committee (OGIC) was formed in 2000 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to review the industry and offer better ways of managing the industry, he was appointed Chairman of the Committee. One of the major outcomes of the OGIC is the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) (although modified in many respects) that is currently before the country’s National Assembly. If approved and signed into law, the PIB is expected to usher in a conducive business environment for domestic petroleum operations, enhance exploitation and exploration of petroleum resources in Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerians and other stakeholders, and unbundle the national oil company – the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – to make it a fully-fledged commercial company, among others. 

Respected and revered internationally, especially within the oil and mining sectors, he had a realistic view of the contemporary world. He was sought by many who desired to benefit from his wealth of knowledge. The ‘oil man’ left the public and international service with no regrets, no second-guessing, and no obsessive pursuit of his place in history. 

He held an honorary doctorate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Bologna in Italy. Also, the Universities of Maiduguri, Ahmadu Bello University and Moore House College Atlanta (United States) at various times conferred on him Honorary Doctor of Science. A recipient of several international awards, he was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 1989, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur of France in 1990, conferred with the First Class rank of the Order of the Liberator from the Republic of Venezuela and conferred with national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) of Nigeria. 

He was the first African ever to be honored with the Fellowship of the Imperial College, University of London. In April 8, 2014 he was conferred with the prestigious Al-Attiyah Lifetime Achievement Honorary Award for the Advancement of International Energy Policy. He was a member of several professional bodies, such as the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), the Nigerian Metallurgical Society, and the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society.  

Dr. Lukman is survived by his wife, three children and four grandchildren, and would be fondly remembered for his commitment, power of conviction and enthusiasm for the Nigerian petroleum industry, OPEC, and the global mining and oil industry. 

May Almighty Allah grant him eternal rest in Jannatul Firdausi.

Yahaya wrote from Gwarinpa, Abuja. 


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