Vienna, Austria – Nigeria is pushing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to name its oil minister as its secretary-general, people familiar with the matter said Tuesday, a move that could end a long-running leadership standoff at the cartel, but which could also be controversial at home.
Nigeria’s delegation at OPEC has put Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke forward as a contender for the group’s top job, OPEC delegates said. If approved by the organization’s other members, she would be the first woman to lead the group.
But Ms. Alison-Madueke has become a polarizing figure in Nigeria. She is closely allied with President Goodluck Jonathan. As head of the oil ministry, she has been criticized for alleged petroleum-wealth mismanagement and corruption.
Ms. Alison-Madueke’s spokespeople have denied allegations that up to $20 billion in oil revenue disappeared during two years of her four years as petroleum minister, an allegation levied by the governor of the central bank in February. She has said little herself on the matter, or on corruption generally. She recently declined to appear before a legislative panel probing whether she spent $61 million in government money chartering jets for personal trips.
Asked by a reporter if Nigeria had put her name forward as a candidate to head OPEC, Ms. Alison-Madueke said “that would be wonderful…I don’t know anything about that.” But Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaiby said she had raised the issue of her candidacy during a meeting earlier Tuesday. “We were surprised by this subject,” he said.
OPEC’s current secretary-general, Libyan Abdalla Salem el-Badri, was due to retire at the end of 2012. But OPEC delegates haven’t so far agreed on a replacement, and he continues to serve in the post. While the job is largely ceremonial, it is highly coveted as it provides a platform on the global economic stage for the country that holds it.
Inside the organization, jockeying for the top job is often more heated than the debate over OPEC’s bigger mission–setting the group’s quota for oil output. OPEC members produce one out of every three barrels of oil consumed in the world and tailor output to keep prices robust, but not so high that they encourage a shift among consumers to alternative sources of energy. The secretary-general doesn’t have an official vote in those decisions, but can act to broker compromise among members.
In the past, the group’s Arab members have sparred with Iran over the leadership role. That has often favoured a member from outside the Middle East for the top job. Nigeria has, until now, refrained from nominating Ms. Alison-Madueke amid the standoff. If she gets the post, she would have to relinquish her role as oil minister.
Nigeria is proposing to put her nomination as secretary-general on the agenda of OPEC’s semi-annual meeting slated here for Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. In recent days, Ms. Alison-Madueke has met oil ministers from Iraq, Libya and the United Arab Emirates, according to delegates. Her delegation has also approached Iran and Saudi Arabia, these delegates said.