Tuesday, December 16, 2014 2:35 pm
By Angela Agoawike
On January 1, 2015, Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources and current Alternate President of the OPEC Conference, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, will formally assume the Presidency of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Conference. She was elected to that position on Thursday 27 November 2014 during the 166th meeting of the OPEC Conference that took place at the Organisation’s Secretariat in Vienna, Austria. This is not the first time that a Nigerian Minister is being elected President of the OPEC Conference. Before Alison- Madueke, there had been the current Amanyanabo of Nembe land, Dr. Edmund Maduabebe Daukoro, Dr. Rilwan Lukman, Mallam Yahya Diko and Alhaji Shettima Ali Mungono.
The election of Mrs Alison-Madueke is however history-making for it is the first time since it was established 54 years ago that a woman has been elected to the Presidency of the influential OPEC Conference. Indeed Alison-Madueke had, four and half years earlier made history at the orgnization when she became the first female Head of Delegation at an OPEC Conference.
The significance of Alison Madueke’s election lies in the fact that OPEC, whose membership is dominated by Muslim Arab countries, where the role of women in leadership is downplayed, has unanimously elected a woman as Head of the organization. The message coming from that election is that change is fast taking place even in the Arab world and Nigeria is providing the catalyst for that change. Across the Middle East where the bulk of the OPEC members are located, Africa and South America, tremendous strides have been made in mainstreaming gender into all strata of society from economics to politics and governance. Women are now holding high profile positions in public and private lives and as well in the Armed Forces. Significantly, the United Arab Emirates has produced a female combat Air force pilot while Iraq, due to the internal challenges it is going through, some of the traditional restrictions on women are being relaxed as increasingly, they take on the role of family breadwinners and soldiers at the war front defending their country. At the OPEC Secretariat itself, the situation was not different until September 2010 when the current Secretary General, Abdalla Salem El-Badri, broke with tradition and picked the first female manager. It could therefore be said to be a matter of time before the Organisation produces its first female Secretary General.
OPEC was founded on 14 September 1960 at the Al-Shabab Hall in Baghdad, Iraq by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These five countries were later joined by Algeria, Angola, Ecuador (which joined in 1973 and suspended its membership from December 1992 to 2007), Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Other Countries that joined and either left or suspended their membership were Gabon, 1975-1994; and Indonesia which joined in 1962 and suspended its membership from 2009. Currently, OPEC has 12 Members spread across Africa, Asia and the Americas.
To appreciate the role of the OPEC President, it is helpful to understand the context in which they operate.
OPEC has three main structures namely The Conference, which is the supreme authority of the organization and consists of Heads of Delegation, normally ministers of oil, petroleum, energy or equivalent portfolio of member countries. It operates on the principle of unanimity and is responsible for the formulation of the general policies of the organisation. The Board of Governors comprises one nominee from each member country and it directs the management of the organization, and implements resolutions of the conference. It is responsible for producing the organization’s budget and its implementation, subject to the approval of the Conference. The Economic Commission Board, which comprises a member from each member country is a specialised body operating within the framework of the Secretariat and assists the organisation in promoting stability in the international oil market. Finally, there is the Secretariat, which is responsible for the implementation of the resolutions of the Conference as well as the decisions of the Board. It conducts research on the oil market to assist the Conference in taking informed decisions. It is headed by the Secretary General and has secretariat staff.
Statutorily, the OPEC Conference meets twice every year and at any other time (extraordinary meetings) if the need arises. The President of the Conference chairs the meetings of the Conference and other ministerial-level meetings between the organisation and other intergovenmental organisations or nation-states. Therefore, as President of the OPEC Conference, Alison-Madueke in 2015 will preside over all meetings of the OPEC Conference. She will also preside over the 6th OPEC International Seminar which will take place on 3-4 June 2015 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, lead the OPEC Secretariat delegation to the next OPEC- European Union Energy dialogue, which will take place in Vienna. She attended the June ministerial dialogue in Brussels in June 2014 as the Alternate President.
Alison Madueke will also lead the OPEC Secretariat delegation to the OPEC-Russia Energy dialogue and the dialogues with the International Energy Forum and International Energy Agency respectively as well as any unplanned ministerial-level meeting that may come up during her presidency. However, while the 2015 Nigeria’s OPEC Conference Presidency is about Alison-Madueke being the first and so far, only woman to be elected to that position, credit should also go to Nigeria’s President for breaking with tradition and appointing her as the first female Minister of Petroleum Resources.
As far back as 2010 when she first came to the OPEC Conference as Head of Delegation, many people saw her becoming the Conference President one day. She had broken the long tradition of a male-dominated orgaization to become a Head of Delegation. The next challenge was to lead the organization. As Head of Public relations and Information Department at the OPEC Secretariat at that time, I recall receiving several calls from the international press, requesting interviews with the Nigerian Minister. She obliged as many as her busy schedule could allow. Many women at the OPEC Secretariat also felt proud to receive a female Head of delegation. That she was intelligent, articulate and beautifult were mere icings on the cake. They were just happy to see her there. The excitement was understandable for OPEC had never witnessed such a scenario.
Historians and gender activists will in future look back to the 27 November development and marvel at the extent the world and indeed Nigeria have been able to ensure gender mainstreaming in areas hitherto regarded as traditionally male. Now as the first female OPEC Conference President, the eyes of the international media will be on Alison-Madueke. Her every move and pronouncement will be scrutinized because she will be president of a group of males-liberals and conservatives alike. Some of these men will still not shake her hands, they will also not allow her to drive in their countries (should the fancy take her), but one thing is for sure, she will be presiding over their meetings and representing them at Ministerial-level meetings around the world come January 2015.
Alison-Madueke was born in 1960, in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, to His Royal Majesty, the late Frederick Abiye and Chief Mrs. Beatrice Agama from Yenaka, in the Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. She completed her early education in Nigeria before travelling to the United States to study architecture at the Howard University, Washington, DC. On completion of her studies, Alison-Madueke worked at Charles Szoradi Architects, and the American Interior Builders Incorporated as Project Engineer.
In 1988, Furman Construction Management in Rockville, Maryland, came calling and she welcomed the attention by joining the company as Design Coordinator. She was to later return to her Alma Mater-Howard University- as its in-house Project Manager and a member of the Planning and Development team responsible for the design and implementation of a master building and renovation plan for the University.
Back to Nigeria, Alison-Madueke joined the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 1992 as Head of the Project Unit of the Estate Development Division in Lagos, supervising the refurbishing and maintenance of the company’s real estate in Lagos, Abuja and Jos. From there, her next stop was the External Affairs Directorate as Head of the newly instituted Corporate Issues Identification and Management Department. In 2002, Alison Madueke was awarded the prestigious British Foreign and Commonwealth Chevening Scholarship and she proceeded to the Cambridge University, United Kingdom, where she obtained an MBA at the University’s Judge Institute of Management in 2003.
She returned to Nigeria and became Shell’s Senior Joint Venture Relations Adviser for Strategy and Planning and then Lead Ventures Relation Adviser. In this position, she took care of the company’s relations and reputation among its joint-venture partners. Alison Madueke was in 2006 appointed to the board of the SPDC Nigeria Limited as External Affairs Director, making her the first woman to be so appointed in the history of the company’s business practice in Nigeria. In July 2007, the Nigerian government brought her out from the private sector and made her Minister of Transport and in December 2008, she became the Minister of Mines and Steel Development.
– Angela Agoawike ([email protected])is the immediate past Head of the Public Relations and Information Department at the OPEC Headquarters, Viena, Austria.