Comparing the Divide: The oil that lies underneath Big Spring, Texas, and Warri, Nigeria, creates economic distance and physical barriers between workers who extract the crude and their privileged bosses. Big Spring and Nigeria also share similar Gini coefficients — the standard measure of income inequality — of .431 (Big Spring) and .437 (Nigeria).
WARRI, Nigeria — On the outskirts of Warri, the brooding commercial capital of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State, the streets leading into brand new multi-million dollar developments reek of crude oil.
In a casual display of excess, gallons of the delta’s “light and sweet” crude — possibly the most valuable commodity on the planet — are dumped daily into the open gutters to suffocate the mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water.
Starting in 2009, when the government enacted an amnesty program that saw several thousand Delta fighters exchange weapons for cash, followed by the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, a native of the Niger Delta, there has been an overall effort to redirect oil wealth back to the communities that host Africa’s largest oil industry. Since then, a small, emerging segment of the population — primarily politicians and former militants with access to government contracts and revenues — has grown spectacularly wealthy and powerful, while most Nigerians remain poor and beholden to the generosity of the elite.
In communities like Ubeji, a neighborhood in Warri, wealth from oil rents fuels the construction of mansions at a furious pace, bypassing the building of roads and other public infrastructure, like water and electricity. As a result, there is no urban plan. Bumpy dirt paths weave through a random scattering of lots featuring custom metal gates, electric security fences, private water towers, industrial-sized generators and paved driveways. Black foreign luxury cars with dark tinted windows slink through the jungle maze and disappear into fortresses.
“The government doesn’t provide anything,” explained Moses Okotie, a resident of Ubeji who works for a local oil company operating between Warri and the nearby Escravos terminal – Chevron’s largest oil tank firm in the country, one of the largest oil producers in the world. “So we have build it ourselves. We are the government here.”
Every morning, throngs of people gather outside the steel gates of these homes to wait for a possible meeting with the community’s “chairmen,” oil barons who sit atop vast hierarchies upon which thousands of people depend, both formally and informally, for a lifeline. Their “boys” man the entrances, dressed in high fashion purchased on recent trips to London, Paris and New York City. Many of the new oil rich here own second homes in Texas, close to expat American oil workers who work on their land. READ MORE