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Chad Oil Boon
SEPTEMBER 2005
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Video: Why We Chose Africa
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale



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Chad Oil Boon






    I ended up covering this story because of a slideshow I did on Iraq at my son's school. A Berkeley professor named Michael Watts, who had a son in my kid's class, was also there. Afterward he asked if I wanted to go to Nigeria with him. He was writing a book about the history of oil in the Niger Delta and wanted me to take the pictures for it.
    We traveled around Nigeria for three and a half weeks. Michael has done research and worked for NGOs there for the past 30 years, so that gave me a built-in network of guides, interpreters, and contacts.
    If I had tried to go on my own, I probably wouldn't have gotten a visa because it's extremely difficult for journalists to get in. But Michael and his people smoothed the way for me with a letter from the editor of This Day, a major Nigerian newspaper, and the governor of the state of Delta. It was an incredible opportunity.
    The first thing that struck me about the delta was the poor quality of life for the people living there. Billions of dollars of wealth are being pumped out of the land, and yet hardly any is finding its way back to them. There is very little running water or electricity. I even encountered women drying tapioca paste by a gas flare at a Shell pumping station (see pages 62-3). It really showed the gross injustice of oil. I could barely stand the heat and the smell of the exhaust, but these women were spending a large part of their days exposed to toxins. How much would it cost Shell to build a few communal ovens? $500? A thousand? We're not talking about millions of dollars here. Although the local and federal governments and the local tribal structure are also part of the problem, the delta's situation is going to spiral in a negative direction unless something changes. 
    I never saw any foreigners in the more rural areas, so every time I walked into a village I heard, "Yebo! Hey, Yebo!" That's basically the equivalent of someone saying, "Hey, whitey!" Well, the fact that I'm dark, or brown, didn't matter to them because from their point of view I'm a white person. But it didn't offend me because they weren't doing it to be menacing. It was more like, "Wow, a white person has come to visit us. How nice!" I found it endearing.
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