Nigeria’s Crypto Ban Fuels Mistrust in Government
A central bank ban on crypto transactions is at odds with the government’s goal to build a digital economy around blockchain technology.
Nigeria is committed to building its digital economy, but the central bank’s recent cryptocurrency prohibition counteracts this goal and fuels mistrust of the government.
“Governments and businesses all over the world are realizing the powerful potential usability of blockchain… Nigeria, however, is lagging due to the government institutions’ sore-footedness and refractory approach to this undeniably ingenious innovation.”
So states the draft National Blockchain Adoption Strategy released by Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in October 2020. The strategy makes the case for Nigeria’s adoption of blockchain technology, including digital currencies, to build a digital economy.
Yet, on February 5, many Nigerians were surprised and angered when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced a ban on the exchange of cryptocurrency by financial institutions and directed banks to close accounts trading in crypto.
Although CBN said its policy is a reiteration of a 2017 circular warning financial institutions about virtual currencies’ risks, this announcement is at odds with its efforts toward digital transformation. Following the announcement, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) paused its regulatory review of crypto pending CBN clarification. Meanwhile, the Senate has invited the heads of CBN and the SEC to brief them on this decision.
As oil prices tumbled in 2020, taking Nigeria’s forex reserves and the value of the Naira with them, Nigeria entered a recession, and inflation stood at nearly 16% as of December. CBN has pursued several avenues for increasing forex liquidity in Nigeria, including requiring International Money Transfer Operators to distribute remittances in USD instead of Naira, cracking down on exporters who do not repatriate revenue, and restricting the use of forex for some imports.
Restrictions on foreign spending have led some banks to limit monthly foreign transactions to as low as $100 a month. Direct remittances to Nigeria also dropped over 97% between January to September 2020, increasing the squeeze on forex.
CBN devalued the Naira twice last year, and the high cost of moving money into Nigeria has led Nigerians to seek alternatives through cryptocurrency. Nigeria is the world’s second-largest peer-to-peer (P2P) bitcoin market and the largest in Africa. Crypto trading, which totaled $566 million from 2015-2020, has increased yearly since 2015, with a jump of 30% in 2020.
Driving the crypto market’s growth is users tapping into crypto as a payment, investment, and trading tool amid increasing difficulties in accessing forex and the desire to hedge the value of funds. While the COVID-19 pandemic likely plays a significant role in the remittance decline, members of the diaspora are increasingly turning to cryptocurrency to send money and avoid stiff fees and the high CBN exchange rate that reduces the value of the exchange by up to 20-30%.
The crypto exchange platform, Yellow Card, reported growth of 1,840% in remittances processed on its platform in 2020, with Nigeria making up more than 50% of its users. This increase in cryptocurrency usage tracks with the overall growth of Nigeria’s Fintech sector.
Nigeria’s digital transformation
In Nigeria, the government has made concerted efforts toward streamlining and developing policy frameworks and national strategies to advance its digital transformation. President Buhari redesignated the Ministry of Communications as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMoCDE) in 2019 and moved the National Identity Management Commission to this ministry.
Last year, FMoCDE released the eight pillar Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030 and subsequently launched a Digital Nigeria skills development platform. In support of the digital strategy, the NITDA released the draft National Adoption Blockchain Strategy, and in September 2020, the SEC released its position confirming cryptocurrency as a security. As recently as January 2021, the CBN announced its regulatory fintech sandbox framework.
In light of Nigeria’s efforts to advance its digital economy agenda, the crypto decision seems counterproductive and reactive. While the crypto ban has led to an initial chill, with banks closing accounts and some owners withdrawing their funds, it is unlikely to impact crypto’s growth.
Instead, users may move to P2P trading platforms that facilitate trading without an intermediary and allow non-fiat payment methods. Already, there has been an almost 16% jump in Bitcoin usage for P2P lending since the announcement, and Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange platform, recently introduced a new P2P option for Nigerians. Many Nigerians have attributed the decision to the CBN’s urgent need to inject and retain forex in the economy by any means. But if the goal was to increase forex or promote transparency, pushing users to P2P platforms undermines these aims.
Trust in government institutions has also taken a hit. Some view this as bureaucratic stifling of innovation or a desire to increase control and cut off a means of livelihood for many young Nigerians facing a projected unemployment rate of over 30% in 2021. The frustration expressed by Nigerians taps into a broader dissatisfaction with a government perceived as corrupt and non-responsive. The lack of public or industry consultation or policy coordination has reinforced this viewpoint, and Nigerians on Twitter launched a #WeWantOurCryptoBack campaign.
Others noted that political influence could be driving the decision after some #EndSARS protestors turned to cryptocurrency to raise funds when the government froze their bank accounts. CBN explained the decision by the need to protect consumers and counter the use of cryptocurrencies for criminal activities while emphasizing that the decision does not detract from the bank’s commitment to developing the fintech sector.
Enhanced policy coordination and consultation with the industry and users will be critical for the government to build trust, instill investor confidence, gain public buy-in, and push forward digital transformation.
Funds Flowing Into Crypto Space Hits $1.5 Billion Last Week
New money flowing into cryptocurrency space rose to a record-high of $1.47 billion last week, according to a report by CoinShares.
The huge capital inflow was after the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission approved Bitcoin ETF investing in futures and the broad-based rally that followed the announcement. Year-to-date, investors have dumped a total of $8 billion into crypto funds.
Bitcoin, the world’s most dominant cryptocurrency, rose to an all-time high of $66,974 per coin last week.
Most of the inflows go into Bitcoin-focused funds, Bitcoin focused funds accounted for 99 percent of all the $1.47 billion inflows recorded last, up from the $70 million Bitcoin exposed funds attracted in the previous week.
CoinShares attributed Bitcoin’s new attraction to the two bitcoin futures listed after SEC approval.
“This is a direct result of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) allowing a bitcoin ETF investing in futures and the consequent listing of two bitcoin investment products,” the report noted.
SEC had approved the first Bitcoin futures ETF, ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, on October 15, 2021. It was the approval that drove Bitcoin back to $60,000 a coin before it set a new all-time record.
However, while Ether (ETH), the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain and the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market value, also reached an all-time high at $4,361 a coin last week, funds exposed to Ether saw outflows for a third consecutive week. Ether outflows stood at $1.4 million last, stated the report.
“This is minor profit-taking as the price closes in on all-time highs.”
Altcoins like Solana (SOL) also saw inflows at $8.1 million, Cardano (ADA) and Binance coin (BNB) attracted inflows estimated at $5.3 million and $1.8 million, respectively.
President Buhari Says E-Naira Could Increase Nigeria’s GDP By $29 Billion
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement signed by the Presidential spokesperson, Mr. Femi Adesina and made available to the media at the unveiling of Nigeria’s Central Bank Digital Currency, the E-Naira, said that the new digital currency has the potential to increase Nigeria’s GDP by $29 billion over the next 10 years.
The President reiterated that the launch of the E-Naira makes Nigeria the first country in Africa and one of the first few countries in the world to launch a digital currency. He further said he expects the currency to enable the government to send direct payments to citizens eligible for government welfare programs as well as foster cross-border trade and assist in moving many more people and businesses from the informal sector into the formal sector, therefore, increasing the tax base of the country.
The President then congratulated the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, his deputies, and the entire team of staff who worked tirelessly to make the launch of the currency a reality.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), the approved body for operating digital communications of the Presidency, said that Nigeria will surpass the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) projections of 2.6 percent economic growth in 2021 and 2.7 percent growth in 2022. The Group believes under President Buhari, the non-oil sector is progressing and this can be seen in the sector’s contribution to the GDP of Nigeria.
Mr. Niyi Akinsiju, the chairman of the organization, and Mr. Cassidy Madueke said this in a statement in Abuja. The full statement given by the organization said ” This is not the first time that the IMF is making such projections, but Nigeria never ceases to disappoint it by recording higher economic growth. In 2019, IMF projected a 2.1 percent economic growth for Nigeria, but against its prediction, Nigeria recorded real growth of 2.27 percent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The statement further said “In a like manner in 2021, the IMF also projected that Nigeria’s economy would fall by 5.4 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It later reversed its projection to 4.3 percent, but contrary to that, Nigeria recorded 1.8 percent.
eNaira: Buhari, Emefiele Launch eNaira at State House Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele on Monday, October 25, 2021 officially launched eNaira, Nigeria’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in state house Abuja.
Nigeria is now one of the few countries to have launched digital currency ahead of nations like the United States, United Kingdom, etc.
The CBN believed eNaira will help plug loopholes in the financial system, curb illicit financial flows, strengthen security, improve data collection and monitoring.
Speaking on why he approved CBN’s decision to launch a digital currency, the president explained that his approval was “underpinned by the fact that the CBN has been a leading innovator in the form of money they produce, and in the payment services they deploy for efficient transactions.”
“They have invested heavily in creating a Payment System that is ranked in the top ten in the world and certainly the best in Africa,” the president said at the event in Abuja.
“This payment system now provides high‐value and time‐critical payment services to financial institutions, and ultimately serves as the backbone for every electronic payment in Nigeria.”
President Buhari further said, “estimate suggests the adoption of new CBN digital currency is estimated to increase Nigeria’s GDP by $29 billion over the next 10 years.
“We have become the first country in Africa and one of the first in the world to introduce a digital currency to our citizens.”
Africa’s largest economy has now launched two mobile applications for eNaira – eNaira speed wallet and eNaira merchant wallet – on Google playstore and Apple store to facilitate adoption and usage.
These applications tell eNaira potential users to“Get Ready With Your Accurate BVN Data For Your Hitch-Free Enrolment.
“To sign-up on the eNaira speed wallet, you would be required to input the following details exactly as captured during your BVN enrollment.
“First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, State of Origin, and Email.
“Your Banks are waiting to assist you in validating and updating your BVN details to ensure seamless enrolment to the eNaira Platform.”
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