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Nigeria’s Crypto Ban Fuels Mistrust in Government

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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.

“The high cost moving money into Nigeria has led Nigerians to Seek alternatives through cryptocurrency.”

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.

Crypto ban

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.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Bitcoin

MicroStrategy Dumps Over $1 Billion on Bitcoin, Now Holds $4.78 Billion BTC

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Bitcoin

MicroStrategy Dumps Over $1 Billion on Bitcoin, Now Holds $4.78 Billion BTC

MicroStrategy, a business intelligence firm, announced it has purchased another 19,452 Bitcoin worth $1.026 billion.

The company joined Square and other companies that bought the dip witnessed earlier this week after Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Janet Yellen commented on the fast-rising digital currency.

MicroStrategy now holds 90,531 Bitcoin worth $4.78 billion, more than Elon Musk’s Tesla acquisition of $1.5 billion.

Michael Saylor, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), MicroStrategy continues to pursue a coin acquisition strategy now codified in the business intelligence company’s mission.

Square purchased 3,318 Bitcoin at an estimated $170 million value on Tuesday when the world’s most dominant cryptocurrency dipped to $45,000 before rebounding to the current level.

Bitcoin presently trading at $49.233.71 per coin as of the time of writing.

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Cryptocurrency

CBN, SEC Anchor Cryptocurrency Ban on Financial System Protection

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CBN, SEC Anchor Cryptocurrency Ban on Financial System Protection

The Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, on Tuesday said the bank’s decision to prohibit deposit money banks, non-banking institutions and other financial institutions from facilitating trading and dealings in cryptocurrency was in the best interest of Nigerian depositors and the country’s financial system.

Emefiele said this while briefing a joint Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions; ICT and Cybercrime; and Capital Market, on its directive to institutions under its regulation.

These were according to a statement from CBN titled ‘Cryptocurrency: We acted in Nigerians’ best interest – Emefiele’.

Describing the operations of cryptocurrencies as dangerous and opaque, the CBN governor said the use of cryptocurrency contravened an existing law.

He said the fact that cryptocurrencies were issued by unregulated and unlicensed entities made it contrary to the mandate of the bank, as enshrined in the CBN Act (2007) declaring the bank as the issuer of legal tender in Nigeria.

Emefiele, who also differentiated between digital currencies, which central banks could issue and cryptocurrencies issued by unknown and unregulated entities, stressed that the anonymity, obscurity and concealment of cryptocurrencies made it suitable for those who indulge in illegal activities such as money laundering, terrorism financing, purchase of small arms and light weapons and tax evasion.

Citing instances of investigated criminal activities that had been linked to cryptocurrencies, he stated that the legitimacy of money and the safety of Nigeria’s financial system was central to the mandate of the CBN.

He declared that cryptocurrency was not legitimate money because it was not created or backed by any central bank.

“Cryptocurrency has no place in our monetary system at this time and cryptocurrency transactions should not be carried out through the Nigerian banking system,” he said.

Also speaking, the Director-General, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr Lamido Yuguda, clarified that there was no policy contradiction between the CBN directive and the pronouncements made by the SEC on the subject of cryptocurrencies in Nigeria.

He explained that the SEC made its pronouncement at the time to provide regulatory certainty within the digital asset space due to the growing volume of reported flaws.

Prior to the CBN directive, he said, the SEC had in 2017 cautioned the public on the risks involved in investing in digital and cryptocurrency.

He said that the CBN, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation and the SEC had between 2018 and 2020 issued warnings on the lack of protection in investments in cryptocurrency.

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Cryptocurrency

Demand for Crypto Debit Cards Surges 194% in 12 Months

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Demand for Crypto Debit Cards Surges 194% in 12 Months

Data presented by Crypto Parrot indicates that global interest in the keyword ‘crypto debit card’ has surged by 194.1% over the last 12 months on the Google Search platform. The interest attained a peak popularity score of 100 in February 2021 while a year ago it was at 34.

Among countries, Nigeria leads with a peak popularity score of 100 followed by Australia at 45. The Netherlands ranks third with a score of 44 followed by Canada at 40 while the United States comes in fifth at 39.

Interest from the United Kingdom ranks sixth with a score of 36 followed by India at 15 while Germany is eighth with a score of 12.

Entry of payment companies into crypto fuels interest

Several factors have led to the strong interest in crypto debit cards mainly due to the increased adoption of digital assets. The report highlights other drivers for the interest. According to the research report:

“Furthermore, there has been an explosion of companies like Visa and Mastercard getting involved in crypto payment systems through debit cards. At the same time, more merchants are increasingly adding digital currencies to payment methods. It is, therefore, logical that people would be interested in acquiring crypto debit cards.”

Being a new financial phenomenon, crypto debit cards might face regulatory hurdles from non-crypto friendly jurisdictions.

In general, the crypto debit cards are helping holders get involved in the digital assets’ space while bridging the gap between the digital asset world and traditional finance space.

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