Nigeria upgrades CBDC as crypto restrictions cripple fintech industry

Regulation

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is moving ahead with plans to upgrade the country’s central bank digital currency (CBDC) to be used on a wider range of goods and services. It is also maintaining harsh crypto restrictions that cripple the country’s fintech sector.

The CBN Branch Controller Bariboloka Koyor spoke at a campaign aiming to “sensitize” businesses to the eNaira at a market in the country’s most populous city of Lagos on May 9 according to a report from Vanguard. Koyor stated:

“Starting from next week, there is going to be an upgrade on the eNaira speed wallet app that will allow you to do transactions such as paying for DSTV or electric bills or even paying for flight tickets.”

Koyor said the upgrade was launched to make onboarding easier, touting its wallet that had no charges and was faster than internet banking. He added that in the future, the eNaira will be the only way to receive financial assistance from the government, stressing the advantages of early adoption.

“This is a project that the CBN has rolled out to reach every Nigerian in terms of financial inclusion and in terms of efficiency, reliability, and safety of banking transactions so that we can do banking transactions very easily and safely and the people in Nigeria can enjoy the benefit of the eNaira.”

The value of the naira has fallen by over 209% in the past six years which has pushed Nigerians to adopt crypto in droves. An April report from the KuCoin crypto exchange highlighted that around 33.4 million Nigerians owned or traded cryptocurrencies in the last six months.

Restrictions on crypto trading in the country tightened after the launch of the eNaira in October 2021. The CBN banned banks from servicing crypto exchanges in February of the same year but real enforcement happened in November 2021 when the CBN ordered the accounts of two crypto traders to be frozen.

This crackdown led to commercial banks in the country tracking their customer’s accounts looking for signs of cryptocurrency trading which could cause accounts for fintech businesses to be flagged.

The restrictions on trading were cause for concern in an April report jointly published by the Secretary Generals of the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations (UN).

Related: The Central African Republic reportedly passes a bill to regulate crypto use

The report focused on the urbanization of Africa and said young Africans working in the tech sector “creating apps or trading digital currencies” were at risk from arbitrary government policies. It singled out Nigeria as an example, stating:

“The restrictions on cryptocurrency transactions…in Nigeria have crippled foreign direct investment in the fintech industry and negatively impacted millions of young Nigerians who earn a living from the sector. Many have found a way, however, to lawfully bypass these restrictions and continue business, effectively denying Nigeria the taxes and transaction fees that would otherwise come into the system”

There are no signs of CBDC adoption slowing down, recent research found 80% of central banks were considering a CBDC. On May 10, Tanzanian officials said that their CBDC plans are accelerating.

The Bank of Tanzania Governor Florens Luoga said in a Bloomberg interview that the country sent officials to countries with CBDC experience, including Nigeria, to learn from them directly citing concerns of “cryptocurrency speculators”.

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