Wednesday 25 August 2021 8:30 am

E-naira: Digitising Nigeria, improving lives, and advancing national infrastructure

                       

By Dozy Mmobuosi and Alex Lightman      

Nigeria is more amazing than the world realises, and I think the nation deserves far more attention. It’s the future in more ways than one.

Nigeria is the largest English-speaking country in the world after the United States and it has achieved successes that should make it a model for governments floundering with COVID. Its healthcare system has achieved impressive successes on a global scale, fighting two of the most dangerous outbreaks: Ebola and SARS-COV-2.

How Did Nigeria Quash Its Ebola Outbreak So Quickly?

Authors of a paper in Eurosurveillance attribute Nigeria’s success in ’avoiding a far worse scenario’ to its ‘quick and forceful’ response. The authors point to three key elements in the country’s attack:

  • Fast and thorough tracing of all potential contacts
  • Ongoing monitoring of all of these contacts
  • Rapid isolation of potentially infectious contacts”

The lessons of halting an urban Ebola virus outbreak within 93 days were remembered and applied to SARS-CoV-2 and allow Nigeria’s COVID numbers to be so much better than those of the USA that the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health should send delegations to learn from the Nigerian government how to do things better and save lives.

The difference in COVID deaths per capita between the USA and Nigeria is absolutely shocking.

Nigeria has 207 million people and is the largest nation in Africa measured by population and seventh in the world. Nigeria’s population is about 60% the size of the United States’ with 338 million according to the recent census, third by population in the world.

Nigeria’s death toll from the novel coronavirus is just 2,229 (# 95 among the world countries). In the US, COVID deaths are more than 640,000 (#1).

The USA is 61% larger than Nigeria by population. If the USA had the same deaths per capita as Nigeria, it would have had only 3,575 COVID deaths. If you do the math, the USA had 179 times the deaths per capita of Nigeria.

It would take a detailed article to explain why. We included this comparison to shake people who don’t know about Nigeria out of a sense of superiority so that they might open their minds to the possibility that Nigeria is a place we can learn from…because in many ways, it’s the future.

Advanced digital economic foundations

Now Nigeria’s financial system has a chance to create one of the most advanced digital economic foundations, uniting bottom-up initiatives (with the largest adoption of decentralised digital currencies) with the top-down CBDC, e-naira.

M-Pesa, Kenya’s fintech innovator, used mobile phones to create an ecosystem that transformed the lives of millions. When future historians write about the evolution of money, they will see that the mobile phone, not the plastic card, was the nail in cash’s coffin.

The Nigerian Сentral Bank is going to launch its own Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), e-naira, in October. This CBDC will operate as a wallet for citizens who can use e-naira in their bank account. 

Implementing e-naira and a digital wallet (DW) has the potential to bring numerous benefits to the Nigerian economy and its major stakeholders, including citizens, businesses, and all levels of government. Programmable money in a digital wallet could, if desired by the Central Bank, boost the speed of transactions and overall economic activity in Nigeria. E-naira could become a genuinely innovative productivity and GDP amplifying tool.

This digital currency could change the financial system in big ways – by cutting costs and making transactions easier, more convenient and more transparent – setting an example Nigeria can use to join global leaders in fintech innovations.

This local publication based on CBN’s document has revealed some details:

  • The digital currency will coexist with current payment methods. CBN will design the e-naira and distribute through regulated financial institutions, while the latter would in turn provide the digital cash to individuals and businesses.
  • Under the e-Naira regime, individuals and businesses will be able to transfer value in real time through existing and future payment channels. People would also be able to transfer value in real time while offline to other persons and businesses.

Range of banking services

The digital currency regime also introduces a range of banking services and integration with new systems, providing new possibilities for the payment architecture. 

According to the CBN governor Godwin Emefiele, the new currency can help increase financial inclusion in the country’s “over 30 percent of bankable adults still outside the financial system”. The CBN also predicts that “transactions will be cheaper and more efficient”.

A digital wallet and digital currency can enhance the efficiency and transparency of Nigeria’s national payment system. At the same time, they will ease and increase the convenience of payment processes through mobile phones as primary financial services instruments.

Quoting Bank of England Staff Working Paper No. 605… “digital currency issuance could permanently raise GDP by as much as 3%, due to reductions in real interest rates, distortionary taxes, and monetary transaction costs. As a monetary policy instrument, it could substantially improve the central bank’s ability to stabilise the business cycle.”

Below, we outline areas where Nigeria can benefit as a result of increasing adoption and usage of digital currencies, and e-naira in particular. According to an estimate by the BBC and other sources, up to 32% of the country’s population are cryptocurrency users. Nigeria will become the first country in the world where the population will simultaneously actively use both private and public digital currencies, securing its leadership in this crucial direction that many believe is poised to shape the world’s economic landscape for the next few decades.

Positive impact of digital currencies

Adoption of Digital Currency in Nigeria

Quoting Covid-19: Opportunity for reflecting on prospects for inclusive growth in Nigeria,
“Nigeria has recorded consistent increase in pace towards globalization and embraced more liberalization policies over the last three decades, with more internationalization into the global economic system.”

The combination of mass adoption of crypto in Nigeria (32%) and the creation of digital wallets for every Nigerian have the potential to both increase financial inclusion and unlock access and enable engagement into a variety of decentralized initiatives that could bring a lot of value, as outlined below.


Сointelegraph, in its August 2021 publication, mentions that “according to data from Google Trends, Nigeria still ranks No. 1 by search interest for the keyword ‘Bitcoin’ as of this writing. P2P Bitcoin trading denominated in the Nigerian naira has also steadily increased in 2021, with Nigeria ranking behind only the United States as the second-largest market for peer-to-peer BTC trading, according to Useful Tulips.

The growing Bitcoin adoption in Nigeria has helped Sub-Saharan Africa emerge as the leading region by P2P volume, with the region posting $18.8 million in weekly volume to beat out North America’s $18 million this past week.”

Weekly P2P volume by region (USD equivalent, Aug 2021): Usefultulips.org

Security

The private key system underlying digital currency architecture will make payments more secure. Over time, control over the private key will become the main tool for ensuring personal information security. Developers of both CBDC and private digital currencies will be forced to reckon with the community, improving and decentralising the payment infrastructure in order to increase its security level and reduce the threat of fraud to a minimum. The more your money belongs to you and not to the bank, the more your information is stored with you.

New communities, governance and DeFi

Over time, users will turn from simple holders of digital currencies into active participants in a new digital ecosystem. In addition to the usual commercial relations, this ecosystem will be based on various communities and Web 3 mechanics that will engage users together, based on the proximity of their backgrounds and interests.

[1]

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are definitely an important category of such new digital communities.

The advantage of DAO is the ability to create a basis for interaction for almost any group of people, framing it around smart contracts and blockchain. Examples of these types of DAO include (but are not limited to) small groups of friends or a creative team that distributes profits. At the same time DAO could be a local or even international organisation.

In these permissionless systems, anyone can take part without divulging their name and become a user, contributor, investor, or governance member. Cryptography and blockchain will protect the immutability of history. Financial incentives and reputation guarantee the predictability and stability of future DAO development.

[2]

DeFi will also be enabled and fast-tracked by the balanced adoption of CBDC and decentralized tech in Nigeria. DeFi is not about competing with banks, it rather is about creating a new financial infrastructure platform into which banks will be forced to integrate. Or stay overboard. Stablecoins democratise the foreign exchange market. Now fiat currencies are competing with each other so that you choose them to save value. Nigeria, creating a digital version of its national currency, makes the country competitive in this innovative game.

Work and education

By giving millions of Nigerians access to the banking system through digital wallets, e-naira will make it much easier for them to find a job and to learn new skills. In the modern digital world, diplomas lose their importance: the competence of employees becomes the main focus. In traditional education, you receive a diploma or certificate, whatever your qualifications.

Based on e-naira infrastructure, Nigeria will be able to introduce specialised educational communities and new types of organizations, including DAOs. They can create small groups on selected tracks, have cool guest speakers give regular lectures, facilitate collaboration on real projects, and even pay students in tokens for the successful completion of the program.

With the help of digital wallets, any Nigerian citizen will be able to receive payment for their work in e-naira, or in other digital currencies, which will greatly simplify its search. By working remotely, Nigerians will be able to learn the skills they need online at work or pay for online education with available funds.

Conclusion

Other areas of innovation related to the potential programmability of payments include:

  • Automation of payments, including taxes and stimulus/unemployment packages.
  • Best practices of loyalty points and airline miles, enabling “food stamps on steroids”. Time limit on special forms of digital money (eg: aid to be spent on food and necessities) would increase velocity of transactions.
  • During the largest economic crisis of the 20th century (1932) in the city of Worgl, Austria, a similar approach increased economic activity ~12x, eliminated unemployment, and enabled the city government to rebuild city infrastructure, including new houses, a ski jump, and a bridge.

With the ubiquity of smartphones, the Nigerian economy and financial system are ready for a big leap forward – powered by the e-naira, digital currencies and technologies – along with relevant current and future benefits outlined above, all provided through the user-friendly digital wallet and ecosystem built on top of it.

Dozy Mmobuosi is a Nigerian technology entrepreneur and author. He is the founder and CEO of Tingo International Holdings, Tingo Remit, and NWASSA.
Alex Lightman is the Director of Tingo Mobile, an innovative telecom and fintech company that serves the markets of Nigeria and other African countries. He is also the founder and chairman of Keemoji, founder and CEO of KeePay, makers of digital privacy keyboards and a new platform for cashback, payments,  managing tokens and digital collectibles. He is the author of Brave New Unwired World and Reconciliation, the co-author of Augmented: Life In The Smart Lane, and recipient of four global awards, including the first Economist magazine Readers’ Award for innovation, beating Elon Musk in a global vote.


[1] Source of image https://www.nec.com/

[2] Source of image https://www.nec.com/

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