Friday 19 February 2021 9:20 am

Think Bitcoin is under-priced? Not if you’re Nigerian

Nigeria is a very interesting place and the vast city of Lagos can be a very intimidating place if one is a white man and isn’t travelling in a big car with security.

Lagos is named after its lagoon and the white people who go there live in their secure homes on Victoria Island, safe from the real Africa that lies across the three bridges to the mainland – the biggest one being the Third Mainline Bridge that until 1996 was the longest bridge in Africa.

This writer was in a car at 100mph on that bridge at midnight, somewhat tipsy and with two American Christians and one insane South African oilman.

After egging on the taxi driver, who was associated with the hotel we were staying in, to go faster, we were almost blown into the sea by the crosswinds and into the infamous floating water slums of Maloko below the bridge.

We were flagged down by the rozzers at the end of the bridge, but sped past them and found a nightclub with 2,000 people off their heads. We were the only white people and, somehow, I ended up playing pool for money at the back of the club with the local Top Man. Being out of one’s depth doesn’t even come close, but sometimes the fates are with you.

I’m quite good at pool, slapped down some Naira, the local currency, on the table and we had three close games, all of which I lost. At one point he even tapped his cue on the floor when I made a good shot. This is a huge sign of respect between men.

Then hell literally broke loose. The owner of the club went crazy because of the gambling, the South African ran off with the accumulated money on the table to spend some time with a prostitute, and it all kicked off.

Fled from the club

I tried to stop a fight after our driver took exception to something or other, I paid off the Top Man, apologised for our driver and we finally escaped after three girls, two pimps and two legless men on trolleys got into our taxi and tried to stop us from doing so as we fled from the club… after finally finding the driver in one of the rooms with said prostitute.

So, Lagos is a tricky place. The traffic is insane – 30,000 people move to the city every week from across Africa, but somehow it works and is probably the future of the world, this is where drone deliveries will become mainstream.

But the Naira isn’t exactly fungible and its currency rate is strangled by the centralised bank and government; the people are under monetary control because of the Naira’s yearly depreciation since it took over from the British Pound in 1973.

Inflation comes every year, every month, so there’s no surprise that savvy Nigerians look away from dealing in Naira or even the de facto currency of dollars to invest in Bitcoin.

Naturally, the state was never happy about that and earlier this month, like other benighted countries such as China, India, Russia and other terrified centralised sovereign countries, Nigeria banned it. Even Google seems to endorse this.

No surprises to what happened next. While Bitcoin surged to up to $52K across most of the world, the price of Bitcoin in Nigeria super-surged to $76K (at time of writing) because of the usual tussle between supply and demand.

Sometimes it makes me wonder why anybody tries to ban anything. Look at Barbara Streisand… and the so-called Streisand Effect. In 2003 she tried to sue a photographer for $50 million for taking a picture of her Malibu mansion. Another form of silly suppression.

Nobody was singing A Star Is Born when she initiated those proceedings, more like a A Ban Is Dumb. She lost the case and was vilified for doing so.

Sex Pistols

I’m sure she sold the house for a good price because there really is no such thing as bad PR, but banning things never works. People are interested in things that are banned, whether they are books or Sex Pistols album covers for, shock-horror, using profanity.

Hence the price of Bitcoin in Nigeria. Now Nigerians will flood to buy Bitcoin however they can and the sovereign currency Naira will continue to deflate and suffer.

The same happened to me on that night in Lagos. They tried to ban us from playing pool for money, but I emerged with a story that I’m still telling on what was one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. That is another form of really fungible currency.

It could have ended in tears or a wet night in the Maloko slums, but all turned out okay. And so it will for Nigerians and their crypto future. The rest of the world is catching up first and realises there is no going back. It’s like banning the internet in 1998 and, although sovereign countries occasionally shut it down to stifle dissent, they always turn it on again.

Nigerians, like the rest of their wonderful continent, will find ways to circumvent the ban and may become better known in the online world for Bitcoin payments and savings than from the alleged scams that the country is known for.

Undoubtedly the main man who beat me at those games of pool is probably one of those people and presumably he will bang his cue when he wins again in crypto.

Even so, he was really lucky on the black in our second game on that night in Lagos. I hope he remembers that.

Monty Munford is a renowned tech journalist and has his own podcast

He WAS a keynote speaker/emcee/moderator/interviewer at prestigious events around the world until Covid destroyed his conference speaking career… until 2023. He has spoken at more than 200 global events.

He was previously a weekly tech columnist for Forbes in New York, the Telegraph in the UK and continues to write regularly for the BBC, The Economist, The FT and… City AM.