Open Letter to Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele on cryptocurrency
August 2016, while involved with CBN, transitioning through Barcelona hotel, Abuja, I had an encounter that changed the trajectory of my destiny. I was introduced to Cryptocurrency and Blockchain. For a year since arriving in Nigeria, I encountered the challenges of making a US dollar money deposit to a Nigerian account. My company then was a Forex and trading company, and because of the Nigerian fiscal policy against the US Dollar, it became untenable and not sustainable for my business to survive in such an environment which ended up folding six months after entering the market. Six months before that, I had quit my job as a Key Account Holder working for a multinational firm with Huawei Technologies years of experience. I was confident based on my professional background and knowledge of the market that this business idea had a chance to turn a profit. This was not to be.
Upon shutting down, I went home and tried to reconcile my thoughts on what happened, what aspects of establishing the business I missed and if I could do this again, what would I change. Through the night I was restless and couldn’t sleep as I tried to figure out the next steps of my entrepreneurial life. The following day, I went to Barcelona hotel for an occasional mid-week business engagement with some of my contacts and that is when I met Alex Mekudi. He introduced me to Ada Njideka Onunuju and she took about fifteen minutes to describe this technology that supported Cryptocurrency which is called Blockchain. I listened intently to the presentation and the details of this disruptive technology and how it worked.
He spoke of how it is transnational and borderless and solves money transfer and transaction issues in an ingenious, secure, and almost instantaneous way limiting the number of transaction points and middlemen. More astonishingly was the reduced cost and the community and ecosystem built around it and delivery and support of other services and industry. I started now to see the possibility of how my business would have survived and navigated the restrictive ‘financial landscape’ of the Nigerian economy.
I started to re-imagine the company utilizing this new technology but saw the challenges inherent in the current structure and business processes that will limit its implementation. To truly tap into the potential of this new technology, if indeed it is what it has been described, will require building a new organization from the ground up with a different mindset. Little did I know that this thought process will set me on a path to cofounding KuBitX, a full-scale centralized crypto exchange, a bold and audacious step two years later in 2018.
KuBitX, like many early adopters, faced challenges that included failure to scale up, investing heavily in building the platform, and front-loading a large staff. Based on some of the lessons learned from the initial set-up and growth phase, several adjustments have been made to the organization in terms of its business and technology executives to enable it to have sustainable and persistent growth. Some of the key set-pieces include over time, the organization has leveraged technology to build financial solutions enabling assets to be tokenized and exchanged between trading parties without interfacing with crypto. Also, encouraging staff to attend key engagements such as conferences, forums, or evenings of discovery as a methodology to not only bring awareness to KuBitX but its offerings and by recruiting a community to build on its ecosystem. I have attended as many workshops and conferences as possible in the field of FinTech.
The first-ever conference in Nigeria was organized by the Chartered Institute of Bankers Nigeria (CIBN), February 28, 2017. Notable attendees to the event included Mr. Musah Jimoh, director of payments CBN, Mr. Muhammed Jibrin, chief executive officer Suntrust Bank, among others. During the deliberations, the consensus was beginning to build around technology as a driver of product development and delivery to the customer, consumer/customer protection, and proactive policy to help institutions and organizations define the financial landscape so that they can design financial products and services for their customers.
Six months following the landmark conference, I was invited to CBN headquarters for a Financial Technology stakeholder’s forum. The intent is two-fold; through insights gathered from the interactions, precipitate would be potential policies, and refine these policies and put them in parliamentary language so that they can be tabled and passed into law. A similar backdrop, retrospectively of looking at this process, would be a similar case that took place in India. The reserve bank put a banning order specific to the FinTech industry. The Internet and Mobile Association of India petitioned it the case at the Supreme Court in a Writ Petition (Civil) No. 528 of 2018 against the Reserve Bank of India. Local stakeholders in Nigeria such as SIBAN, BNUG, CDIN, and other core startups in 2021 may have to explore such a mechanism that meets regulatory, policy, and operational requirements of stakeholders and the industry from the Apex Court of Nigeria in negotiating and navigating towards a lasting. solution for Blockchain and its associated layers.
It is also my opinion that the National Assembly could exercise influence, similar to the US Senate did following lobbyists and CEOs of different blockchain and Crypto organizations lobbied to the Congress to review and revise the financial regulatory requirements and regulatory uncertainties by adopting the new technologies and practices which shall be regulated under the existing financial system mechanisms. The US system is a complex arrangement that demonstrates that disruptive technology can exist and become part of the regulated financial market. CashApp, Coinbase, and recently, PayPal financial are larger than all the commercial banks and their assets in Nigeria combined. The three aforementioned organizations have one thing in common; they trade cryptocurrencies.
The key focus now on the issue should shift to command and control; issuance and management of money for a long time has been the domain of the Central Bank (Federal Reserve for the US). The discussion, specific to African governments needs to broaden to include inclusion and adoption of cryptocurrencies in their local economies and the functionality of their citizenry in their day-to-day life. Much work needs to be done in the policy and legitimization of such systems and structures and more importantly, operations. Using the Apex five-page report as to some of the challenges we expect along the way and the mischaracterization of the majority of the clientele on the platform. Like fiat currency, bad-faith actors will always probe and explore vulnerabilities and gray areas in a system to carry out their illicit activities and cloak their identities. Cryptocurrency is but another medium for them to achieve this just the same way they have utilized the existing financial system. One of the statements on the report stood out; “ Second, the very name and nature of Cryptocurrencies suggest that its patrons and users value anonymity, obscurity, and concealment. The question that one may need to ask therefore is, why any entity would disguise its transactions if they were legal. It is based on this opacity that cryptocurrencies have become well-suited for conducting many illegal activities including money laundering, terrorism financing, purchase of small arms and light weapons, and tax evasion. Indeed, many banks and investors who place a high value on reputation have turned off from cryptocurrencies for illegal activities. In fact, the role of cryptocurrencies in the purchase of hard and illegal drugs on the darkness website called ‘silk-road’ is well known.”
This challenge presents a unique opportunity to African governments to be trailblazers and not laggards who continuously depend on the ‘heavy-lifting’, intellectual rigor of others who develop and define the space and upon successful implementation, ‘copy and paste’ these solutions to their constituents with the so-called ‘foreign-benchmarking-trips’ and ‘expatriate-implementation-teams’. During these engagements with CBN over the years, there is a clear and growing frustration among the stakeholders of the’ wait and see’ mentality as well as ‘we are not there yet/ready yet’ outlook on things by African policymakers and governments who stifle and continue to propagate an unfavorable environment of innovation, policy shaping and pioneering among many African entrepreneurs and businessmen and women.
Therefore, to solve this impasse, African governments need to take the issue of Blockchain to heart and see it as one of the several stepping stones towards financial inclusion for their constituents by working in conjunction with FinTech stakeholders to define the financial landscape policies which in turn will spur business growth and bring new businesses to the fold and thus make the issue of financial inclusion tenable. Remaining as a government domain through current monetary policies continues to make money only accessible to the above average and wealthy, who are very few, and the majority of the population continues to languish in poverty.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency, when well understood, and implemented based on the local government needs and by each case basis provide a solid financial technology structure and governance towards a sustainable financial future for the African governments. ‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge’ — Stephen Hawkins.
Article by Eric Annan, Entrepreneur on Mission