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Crypto Regulation or CBDC? What Africa’s Biggest Crypto Hotspot Requires?

Crypto in Nigeria
Image Credit: Kabiru Yusuf

On February 5, 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria rolled out an order urging financial institutions to close the accounts of persons or entities that transact in or operate a cryptocurrency exchange.  According to the apex bank, digital currencies generated by unregulated or unregistered firms raise legal concerns because they can be used to perpetrate illicit affairs; money laundering and terrorism. While this gives partial explanations to the clampdown on cryptocurrency in Nigeria, there were uproars from various quarters. Questions were raised on whether or not the ban of crypto was the way forward to the growing interest in digital currencies. The clamour for regulation of cryptocurrency was not only limited to the masses, it includes Senators, Honorable members of the House and the intervention of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

About 5 months after the supposed ban on crypto was made, CBN made another giant stride. At the Monetary Policy Committee Meeting (MPC) held on Tuesday, July 27, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, confirmed that a digital currency (CBDC) will be launched in October. What exactly is the CBN digital currency about? How does it affect Nigerians, especially crypto traders? Why does the CBN have to launch digital currency when regulations can be made for the existing cryptocurrency? These and other questions still linger in the minds of financial analysts and crypto enthusiasts.  Thus, the need for this article. 

What is CBDC?

The CBDC is an ‘e-Naira’ that is supported by law and can be used as legal tender. Due to this, it is usually considered as the central bank’s liability.   CBDCs are blockchain-based but centralized and supervised by bank regulators. This is the distinguishing factor between cryptocurrency and CBDC; while the former is highly decentralized, the latter is centralized and regulated by the central bank that created it. To achieve its centralization, every bank connected to the blockchain system can collate transaction data that can be aggregated and relayed to the CBN. Just like stable coins, the digital currencies will be pegged to the fiat Naira at 1:1.  The currency would most likely be issued to commercial banks which in turn be made available to customers. The CBN started research on CBDC in 2017 alongside 80% of other central banks. However, only the Bahamas, the Eastern Caribbean and China have implemented it in practice. The CBDC is set to be Africa’s first digital currency as it is closest to being pulled through. Other countries like South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and Kenya are working on introducing digital fiat currencies. 

How CBDC affects Nigerians: a Gift or a Curse? 

Any Nigerian operating a business will certainly be concerned about the effect of the CBDC on the financial market. For crypto enthusiasts, it is another form of witch-hunt put in place by the central bank to clamp down on cryptocurrency. Since digital currency is the future and cryptocurrency is “evil” as proposed by the apex bank, CBDC will enable faster transactions and promote the development of e-commerce. It will create innovative opportunities in the financial system as new business opportunities will arise from emerging business models, financial products and services. While there seem to be endless advantages of CBDC, its curses are no doubt evident in the ways it will be regulated. Transparency and centralization of the digital currency will enable the central bank to know who is holding what money at a particular point in time. With such regulation in place, the government can use CBDC to surveil the citizens, determine how much they earn, what they use the money for, where they save the money. Since it can be used to determine the amount a particular person earns, it allows the government to leverage tax on citizens. These are the ‘ill’ cryptocurrency permits, hence, its ban. 

Crypto Regulation or CBDC? 

 You may wonder why the central bank is interested in creating its digital currency when it could tap into the existing cryptocurrency. The reason behind this is not far-fetched. One of the important reasons for the ban on cryptocurrency was because it is highly decentralized. Not only because the government does not have control over it but because transactions are only known to the two parties involved without the parties knowing each other. This allows some users to carry out fraudulent activities; cybercrime and money laundering through cryptocurrency. A call for the regulation of cryptocurrency is quite impossible due to its decentralization, to solve the problem of anonymity, there is a need to launch a digital currency that can be monitored. To the Nigerian government, CBDC has the same function as cryptocurrency (except the issue of anonymity which is unimportant if one has nothing to hide). It is the government’s way of regulating crypto and embracing the opportunities the new system provides. 

In conclusion, while the CBDC may seem like a plot by the Nigerian government to further clamp down on cryptocurrency and to monitor the citizens, it is rather counter-productive to critique before it gets launched. For now, it is an idea that is yet to see the light of the day, the loopholes can only be confirmed after its launch in October.  

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