Fear, social media clamour, open outrage amongst citizens and vivid apprehension of the outcome of what the ban on crypto means for traders and investors as well as fintech companies. To some, it was a welcome development aimed at driving the ship of the country towards a better shore. To others, it was another rule by the Nigerian government to clamp down on technology. On February 5, 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued a circular directing all commercial banks to close the accounts that are connected to cryptocurrency platforms. This was later given further clarification in a 5-paged article stating a plethora of reasons why it is not advisable to trade cryptocurrency. The article explained that the ban does not mean that Nigerians can no longer trade cryptocurrency. However, it is a measure to dissociate commercial banks from all forms of crypto trading which are considered wrong.
CBN’s reasons for banning cryptocurrency
The 5-paged article was released 2 days after the crypto ban. It explains why it is inadvisable to trade cryptocurrency and the justification behind the orders of the CBN. Rather than give a fair definition of cryptocurrency, CBN focused on the partial lapses of the currency in explaining its meaning. In the explanatory article, cryptocurrency was defined as “digital or virtual currencies issued by largely anonymous entities and secured by cryptography. Cryptography is a method of encrypting and hiding codes that prevent oversight, accountability, and regulation.”
While explaining the rationale behind the ban, the circular reiterates that Nigeria is not the first country to place restrictions on cryptocurrency. Countries like China, Canada, Taiwan, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia have placed certain restrictions on the trading of cryptocurrency. Quoting various instances where cryptocurrencies have been derided by various persons and institutions without reference to cases where Bitcoin has been praised by reputable investors and institutions. In the latter instance, Bitcoin was referred to as the new gold.
One of the reasons behind the ban is that the cryptocurrencies are issued by unregulated or unlicensed persons which contravenes the CBN Act of 2007. Also, its anonymity and decentralization quality show that “its patrons and users value anonymity, obscurity, and concealment”. The CBN explained that there would be no need for such concealment if the activities of users were legal. Nevertheless, the CBN forgot that apart from using crypto for transactions, it can also be used as a store of value.
Lack of centralization and the accompanying issues of anonymity are the predominant reasons stated by the CBN before its ban on cryptocurrency.
You may wonder why the CBN waited till 2021 to place a ban on crypto despite its popularity since 2010. This reason is not far-fetched as it explains the true reason behind February directives on cryptocurrency.
Hidden reasons behind the ban on cryptocurrency
Few months after the directives were issued to commercial banks in Nigeria, Chainalysis, a blockchain research firm, issued a report that the volume of a dollar received from crypto users in Nigeria has grown between 2020-2021. In May, Nigeria received $2.4 billion worth of crypto compared to $684 million received in December 2020. The increase occurred after the clampdown on crypto by the central bank. This shows that CBN orders have little or no effect on cryptocurrency trading.
Last October marked an important turning point in the history of Nigeria. It marked a month of consciousness amongst the youths, protest rocks every state in Nigeria against police brutality and an end to the Sars police unit under the hashtag #Endsars. The protest was the first of its kind after more than a decade. During the EndSars protest, various groups sprang up to receive donations for demonstrators to provide them with first aid, food and security. The accounts of these groups were suspended which led one of such groups, Feminist Coalition to start receiving Bitcoin for donations due to its decentralization. About $150,000 worth of Bitcoin was received which was used to support EndSars protesters.
Jack Dorsey, Founder/CEO of Twitter reshared the FemCo Bitcoin donation page with the caption “donate via bitcoin to help EndSars”. His actions might have explained the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government. The use of cryptocurrency to fuel such protests is the main unstated reason behind the recent ban.
In conclusion, the Nigerian government may pretend that the clampdown on cryptocurrency is a result of its lapses usually quoted by various countries as reasons behind restrictions. However, the activities of the Nigerian government is the fear of the inability to control the currency. It is gradually becoming the action of the current government to restrict whatever it can not control.