BY EEKA EJERE
In a bid to ensure the Nigerian economy reaps the full benefits of Africa’s first digital currency, eNaira, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is wooing the banking public to embrace the platform as a safe and efficient means of transaction.
The latest of such attempts was a sensitisation programme for traders, bureaux de change, socio-cultural groups, and other stakeholders held last week at Kairo Market, a popular textile market in Oshodi, Lagos in collaboration with Bizi Mobile Cashless Consultant Limited.
Similar efforts by the apex bank had earlier been made in Benin City, the Edo State capital in February, during a seminar tagged: “Promoting Financial Stability and economic development”.
On October 25, 2021, Nigeria became the first African country to launch a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), called the eNaira. Weeks before its launch, discussions around the eNaira dominated Nigeria’s financial space.
Only eight countries globally had successfully launched a CBDC before Nigeria, hence there were plenty of speculations and expectations.
But nearly seven months after, the eNaira is struggling to gain adoption among Nigerians.
According to a projection by a source in one of the commercial banks leading in the digital currency platform, the eNaira is expected to be running on about 10,000 downloads per day (dpd), in the second quarter of this year (Q2’22).
The projection follows the 7,300 dpd recorded in the first quarter of the year, (Q1’22).
The source, however, indicated that though the downloads record is not doing badly given the relative novelty of the product, the operators are concerned with the low level of Person-to-Person (P2P) transaction, indicating that actual usage by individuals is not as active as the downloads.
According to the source, Person-to-Bank and Bank-to-Person have remained upbeat constituting about 90% eNaira transactions so far.The CBN has stated that the eNaira transactions recorded range from P2P; Person to Merchant (P2M); Bank to Person; Person to Bank and Bank to Merchants and Merchants to Bank.
Consumer wallet downloads have also been far predominant over merchant wallet, a situation analysts believe has to do with lack of awareness by businesses as well as restrictions regarding Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), and other Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements.
In January, CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, said the present rollout of the eNaira was intended for banked Nigerians, adding that the BVN is included as a requirement to prevent fraudsters from hacking into the system.
Emefiele further stated: “Since its launch about three months ago, Nigerians have continued to gradually adopt eNaira as a fast and reliable means of exchange.
“The Person to Bank and Bank to Person constitute 90% of what we see in the market, and as you will observe, we spent the last three months observing and monitoring the system and addressing issues mostly around initial onboarding,” he noted.
Highlighting the benefits of the digital currency, the Director of Corporate Communications at CBN, Mr. Osita Nwanisiobi, said, “The eNaira is expected to deepen financial inclusion by bringing more people into the financial space, support a resilient payment ecosystem, reduce the cost of processing cash, enable direct and transparent welfare intervention to citizens, increase transparency in revenue and tax collections, facilitate diaspora remittances, reduce the cost of financial transactions and improve the efficiency of payments.”
Observing that there have been encouraging responses to the eNaira, Nwanisiobi added, “Customers who download the eNaira Speed Wallet App will be able to cone on board and create their wallet; fund their eNaira wallet from their bank account; transfer eNaira from their wallet to another wallet and make payment for purchases at registered merchant locations.
“I, therefore, appeal to Nigerians to embrace the eNaira just like our physical Naira – our pride.”
However, reports by some news platforms tracking the progress of the eNaira suggest that after the launch on October 25, 2021, interest in Nigeria’s digital currency quickly started to trend downwards, while interest in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency consolidated around the same period.
Data from Google Trends, a valuable search trend feature that displays how frequently a specific search phrase is entered into Google’s search engine in comparison to the site’s total search volume over a specified period, supports the sentiment.
According to the data, interest in the eNaira has fallen to historic lows, similar to regions before its announcement. From October 24 to 30, 2021, interest in the eNaira was at 43 Index point, while interest in cryptocurrencies was at 41 ipt. However, interest in eNaira as of March 20-26, 2022 was at less than 1 index point compared to the 43 index points had on October 24-30, 2021.
Yobe, Kano Adamawa, Zamfara, and Jigawa states are currently the most interested in eNaira. While Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Kano, and AkwaI bom led the way in cryptocurrency interest.
However, the flagship cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, continues to pique Nigerians’ curiosity above searches on eNaira and cryptocurrency searches. Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, Edo, and Ebonyi were among the states that were interested in Bitcoin.
For some years now, cryptocurrencies have become increasingly popular globally. However, since the fundamental appeal of cryptocurrencies is to exist as decentralised alternatives to fiat, they pose a problem to central banks, which originally control monetary supply.
It is therefore, not surprising that central banks, in many cases, resorted to stringent regulations and sanctions against cryptocurrencies, which they feel could cut banks out of the system, and make government lose their main channel of regulating the economy.
But it is difficult to contain a technology-backed monetary system with no central point of failure. So central banks started researching ways to use the same underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies — the blockchain– to create their versions of these digital currencies which they can control. This is where the e-naira comes in.
However, in a quick poll by Ventures Africa, only 4 per cent of respondents used the eNaira. But what’s more concerning is that 64 per cent doesnot even know about it.
The medium equally went to the streets, sampled and surveyed POS merchants, who have been salient players in driving financial inclusion across the nation. But 67 per cent of the respondents did not know what the eNaira is, and only 16 per cent have ever downloaded the wallet, none of which used it.
The sentiment was the same among retail merchants and traders. Only 30 per cent had any knowledge of the eNaira and none of them used it.
At the recent eNairaSensitisation Campaign, the CBN Lagos branch Controller, Mr. Godfrey Boyor, said: “The eNaira is designed with the best security and monitoring procedure that mitigate against fraud. So there will be no fraudulent transfer; no fraudulent alert. Nobody can deceive you with eNaira transaction. It is fool proof.”
Urging Nigerians to onboard the digital currency platform, he added: “We encourage you to actively participate in the eNaira campaign. Tell your friends, tell your customers, download the eNaira application, install it in your handsets, fund the eNaira Wallet, use it and enjoy it and let me assure you of the backing of CBN, which is 100 per cent guaranteed.
”We don’t go for what is not good. If there is any issue arising, we assure you, we will do our best to make sure no innocent person suffers a dime loss.”
Some financial analysts shared the views with BusinessHallmark on why the eNaira is yet to enjoy the needed acceptance.
“The CBN needed to have provided hardware infrastructure like PoS devices for agents to use. PoS forcryptocurrencies exist alreadyThat would have aided both awareness and distribution of the eNaira”, said Nicholas Maraekwu.
“Instead, it chose to go through the banks, who then have to bear the costs of onboarding and distribution.”
Maraekwu believes that the apex bank needed an even more holistic approach to launching a CBDC as its technology sector is still in a growth phase.
For Dr. Felix Peters, a financial consultant, there is little evidence that low-income earners, who constitute a large portion of Nigeria’s population, are willing to migrate from paper to digital money.
“So it would take a lot of user education or even an incentive-driven approach to make people embrace eNaira,” he argued.