Nigeria’s financial technology startups have called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide legal guidelines for the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry. A lack of regulation is driving investment out of Africa’s biggest economy to areas like Rwanda and Europe while fomenting uncertainty, according to the Electronic Payment Practitioners Association of Nigeria (E-ppan).
Lack of Regulation Drives Capital Away
“Investments in blockchain-based financial services such as cryptocurrency are today going to Rwanda and Malta, which have provided regulatory frameworks that guide operators of the technology,” Ade Atobatele, founder of Gboza Gboza Technology Ltd, a member of the E-ppan association, is quoted by the local Guardian newspaper as saying.
Atobatele was speaking at a conference organised by the fintech lobby group in the Nigerian commercial capital Lagos this week. Noting how technology develops at a rate much faster than financial regulators can cope with, he said some regulatory oversight is, nevertheless, needed to give direction and to tackle issues around risk and service delivery. Atobatele lamented.
We have a license with CBN, but our blockchain-based services are being operated in Rwanda, which has offered us the license.
E-ppan is a broad-based fintech industry representative body with links to the Nigerian central bank, particularly “on regulations that govern the electronic payments industry.” The group says on its website that “we influence the policy environment by applying pressure strategically to key decision makers to change the business environment positively.”
‘Cryptocurrency a Gamble’
In 2014 Nigeria eclipsed South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy, with a GDP of $400 billion. But huge inequalities, corruption and illicit financial flows still persist in Africa’s most populous nation. The cryptosphere in Nigeria is trading under caution from Godwin Emifiele, governor of the CBN, who has likened cryptocurrencies “to a gamble.” However, the Nigerian parliament has instituted an investigation into the merits and demerits of adopting bitcoin as a means of payment.
In spite of all that, Nigerians continue to flood the digital currency space in search of cheaper and faster ways to send money abroad – or receive it – and to hedge against inflation and exchange-related losses of the Naira, the local unit. According to Citigroup, Nigerians account for the world’s third largest holdings of bitcoin, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, after Russia and New Zealand. Ignoring warnings from financial regulators, a flurry of startups in the country have taken to initial coin offerings or setting up virtual currency exchanges.
Speaking at the E-ppan conference, Musa Jimoh, an official with the Central Bank of Nigeria, said regulation is on the way. He detailed:
We are restructuring the licensing regime to accommodate risks that fintech present in the system and how they can work with banks to mitigate those risks. Fintechs are coming up with products and technology that is unmatched with banks, this also needs to be addressed.
According to the the Guardian report, Michael Kiberu, chief executive officer of Vault Bridge, a member of E-ppan, called on regulators in the West African country to learn from countries such as Uganda, Switzerland, Kenya and Japan, where cryptocurrencies operate with some level of legal guidance, allowing capital to flow more freely into the sector.
Calls for regulation of the digital currency landscape may, however, be anathema to some crypto hardliners. Such so-called maximalists advocate the foundational principles of bitcoin, as a currency built for freedom, to resist any form of control, especially that from governments.
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