Africa’s first CBDC is currently not for the unbanked.
While the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) continues to promote the e-naira as a tool for fostering financial inclusion, some experts agree that this central bank digital currency (CBDC) is not currently doing so.
This assertion, along with the e-naira app’s brief removal from the Google Play Store, appears to lend credence to claims that the CBN rushed to launch Africa’s first CBDC.
Although a report in the Punch newspaper suggests that the CBN is now working on a version of the e-naira app for the unbanked, it does not specify when this will be available. The CBN’s apparent inability to manage this CBDC has led players in Nigeria’s blockchain industry to question the central bank’s ability to manage it.
According to one crypto expert quoted by Cryptoassetbuyer, the CBN’s failure to roll out the CBDC that is accessible to all Nigerians means that the central bank is unlikely to achieve its primary goal of bringing financial services to Nigeria’s unbanked population. Chiagozie Iwu, the founder of Naijacrypto and CEO of CI Cryptosolutions, explained the situation.
Firstly, the app requires me to use my bank’s app before I am able to transact with it; so what service does it offer me that my banks don’t already offer? So it doesn’t look to me that the CBN is targeting people that do not have a bank account. Obviously, anybody with a smartphone to download an app should also have a bank account in the first place. The fact that I have to use my bank account to log in defeats the saying that they are going to “bank the unbank.”
Despite the CBN’s repeated promises that its CBDC wallet would allow non-smartphone users to transact with the digital currency, this service was still unavailable at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, in addition to not being available to feature phone users, the e-naira app, according to Iwu, could be the result of haphazard planning. While admitting that the e-naira app, like other applications, may have a few “bugs,” Iwu suggested that this could have been avoided if the CBN had used the funds set aside for the project properly.
A beta test, according to Charles Okaformbah, CTO at Convexity, could have prevented the CBN from releasing the faulty app. Okaformbah is quoted in the report as saying:
I think that if the app developers had done a lot of tests — say close testing of the application with some selected group of people outside the development team — I believe some of the issues would have been noticed and fixed.
Lloyd Onaghinon, an economist, believes that collaboration between the CBN and players in Nigeria’s blockchain industry could have resulted in a much better final product.
The Cryptoassetbuyer report concludes that there is a noticeable trust deficit and that the onus is on the CBN to address this.