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The State of Bitcoin in Nigeria

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Bitcoin in Nigeria

Without a doubt, the rise of bitcoin and its underlying technology blockchain represent a historical technological disruption. While the technology has already found success in economically developed countries, bitcoin is just starting to gain momentum here in Africa. Over the past 2-3 years, we’ve seen growing interest in bitcoin and the technology behind its increase in African countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and in Nigeria.

In this article you will be introduced to the state of bitcoin in Nigeria, the people’s perception of this new technology and how it is being used.

Nigeria’s Bitcoin Ecosystem

The bitcoin ecosystem in Nigeria has been experiencing tremendous growth over the past two years. This is evidenced by the growing number of bitcoin related queries on Google Trends charts as well as increasing bitcoin trading volumes in the West African nation.

bitcoin in nigeria

Nigeria is already witnessing the birth of new startups, initiatives, local meet-ups and social groups with the aim of educating interested parties about the fundamentals of bitcoin and blockchain technology as well as promoting its benefits. Some of this startups and initiatives include CDIN, PEX Bank, Cryptogene, Cryptomart, NGExchanger, and Nairaex. Additionally, top bitcoin companies such as Luno and ICE3X are already exploring the Nigeria market.

Cryptographic Development Initiative Nigeria (CDIN)

The Cryptographic Development Initiative in Nigeria (CDIN) is one of the blockchain focused groups that has successfully positioned itself as a pacesetter in this new industry.

The CDIN is a non-governmental organisation and platform that encourages the learning and practice of cryptography amongst relevant stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. It is subdivided into three groups: Crypto Nigeria, Blockchain Nigeria, and Nigeria Blockchain Alliance (NBA).

The CDIN has been able to deliver on some of its promises from educating the masses on the cryptocurrency. Through its Crypto-Nigeria arm, local meet ups have been arranged in order to tackle criminal activities by collaborating with government agencies and relevant bodies in fighting against crypto-related crimes, such as HYIP and Ponzi schemes that use bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for payment.

Recently, the CDIN announced that the Nigeria government is willing to offer its support to the initiative. The organisation has announced a partnership with the National Electronic Fraud Forum (NEFF) for the Blockchain Nigeria 2017 conference. NEFF’s chairman, who’s also the director of banking and payment system of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dipo Fatokun said:

“Please be informed that NEFF is willing to collaborate with CDIN and will assist with technical advice and/or speakers at the […] 2017 conference on Blockchain. Also note that as the collaboration progresses, Neff will also, count on your support.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s Stance on Bitcoin

The Central Bank of Nigeria seems to understand the potential that comes from bitcoin and blockchain technology. However, the CBN is concerned about the financial losses that traditional banks will incur as well the growth of bitcoin-related crimes, such as ransomware and pyramid schemes if the technology becomes widely accepted.

Factors slowing down the adoption of digital currency

The CBN issued a circular to banks, similar to a statement released by the Nigeria Securities and Exchange Commission to the public, on January 12, 2017. Both regulatory bodies warned against the usage of digital currencies like bitcoin as it is not a legal tender in the country and any bank or business that would deal or invest in such would do so at their own risk.

Furthermore, in a March 2017 meeting focused on digital currencies organised by the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria, the CBN through its Deputy Director for Banking and Payment Musa Itopa Jimoh reiterated the central bank’s view of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

“The Central bank cannot control or regulate blockchain. Just the same way no one is going to control or regulate the Internet. We don’t own it.”

Mr. Itopa Jimoh further clarifies the CBN’s previous warning that he believed was misunderstood by the public.

“A lot of people misinterpreted it that we wanted to stop bitcoin. We can’t stop bitcoin. Bitcoin is not an invention of 2015 or 2012; it’s not even an invention of 2010. So, how can the Central Bank of Nigeria, not central bank of the world, stop the running and implementation of bitcoin?”

In spite the warnings from the government, the growing interest in bitcoin has refused to slow down. A key reason behind it is the persistent depreciation of the country’s local currency, the naira. Many people are beginning to see bitcoin as a good alternative to hedge their wealth against currency losses.

The remittance market is another major area driving the usage of digital currency. As a cost-effective and borderless payment network, bitcoin and other digital currencies are offering a long-term solution to Nigeria’s large remittance markets’ challenges.

Nigeria’s Bitcoin Startups

NairaExNigeria is also the home to several bitcoin startups with the largest being the country’s leading bitcoin exchange NairaEx.

NairaEx offers a quick and easy way of for Nigerians to purchase the digital currency using credit cards, debit cards, or bank deposits using local currency. There is also BTC.ng, which is a NairaEx run bitcoin publication that aims to close the big gap by educating newbies in Nigeria on everything happening in the bitcoin ecosystem.

Cryptogene is another Nigerian startup, which launched in late 2016 to focus on educating African on the benefits of bitcoin and blockchain technology.

Cryptomart and NGExchanger are two further startups in Nigeria’s bitcoin community while leading African bitcoin exchanges Luno and ICE3X are also exploring the Nigerian market. ICE3X, for example, enables Nigerians to buy bitcoin, litecoin, and ether with the naira.

How Nigerians Are Using Bitcoin

A recent study conducted by leading bitcoin wallet provider Luno reveals a great deal of faith in the future of the digital currency in Nigeria.

57 percent of the respondents believe bitcoin to be the future of money. When asked to state their main reason for buying bitcoin, 28.8 percent used it for investing while 20.3 percent used it for remittance purposes while others used it for trading and speculation purposes. Interestingly, a majority of Nigerians, 45.3 percent, would rather own bitcoin than gold. This is a large number in comparison to the 10.3 percent figure for gold ownership.

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South Africa’s Central Bank Categorises Cryptocurrency as “Cyber Tokens”

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South Africa Cyber Tokens

The South African Reserve Bank has made a decision to categorise virtual currencies such as bitcoin as “cyber-tokens” stating that they do not meet the necessary prerequisite to be referred to as money.

While addressing reporters in Pretoria, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa, Francois Groepe, said:

“We don’t use the term ‘cryptocurrency’ because it doesn’t meet the requirements of money in the economic sense of the stable means of exchange, a unit of measure and a stable unit of value. We prefer to use the word ‘cyber-token’.”

In addition, the Reserve Bank has now formed a financial technology (fintech) taskforce that will be tasked with reviewing the central bank’s stance on private virtual currencies and help draft a suitable regulatory regime and policy framework.

The decision by South Africa’s central bank comes just two months after the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS), announced their new laws on digital currencies putting them ahead of most African countries that are still struggling to implement laws that govern cryptocurrency use and trading.

Groepe went on to say: “We want to ensure or establish whether there is still compliance with the relevant financial surveillance or exchange-control regulations.”

Not Everyone Loves Cryptocurrencies

Many African governments have been hindering the adoption of cryptocurrencies. Just this week, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe banned all cryptocurrency operations in the country forcing Golix – one of the largest cryptocurrency exchange platforms in the country – to take them to court and challenge their directive. Although the ban was lifted by the Harare High Court, it is not yet clear what the next cause of action of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will be.

Zimbabwe is not the only country. The Central Bank of Kenya has also maintained that investing or trading in cryptocurrencies is risky and has continued to warn both local banks and the general public against them. The central bank of Lesotho also told investors earlier in the year that they would not offer any help to anyone in case they lost their money on digital currencies.

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Zimbabwe High Court Suspends Ban on Cryptocurrencies Set by Central Bank

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Zimbabwe Court Suspends Ban on Cryptocurrencies

Zimbabwean digital currency exchange Golix will be able to resume operations after the Harare High Court suspended a ban by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) that prohibited cryptocurrency operations in the country.

Zimbabwe’s central bank had barred all financial institutions from providing any services to cryptocurrency exchanges terming their move as a step that is meant to “safeguard the integrity, safety, and soundness of the country’s financial system, and to protect the public in general”.

The ruling was made by the High Court after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe failed to appear in court following a case that was filed by Golix challenging the country-wide ban of cryptocurrency trading.

In an interview with CCN, Golix’s Communications Manager, Nhlalwenhle Ngwenya, said: “The ban was lifted.” None of the officials at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, including the Governor, John Mangudya showed up for the proceedings at the Harare High Court causing the court to suspend the ban.

“We are hoping that we can immediately go back to doing business and processing the order book,” stated an official from Golix. As the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the country, Golix was forced to stop its operations and find ways to deal with the directive from RBZ in a notice that was sent to its members.

Relief to Cryptocurrency Exchange Platforms

The ban lift is a relief to both crypto traders as well as investors who will now be able to trade on the Golix or Styx24 exchange platforms. Besides their crypto trading platform, Golix also owns a bitcoin ATM that is located in Harare.

The RBZ had classified operations by cryptocurrency exchanges as illegal in the country. One of the arguments presented to the high court by Golix was that the ban was unconstitutional citing Section 68 while questioning the authority the central bank had in making laws, a function which is meant for the legislative arm of the government, which the RBZ is not part of.

In a letter issued on May 15 to Golix, the central bank ordered them to cease all their cryptocurrency trading and gave banks a maximum of 60 days to stop any relationships they may have with virtual currency exchange platforms in a circular that had been issued on May 11.

The high court ruling also gave the central bank of Zimbabwe a maximum period of 10 days, within which they can oppose the provisional order. In addition, the RBZ was also ordered to pay the cost of the suit.

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Kidnappers in South Africa Demand Bitcoin Ransom for Teenager, Boy Found Unharmed

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Kidnappers Demand Bitcoin Ransom

In South Africa, a gang has kidnapped a 13-year old teenager and demanded a ransom to be paid in bitcoin for his release. The abductors have demanded a ransom of 15 BTC, which is an equivalent of $120,000 at today’s prices.

“This is a kidnapping! We have your child. Your child will not be harmed if the following demands are met: We demand a ransom of 15 bitcoins to be paid to the below Bitcoin wallet to secure your child’s safe release,” reads the note left by the kidnappers.

According to The South African, 13-year-old Katlego Mariate was kidnapped while playing with two of his friends at his home in Frangipani Street, Tasbetpark Extension 3, Witbank. Witnesses testified the victim was grabbed into a gold Toyota Corolla occupied by three unknown men before driving off.

The Police spokesman, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, said the situation is being investigated:

“We are investigating a case of kidnapping that happened on Sunday in Witbank. There was a demand that was made that the parents should deposit cash in bitcoins.”

Another police officer said the parents of the victim, who are in deep shock over the incident, do not even know what bitcoin is. “They don’t even know what this bitcoin is. They’re devastated and you can see they’re worried and asking themselves: ‘Where’s our son?”

Boy Found Unharmed

According to Reuters Africa, police spokesman Hlathi informed the public that the boy was found unharmed on May 24.

This appears to be the first case in the country involving a bitcoin ransom in a kidnapping. However, it is not the first time this has happened in other parts of the world. Last year, a bitcoin analyst was kidnapped in Ukraine and, in early 2018, a lawyer was abducted with respective kidnappers demanding bitcoin as ransom in Mexico.

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