With an October date set for the pilot stage of the e-Naira, Central Bank of Nigeria’s planned digital currency, financial technology specialists have said the date may not be feasible even as they warn the apex bank to be cautious and not rush into it.
CBN director of information technology, Rakiya Mohammed, had at a private webinar mentioned that the pilot stage of the digital currency is expected to kickstart by October, noting that the apex bank had been conducting research sin.ce 2017 with regards to developing a digital currency.
Mohammed, who stated that CBN may conduct a proof of concept before the end of this year, said the project is tagged ‘GIANT’ and will use the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain. The Hyperledger Fabric is an opensource project that acts as a foundation for developing blockchain-based products, solutions and applications using plug-and-play components that are aimed for use within private enterprises.
Hyperledger’s executive director, Brian Behlendorf, said there had been an increase in the use of Hyperledger’s opensource blockchain technology, including Hyperledger Fabric, for Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other currency projects.
“However, since our technologies are all opensource, we often don’t know all the ways and places Hyperledger software is being used, especially prior to launch,” Behlendorf said in an email.
“If Nigeria’s digital currency project is built on Hyperledger Fabric, that would be welcome news that further validates Fabric as a CBDC platform.”
Rise of digital currencies
The proposed eNaira is a type of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) which over 80 per cent of central banks across the world are currently exploring. CBDCs are new variants of central bank fiat money that are different from physical cash and reserves/settlement accounts.
LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that CBDC is a digital representation of sovereign currency that is issued by a jurisdiction’s monetary authority and a direct liability of the central bank that issued it. Contrary to some beliefs, CBDCs are not meant to replace cash and bank deposits but to coexist as additional form of Central Bank issued money.
CBDCs are also not to be confused with crypto assets such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and the like which are privately issued tokens based on cryptographic techniques and denominated in their own unit of account. Crypto assets are thus fundamentally different from other kinds of digital money such as the CBDC which basically utilizes technology to represent a country’s official currency in digital form.
The Bank of England (BOE) was the pioneer to initiate the CBDC proposal. Following that, central banks of other nations, like People’s Bank of China (PBoC), Bank of Canada (BoC), and central banks of Uruguay, Thailand, Venezuela, Sweden, and Singapore, among others, are looking into the possibility of introducing a central bank-issued digital currency.
Currently, three countries, the Bahamas, Eastern Carribean and China, have begun the use of CBDCs, while Canada, South Africa, Japan, Ecuador, Sweden, Singapore and Hong Kong are already at advanced stage. The United States, Great Britain, Jamaica, United Arab Emirates as well as Mexico are still at the research stage. The role of cash is declining, giving impetus to digital currencies.
Why we need eNaira
Founder/chief executive officer, Gboza Gbosa Technology Ltd, Ade Atobatele, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday on the subject of the planned eNaira, explained that digital currencies are just like cash, only that are digitalised.
Not to be confused with cryptocurrencies, he said “the only thing they have in common is that they are digital CBN’s primary mandate is monitoring interest rates and monetary policies.
“CBDC can be a tool to help CBN’s control of the money supply. The beauty of CBN is that they are a licensing authority which means they can license people for different things. They can call upon them to do their bidding whenever they want,” he said.
Also, founder of Blockchain Mobile Technologies, Stanley Okwu, sees the CBN’s e-Naira as a welcome development. He, however, said such innovation should not be rushed as he called on the apex bank to seek assistance from both local and international experts so as not to run into it unprepared.
While noting that the digital currency would make it easier to transfer remittances into the country, lead to creation of job and allow new ways for digital services in the country, he said “digital currency, like cryptocurrency, is not built in few months.
“It takes a well- organised road map. Therefore, within this timing, CBN should seek out experts, both locally and abroad, to assist them in order to avoid running into trouble. I believe the CBN will get it right if they seek out good hands and experts to work with,” Okwu added.
Likewise, financial technology expert and chief executive of eMaginatons Ltd., Sola Fanawopo, stressed the need for caution. According to him, the apex bank must take a proper stand before it launches eNaira.
“They have to be very careful. However, we must be bold and courageous on what we want to use digital currency for. That decision must be taken and it may be contentious among the financial institutions in the country. I will expect CBN to do wide consultations among the financial institutions, banks, Fintechs, non-banking operators and everybody, including consumers. After wide consultations, CBN can take a decision and the objective can be very clear.
“The October date may not be feasible. China has been on its own for the past five years before it came to the market, so we need to plan very well before taking a decision as this will be better for the country and everybody,” Fanawopo said.
Also, the managing director, New Horizons Systems Nigeria, Tim Akano, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the CBDC is the way futuristic countries are going; thereby CBN cannot afford to be left behind.
He urged the “CBN to begin its pilot in a certain location such as Ogun State since it has the largest number of industries and universities in the country to test the eNaira before it can be extended to other parts of the country, just like China did with Digital Yuan.”
Note of caution on CBDC
The Clearing House, the bank-owned operator of the only private United States of America payments system, in a statement issued on July 27, 2021, cautioned the Federal Reserves, the US central bank, that a CBDC could destabilise both the domestic and foreign banking and financial services sectors.
Stressing the need to proceed with caution as a CBDC could do more harm than good, the Clearing House, in a report entitled, “On the Road to a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency: Challenges and Opportunities,” said the “introduction of a U.S. CBDC has the potential to destabilise both the domestic and foreign banking and financial services sectors, and to make illicit activity using the U.S. dollar easier.”
Executive managing director of the Clearing House, Robert Hunter, in an interview quoted by PaymentsDive, noted that while it is not opposed to the idea of a CBDC, it views the real-world possibility of a U.S. CBDC as fraught with questions about its potential purpose, design and risks.
“Particularly in times of stress, it is highly likely that there would be capital flight into a central bank digital currency,” and that could have a destabilising impact on financial institutions, he said.
Meanwhile, the CBN is looking up to the eNaira to help achieve macroeconomic management and growth, cross border trade facilitation, financial inclusion, monetary policy effectiveness, improved payments efficiency, revenue and tax collection, remittances improvement as well as targeted social interventions.
With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Fanawopo believes the eNaira could become a critical tool in addressing challenges faced in African trade. “We must be specific in the issues we want to use it to address, such as using it to solve the problem that is identified with physical currencies,” he said.
What CBN plans to do with eNaira
CBN director, Rakiyat Mohammed, had noted at the end of the last Bankers’ Committee meeting that the CBDC would be a tool in addressing the financial inclusion challenge of the county.
“Our target for this year was to achieve 80 per cent of financial inclusion and we are at about 60 per cent now and at the rate that we are going we are not likely to meet this target.
“The CBDC will accelerate our ability to meet this target because regardless of where you are just like the fiat cash anyone including my grandmother in the village will be able to have CBDC and use and she will be able to buy anything in Ghana or South Africa or us without having to transfer cash and at a very reduced cost. So, it will reduce the cost of transferring money. In order to complement the federal government’s effort in achieving a digital economy,” she stated.
The model of the eNaira according to the CBN is such that it designs, creates and distributes the CBDC to financial institutions as well as other licensed service providers who in turn provides it to businesses and individuals. The eNaira has the potential to reduce cash handling costs by 5-7 per cent, promote digitisation of cash and development of e-commerce
Benefits of eNaira
Speaking on the benefits of the eNaira to the Nigerian economy, Fanawopo noted that asides from strengthening the identity system in the country, a CBDC will help address the issues of cybersecurity, improve literacy level in the country, reduce the cost of transaction, thereby enabling increased confidence in the system.
He further stated that it would challenge financial institutions, including fintechs, to be more creative and innovative. This, according to him, will spur employment among the teeming tech-driven youthful population of the country.
On his part, the financial counsellor and director of the Monetary and Capital Markets Department, IMF, Tobias Adrian, said that central bankers everywhere are closely following the experience in the Bahamas, trying to discern the lessons of the actual issuance of the “Sand Dollar.”
He, however, warned that central banks should design CBDC so that they help support a stable and efficient international monetary system.
“If we design digital currencies with caution and with precision — and if we frame their adoption within legal and regulatory systems that maximise their benefits and minimise their risks — we could be on the verge of an era that fulfils the promise of transformation,” Adrian added.