Ahead of Nigeria’s general elections in February 2019, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)- the country’s largest opposition party – has included the creation of a “comprehensive blockchain and digital currency policy” in his policy document.
The move comes as a significant surprise as the country’s regulatory establishment led by the Central Bank of Nigeria has consistently held a very cautious albeit non-hostile line toward cryptocurrency.
Break With Tradition
Atiku, who served as Nigeria’s vice-President between 1999 and 2007 is running on the platform of a moderniser trying to disrupt the status quo and spark Nigeria’s slumbering economy into life. The country is still suffering from the twin effects of a devastating 2016 recession and an accompanying global oil price slump which saw the Naira lose 85 percent of its value in less than 24 months.
Nigeria’s financial regulatory environment has traditionally been perceived as conservative, with banks exerting a significant amount of influence over regulatory processes and decisions. As a result, despite a growing awareness and adoption of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies among the general population, authorities have repeatedly issued statements warning against cryptocurrency investment.
In January, CCN reported that CBN governor Godwin Emefiele described bitcoin investment as a “gamble” that should ideally be regulated. Despite the posturing, however, Nigeria has one of Africa’s most vibrant peer-to-peer cryptocurrency trading ecosystems, and providers like PundiX have launched successful bitcoin payment products in the country.
Against this backdrop, Atiku is seeking to present his vision of large-scale job creation as necessary for national security. He is also trying to position himself as a leader who is well-positioned for the 21st century, in contrast to 78-year-old incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, who has been criticised for his handling of the economy.
Speaking at the launch of his policy plan he said:
“My mission is to ensure that Nigeria’s economy is responsive to the challenges of the 21st century knowledge economy by keeping with the amazingly dynamic technological pace.”
Comprehensive Crypto Regulation in Nigeria
In his campaign’s recently launched policy document titled ‘Get Nigeria Working Again’, Atiku promises that if he wins the February presidential election, a key strategic focus of his government will be to catalyse economic growth through blockchain and cryptocurrency regulation. According to the document, his government will oversee the creation of a comprehensive policy on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies through collaboration among relevant government agencies, with the ultimate goal of providing opportunities for Nigerians and raising revenue for the government.
An excerpt from the document reads:
“In harnessing the potentials of the new economy, we shall promote the Production of a comprehensive policy on block chain technology and crypto-currencies by the relevant government agencies. The terms of this mandate will ensure that these areas are regulated and managed in a way that provides job opportunities as well as income for the government and people of Nigeria. Regulation will provide clarity for informed decision making, in this $278 billion industry that consists of 1,800 currency types.”
The pronouncement is significant because it marks the first time cryptocurrency regulation will be a subject of serious political discussion on the continent. It also means that in the event of an opposition victory in next year’s election, a market of over 177 million people – many of whom are financially underserved – with a GDP exceeding $450 billion will potentially be opened up to large scale cryptocurrency adoption, which could well place Nigeria at the vanguard of the global cryptocurrency conversation.