Nigeria’s central bank digital currency (CBDC), eNaira, will get an update that will allow it to perform more functions such as bill payment and USSD access.
This was revealed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Lagos Branch Controller, Bariboloka Koyor, during a sensitisation campaign on the eNaira in Oshodi, Lagos.
According to Vanguard, Koyor said, “starting from next week, there will be an upgrade on the eNaira Speed Wallet app that will allow you to do transactions such as paying for DStv or electric bills or even paying for flight tickets.”
What was wrong with the eNaira?
Chimezie Chuta, Founder, Blockchain Nigeria User Group (BNUG), told Techpoint Africa on a phone call that the upgrade had been in the works for a while.
According to Chuta, the CBDC, which launched in October 2021, had to go through a complete rework as some inconsistencies were revealed.
“Fundamentally, there were faults that would not have allowed the eNaira to achieve its full potential.”
There were issues with setting up the eNaira Speed Wallet application at launch. In a test I conducted after the launch, the app had trouble verifying my BVN, which made using the application impossible.
However, news by This Day, in December 2021, said the eNaira was getting rapid acceptance among Nigerians. It said the eNaira Speed Wallet app had reached over 600 thousand downloads eight weeks after launch, and ₦43 million worth of transactions had been carried out just weeks after launch.
PwC’s 2022 CBDC Global Index also reported that the CBN leads global CBDC retail projects. Retail CBDC projects refer to digital currencies designed for public use instead of wholesale projects such as China’s CBDC — the e-CNY — created for institutional usage.
According to the Index, over 35,000 transactions have been completed on the eNaira, which was downloaded in 160 countries.
While the Index lauds the eNaira, a Twitter poll conducted by Intelligence by Techpoint — Techpoint Africa’s data and Intelligence arm — in April 2022 said otherwise. The poll had votes from 157 Twitter users, 36.9% (58) of which voted “I don’t own a Wallet.”
Interestingly, 27.4% (38) of those who own a wallet had never used it. Only 1.3% had completed a transaction with the eNaira Wallet, while 34.4% were indifferent about the CBDC project.
Chuta, however, justified the issues eNaira faced after it launched by saying the “industry and the technology are still young, so it is normal to go back to the drawing board.” While he cannot point at specific errors, Chuta reiterates that there was a need to rework the project.
What will the eNaira upgrade do?
In addition to bill payments, the eNaira will be accessible via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). Per Vanguard, Koyor told business owners and market leaders that the USSD code for the eNaira (*997#) would make onboarding more Nigerians easier.
The Guardian also reported on Friday, May 6, 2022, that fintech could explore investment opportunities with the eNaira. Yusuf Jelil, Principal Manager and Business Lead for the eNaira project, said that the CBN, along with fintech startups, is looking to explore investment opportunities with the eNaira.
How eNaira USSD could work
While there’s little detail on how the eNaira will work with USSD, we can make educated guesses on how the service will work based on our understanding of the eNaira and USSD protocols in Nigeria.
USSD integration with the eNaira could mean that feature phone users can now use the digital currency without Internet connectivity. This includes setting up a wallet and sending and receiving eNaira.
According to the CBN, the first tier of Speed Wallet users can set up a wallet without a Bank Verification Number (BVN). However, they will have a daily transaction limit of ₦50,000 ($121.50).
A National Identification Number (NIN) will be required in place of the BVN. Given that 71 million Nigerians have their NINs — 17 million more than the 54 million registered BVNs — more people get access to financial services without going to a physical bank branch.
It is, however, important to note that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has been unable to verify NINs, leaving 7.5 million MTN subscribers disconnected.
Facilitating eNaira transactions via USSD also raises the question of who bears the consent charge, a question that stands in the way of free transactions, the eNaira’s biggest value proposition.