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THE Nigerian government’s ban on cryptocurrency and the recent suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country have been described by analysts as a sign of poor understanding of the global economic shift to ICT-led economy.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in memo issued on February 5, 2020, signed by head of banking supervision Bello Hassan, placed a ban on the trading of cryptocurrencies, bitcoin, ethereum, dogecoin among others in the country.
Godwin Emefiele the CBN governor while reaffirming the ban also noted at the last monetary policy committee meeting that the inability of the government to effectively track the movement of cryptocurrency trading makes regulatory functions difficult for the apex bank.
The Nigerian government also suspended Twitter, a micro-blogging platform which has about 40 million users in the country.
Most young people in the country, amid concerns over rising poverty, were already exploiting the economic advantages associated with Twitter as the platform offered an enabling an environment for small scale businesses in the country by linking them to global business audiences.
The platform also played a strategic role in campaigning for good governance in the country with its visible stance against police brutality during the #EndSARS protests in 2020.
“Twitter ban is a gross violation of Nigeria’s human rights and economic obligations to respect already accrued economic and social rights and refrain from taking steps that will prevent Nigerians from accessing services provided by third parties which do not violate laws enacted by the respective legislatures,” Eze Onyekpere Lead Partner Centre for Social Justice said a statement mailed to The ICIR.
It would be noted that the contribution to the aggregate real gross domestic product as at Quarter 1 of 2021 by the Information and Communications Technology sector where Twitter and other social media platforms belong is valued at 14.9 per cent. This makes the sector one of the largest contributors to the country’s GDP.
The Nigerian economy grew by less than one per cent, specifically by 0.51 per cent, in Quarter 1 of 2021 and the contributions of the major sectors to aggregate real GDP is as follows: The oil sector accounted for 9.25 per cent; the agriculture sector accounted for 22.3 per cent; manufacturing was 9.93 per cent; trade contributed 15.61 per cent while construction contributed 4.12 per cent.
The overall growth pattern of the economy in the first quarter of 2021 was tepid and did not match population growth. It failed to respond to stagflation – high unemployment, slow growth, inflation, and other macroeconomic challenges facing the nation.
That Nigeria is just struggling to exit recession even compounds the scenario. This has also deepened concerns among industry players on how a government that plans to lift 100 million people out of poverty would discard the opportunities Twitter offers.
An economist with the Centre for the Studies of Economies of Africa (CSEA) Mma Ekereuche expressed concern that small scale businesses in the country are one of the worst-hit by the ban on Twitter.
“Given that a majority of businesses sell to customers on Twitter, the ban has reduced the demand of their commodities and also has a negative impact on brand building.”
Speaking on the effect of the ban on the ease of doing business, she said, “The ban is counter-intuitive as it makes it harder for those that leverage on Twitter to gain access to larger markets, building their brands, and make both local and international connections.”
Ekereuche stressed that the effects of what she described as policy flip-flops can deter foreign investment as it causes uncertainty regarding the policy environment.
“It has a negative effect on the investment climate through several channels including policy and regulatory uncertainty, as well as reduced connections between businesses,” she said.