Nigeria aims for millions of new eNaira users as it increases features, targets unbanked

The eNaira, Nigeria’s central bank digital currency (CBDC), will enter the second phase of its expansion with new technology to beef up its user base, Nigerian Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele said Thursday, speaking at the 2022 eNaira Hackathon in Abuja. The eNaira, Africa’s first CBDC, was launched in October 2021.

“The eNaira is a journey, not a one-time event,” Emefiele said, adding:

“We don’t have a choice but to live with the fact that we are now in a digital economy, in a digital space, where the user[s] of cash will dissipate almost to zero.”

“The second phase of the project has begun and is intended to drive financial inclusion by onboarding the unbanked and underserved users […] with a target of about 8 million active users,” Emefiele continued. The CBDC has had about 840,000 downloads, with about 270,000 active wallets, including 252,000 consumer wallets. There have been about 200,000 transactions worth 4 billion nairas (about $9.5 million at the official exchange rate).

Related: CBDC activity heats up, but few projects move beyond pilot stage

The central bank is incorporating Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) “by next week,” Emefiele said, to allow users to create eNaira wallets by dialing a four-digit code on their mobile telephones, whether or not they have bank accounts. After that, users with bank accounts will be able to use the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIPS) instant payment system to make transfers between bank accounts. The eNaira already has apps allowing the user to pay for utilities and a number of other services.

In addition, the eNaira Hackathon platform will be layered onto the eNaira platform to give it more functionality, Daniel Awe, head of the Africa Fintech Foundry, said. That organization and the central bank are cosponsors of the hackathon, which was entered by 4,667 startups. Out of those, ten received prizes, ranging from 1 million to 5 million naira.

Due to the fiat currency’s instability, both the naira and the eNaira face strong competition from cryptocurrencies, even though there is an “implicit ban” on crypto in the country.

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