Between e-Naira and Cash Crunch: Tackling Misinformation and Disinformation, by Abdulrahman Abdulraheem
From time immemorial, the world has placed enormous responsibilities on the shoulders of the media. Aside the traditional functions of informing, educating and entertaining the populace, the media has metamorphosed into the most credible institution of accountability – a truth-telling watchdog whose duty it is to hold the people in positions of authority accountable to the masses.
One of America’s founding fathers and its third President, Thomas Jefferson, laid the foundation for this enormous responsibilities when he famously wrote that: “If I had a choice to pick between government without the press or the press without government, I would not hesitate to pick the latter.”
But as events unfold, the media got the added role of agenda setting which means to decide the most important issues to be put on the front burner at any point in time. In the discharge of these duties, journalists are also expected to be held accountable to certain ground rules that border on truthfulness, neutrality, objectivity, fairness and balance.
To be able to perform these huge tasks efficiently, journalists must also be above board like Caesar’s wife, and the media must be made up of learned and properly trained professionals who exude integrity, competence, patriotism, selflessness and huge sense of social justice. They must also possess the capacity to go beyond the surface, dig deep, carry out painstaking and thorough investigations, unearth and expose scandals, immoral or corrupt practices that threaten the public good… All these must be with a view to getting justice for the oppressed, if any.
Truth is sacred, it is unequivocal and unambiguous. In the discharge of their agenda setting duties, media professionals must not only stick to the truth at all times, they must also be seen to be truthful and credible.
While it is true that journalists must never be afraid to dare the establishment and swim against the tide if that is what it requires to uphold truth and justice. But this does not presuppose that everything that has to do with government and governance is negative in this part of the world. This is where developmental journalism comes in. Journalists must always go beyond flashy and attractive headlines. They should always dig deep, ask the right questions from the right sources and get to know the ground-breaking ideas and events that are solving problems and moving a particular sector forward, in order to be able to inform the public from a position of adequate knowledge, not that of half-knowledge, ignorance or mischief.
This brings me to a series of misinformation, disinformation and false alarm that have dominated some sections of the media in recent times
about the country’s exchange rate, cash crunch and the viability of the e-Naira to fill in the gap.
Some career doubters have in recent times turned themselves to e-Naira critics. The things they churn out are often devoid of depth and content even as they attempt to hoodwink the public with false tales and half-truths. They freely break all the journalistic rules of objectivity, balance and fairness in seeking to portray the e-Naira as an ineffective tool of moving Nigeria into full cashless economy.
As a curious researcher, I have for some time now been reading a lot of literatures about the e-Naira and why Nigeria needs it now as a component of the entire cashless policy of the federal government. I have attended a lot of physical and zoom meetings, technical sessions, presentations and spoken to those who should know about the workings of the e-Naira, it’s expansive platform and the numerous exciting products that are meant to make life easy for Nigerians.
I have also been following the activities of the CBN e-Naira team as they have been tranversing the length and breadth of the country and aggressively promoting the e-Naira. From Kano to Zamfara to Lagos, to Rivers to Bayelsa, they have been meeting and organising workshops with artisans, market women, drivers’ union, motorcycle and tricycle operators to enlighten them on why e-Naira should be their preferred medium of payment by their customers.
According to the Director of Information Technology at the CBN, Hajia Rakiya Muhammad, who practically relocated to Kano to personally coordinate the sensitisation programmes in the northwest zone, the tricycle association in Kano has agreed for their members to start accepting e-Naira payments from passengers.
According to her, that will even favour the tricycle riders as they won’t have to bother about looking for ‘change’ to settle passengers. Again, e-Naira gives a better store of value, will drive down inflation and may bring back the spending of Kobo in the monetary system.
it will therefore be unfair to say the e-Naira is weak like some of the pseudo-intellectuals have claimed. Nigerians are the ones who are yet to see the light despite the best efforts of the CBN. The e-Naira is very strong, robust, cheap, accessible and fast. It remains the easiest means of transaction available as it doesn’t depend on the epileptic network in the country.
To start with, one of the writers accused the CBN of deliberately plunging the nation into the naira crisis – Mopping up the old currencies, failing to print new ones and not giving Nigerians other transaction options. We all can attest to the fact that these allegations are false.
This particular writer overlooked the fact that the public wanted to withdraw from banks almost the same quantum of money previously outside the banking system that has been returned. They ignored an important component of the currency redesign policy which is to promote adoption of e-channels for transactions. This penchant for cash transactions by the public is the reason e-Naira and other electronic platforms in Nigeria seem to have failed to address new notes’ scarcity, not due to their weaknesses nor unattractiveness as erroneously claimed by the writer.
As we make progress, Nigerians must first of all purge themselves of the obsession with cash. Nigerians believe if they have millions of naira and they are not seeing the money in their drawers and wardrobes, they are not rich enough.
Aside justifiably blaming the commercial banks for hoarding the new naira notes and starving their customers of same, we all know that the apex bank sensitised the public on the new policy using different communication channels. The CBN used banks and super agents to distribute the newly redesigned banknotes, deployed its staff to conduct direct cash swap in vulnerable areas and extended the initial deadline for use of old notes as legal tender, among other measures to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians.
The decision to extend the initial deadline for all old notes from January 31 to February 10 and N200 notes to April 10 shows that the federal government and the CBN are sensitive to the plight of Nigerians as the cashless policy was never meant to punish anyone.
Another critic complained of glitches in the deployment of e-Naira towards the end of 2022 and that for some time, the app was missing on Google Play. I am aware that the Bank embarked on Project Jaeger to continually upgrade the e-Naira technology stack for efficiency, robustness, scalability, in-house control, cyber and operational resilience. Towards the end of 2022, the app was upgraded and alternative channels (web and USSD) through which customers can access their wallets were introduced.
Contrary to the assertion by the same writer that e-Naira is weak and unattractive, the reverse is the case. e-Naira has exciting and attractive features with strong fundamentals. It facilitates faster, cheaper, more secured and efficient payment. A combo (for individual and business) version of e-Naira speed wallet app was developed for flexibility and ease of accessibility. Web merchant wallet was also developed with functionalities that meet users’ requirements, including dashboard analytics for merchants, centralised account management, payment approval workflows, sub-wallets for big merchants, among others. The CBN is the first to integrate a CBDC (e-Naira) with USSD code (*997), to extend financial services at low cost, to the under-served segment of the society.
The writer committed the fallacy of false equivalence when he wrote that the adoption of the e-Naira for day-to-day transactions has been weak and unimpressive. The writer compared e-Naira performance with that of other electronic platforms that have been in existence for the past 10 years. This is unfair comparison as the objectives, targets, maturities, legal backing, among others are not the same.
In addition, adoption is gradual and most successful platforms started slowly and grew overtime. Nigeria is not doing badly with a record of over half a million wallets within the first two months compared with other countries like India that recorded 55,000 users within the same period. Adoption of CBDC (e-Naira) may take some time in Nigeria as instant electronic payments are already in existence and popular.
The CBN has been working with PSPs to integrate e-Naira with existing payment channels to provide better services, address users’ pain points and drive adoption. Referral functionality with incentives was also introduced to encourage e-Naira wallet holders to onboard potential users and drive adoption of the digital currency.
The e-Naira project is not a 100m or 200m dash. It is a marathon that will come in phases and therefore, it is too early to conclude that the e-Naira is weak when some key components and exciting products of the e-Naira project like cross-border payments and international remittances have not commenced.
The Bank has repeatedly said it would continue to improve e-Naira services, implement wholesale CBDC, facilitate government and cross border payments using e-Naira, deepen integration with Fintechs and agent networks, develop smart contracts and programmable payments, among other initiatives in the subsequent phases of e-Naira project to drive adoption.
For us as journalists to be able to light the torch for others to follow, we must be able to conduct extensive research so that we can come up with stories and articles that are unquestionable. There was a time in the history of this country that lawyers and witnesses could quote media stories in courts of law and they are accepted as credible evidences. People could go to the bank with whatever the media says because they were always above board, thorough and credible. But not anymore.
People have now developed the tendency to doubt or suspect journalists and not believe their stories. A lot of people are now watching the watchdog which is not healthy for the integrity of the profession.
To regain its long, lost glory, the media must reinvent itself and we must be meticulous in our research, thorough in our queries and balanced in our presentations.