CBN: Expanding Digital Inclusion Through e-Naira Grassroots Advocacy
By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem
Despite the breakthroughs made in recent years, Nigeria is still largely bedevilled by illiteracy as millions of adults are completely unlettered and are not able to make sense of the written word, a challenge which limits their capacity and usefulness to the society.
According to federal government figures released last year, nearly 70 million Nigerian adults, representing 31 percent of the population, are illiterates, a reduction from the 76 million (38 percent) figure recorded the previous year.
While general literacy is important and the federal government has been putting in the work to improve the statistics, digital literacy is even more important. Digital literacy is an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information by utilising digital media platforms. It is a combination of both technical and cognitive abilities in using information and communication technologies to create, evaluate, and share information.
Digital inclusion on its part involves the activities necessary to ensure equitable access to and use of information and communication technologies for participation in social and economic life including for education, social services, health, social and community participation.
It is difficult, if not impossible, therefore, to separate general literacy, digital literacy, and digital inclusion from one another because the three concepts are so related, and they lead to one another. A man has to be literate first before we can talk of making him digitally literate. The extent of digital literacy in a given society determines the percentage of the populace that takes advantage of the digital space, tools, and opportunities (digital inclusion).
As far as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Pantami, is concerned, Nigeria’s march towards attaining 95 percent target for digital literacy in 2030, as contained in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020 – 2030, is fully on course.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which is an integral part of the coordinated effort by the federal government to improve digital literacy and expand digital inclusion kick-started a smart move in that regard in October 2021 when President Muhammadu Buhari, aided by the apex bank’s boss, Godwin Emefiele, launched the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) which is commonly known as e-Naira.
Emefiele told Nigerians that e-Naira was launched as a store of value, medium of exchange, and a more viable alternative to the physical naira. He added that the e-Naira was introduced to move the country away from cash-based economy and empower Nigerians to take advantage of the digital ecosystem to send and receive money, transact business in a more robust, more efficient, faster, cheaper and less cumbersome manner.
Since the e-Naira was launched with pomp and pageantry in 2021, the CBN has not gone to sleep. The apex bank has invested resources, time, and energy to educate and enlighten Nigerians on the viability of the e-Naira and the urgent need to get on the platform. The sceptical attitude with which Nigerians received the news of the launch of e-Naira made the CBN job a bit complicated. The response of the bank’s management has also been comprehensive.
Some Nigerians thought there was no need for the e-Naira since we already had online/internet banking. Some were of the opinion that e-Naira was the same thing as cryptocurrency, which the CBN had repeatedly condemned as unregulated and volatile and warned Nigerians against it. Some Nigerians who were not literate didn’t even give it a thought, others who were poor and lacked smart phones and bank accounts ruled themselves out completely.
After years of consistent messaging by the CBN on the nature and potential of e-Naira, a lot of Nigerians in urban centres are now aware that e-Naira is cheaper and easier to operate; that it is also immune to the network challenges that is common with internet banking. They also know that e-Naira is not the same as cryptocurrency, which is unregulated, unstable, and risky.
Nigerians in the urban centres are also aware that without bank accounts, smart phones, etc, they can benefit from the e-Naira platform, and most of the three million Nigerians on the platform are young urban dwellers.
The CBN’s e-Naira team has, however, in recent months, focused more attention on the rural areas and even some urban market women, artisans, and roadside sellers of basic consumables. The CBN team has transversed the length and breadth of the country in search of the educationally disadvantaged and financially handicapped Nigerians, women and youth groups in rural areas who may not have access to the mass media to be able to receive CBN’s messages on the benefits of the e-Naira.
For example, the Bank’s team organised a sensitisation workshop for Keke Napep riders in Kano early this year to teach them how to get onboard the e-Naira platform and operate it. At the end of the workshop, the excited riders agreed to start accepting e-Naira as a mode of payment from their passengers.
Earlier this week, the CBN team also took its rural advocacy programme to Gadun Albasa, a suburb of Kano, where they trained over 400 people on the usage of the e-Naira.
During the programme which was witnessed by Economic Confidential team, the Deputy Manager of the CBN Digital Team, Abdul Shadrach, said that the main purpose of training the participants was to get them acquainted with the digital version of the Naira, while enlightening them on the benefits of participating in the CBDC ecosystem.
He said the bank was training the participants on how to make use of the e-Naira platform and also how to train others in their respective families and localities.
Making a case for the less privileged, Shadrach noted that it is unfair that when digital products are made available, only the learned people get to benefit from them while leaving the educationally disadvantaged behind.
He added that the Kano event was part of efforts to change the narrative and give everyone a chance to experience the ease and peace that come with digital currency.
He stated that the CBN has the USSD code version of the e-Naira (*997#) which people with no literacy and smart phones can easily access, as against the app on android devices that is more technically difficult for them to operate and that also requires smart phones.
“One of the issues is that most times when we release digital products, it’s only the learned ones that get to benefit, and we end up relegating the less privileged ones.
“But this time around we want to get it right, to include every single individual, even if you don’t have a smartphone, CBN has the USSD version of the e-Naira platform, you can dial *997# and enjoy the service.
“So that is why you see people gathered here without discrimination on the basis of academic status, and we are hoping that when they go back, they will become ambassadors and teach others in their respective localities,” he said
The CBN top shot also hinted at the need for continuous education of several individuals about not just e-Naira but the ecosystem in its entirety, so as to ease their accessibility of similar products in the future.
Shadrach urged Nigerians to fully embrace the federal government’s cashless economy, which he said commenced many years ago, adding that it is a journey in sequence.
He then enjoined Nigerians to embrace the policy wholeheartedly despite the harsh effects it is currently having on them in the interim.
It is obvious that the CBN has made up its mind to de-emphasise the elite class, who are already enlightened, and target the poor traders and farmers in rural areas who lack the information or education on how they can do business better and faster. It is difficult if not impossible to fault this strategy as it will make life very easy for Nigerians, and it will liberalise digital inclusion instead of restricting it within the privileged few.
The way the CBN is going about its nationwide, rural-based advocacy on e-Naira, Nigerians will in a matter of months or years forget about keeping cash and the cash crunch they are suffering now as everyone including roadside sellers and Okada riders will begin to accept e-Naira as a form of reliable payment and a credible medium of exchange.
Abdulrahman Abdulraheem, an economic journalist firstname.lastname@example.org
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