The CBN Is Launching Debit Cards. See Other Odd Stuff It’s Done

January 17, 2023

In October 2022, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), led by Godwin “Meffy” Emefiele, announced it’d launch a domestic card scheme in January 2023. If the last few months are a pointer, you’d know the CBN doesn’t play with its announcements.

On January 16, the CBN officially launched the scheme. If it all sounds odd to you that the CBN is distributing ATM cards, that’s because it is. Let’s get into the gist of it, along with other exciting policies Meffy has introduced since his appointment in 2014.

Debit cards and why the CBN wants to issue them

The CBN is now distributing debit cards, that much is obvious. But why? In October, when it was first announced, the apex bank identified a couple of reasons for this move.

One, it wants to boost financial inclusion and transition to a cashless economy by operating a credit card scheme that is significantly cheaper than what traditional banks offer.

All interbank payments done in Nigeria use an infrastructure known as the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS). NIBSS is a shared-service e-payment infrastructure company owned by both the CBN and all licensed deposit money banks (DMBs) in Nigeria. The new cards will be issued through NIBSS.

Two, it wants to enhance what it calls “data sovereignty.” Common cards in use in Nigeria include Visa and Mastercard, both foreign-owned. The CBN hopes to compete with those and become the card of choice for Nigerians.

A scheme like this isn’t new and is already in place in India. However, there are worries that this might create unfair competition with the CBN being a player and regulator. We’ll see how that plays out.

Anchor Borrowers’ Programme

In November 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, in conjunction with the CBN, launched the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). Essentially, it’s a scheme that allows smallholder farmers to receive loans at low interest from the CBN through banks, to help them boost production.

Much money has gone into this scheme, as much as ₦2.1 trillion. And while there have been some benefits, like improved local rice production, it’s hard not to wonder whether it was worth it. 

One of the objectives of the programme is to ensure food price stability. However, food inflation currently constitutes half of Nigeria’s overall inflation. It hasn’t met that objective.

There’s also the fact that most of these loans have turned out to be awoof. Many farmers who got the loans were discovered to be “ghost farmers.” Sometimes, people just opened accounts to collect their share of the national cake, never to be seen again.

Moreover, only 50 per cent of the loans disbursed have been repaid due to poor monitoring and implementation. When expectations are weighed against reality, the ABP could be described as disappointing.

E-naira

While we won’t dare accuse Meffy of having the anti-Midas touch, the CBN governor has a knack for experimentation which often has weird consequences — to put it mildly.

Take your pick from asking banks only to include 200 notes in ATMs, placing limits on withdrawals and, of course, the ugly naira redesign. Yet, we can’t forget the e-Naira launched in 2021.

E-Naira is a Central Bank Digital Currency, a digital form of money widely available to the public, made using blockchain technology — the same tech that powers bitcoin.

The CBN launched it following a crackdown on cryptocurrencies, which declared them illegal. The problem is e-Naira is pegged to the naira, which is notorious for its wild fluctuations. Who wants semo when there’s pounded yam?

In November, Meffy announced that e-Naira was a “success”, having recorded 700,000 transactions worth ₦8 billion. “Success” is doing heavy lifting in that sentence. That’s less than 2,000 transactions a day for a banking population of at least 68 million people

The jury’s out on whether the CBN debit cards will gain wide acceptance. But given Meffy’s mixed record with policy implementation, we wouldn’t hold our breaths.

We write the news and track the 2023 elections for citizens by citizens in our weekly newsletter, Game of Votes. Make the subscription of a lifetime here.

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