CBN’s unpatriotic choice of eNaira.com domain name

This piece was 95 per cent done when the news filtered in that the Central Bank of Nigeria had moved the launch date of its ill-planned kick-off launch of the eNaira, Nigeria’s Central Bank Digital Currency.

With the launch date of the eNaira now postponed from the original set day, October 1, the CBDC remains the subject of discussions among which include a looming court case. In my exploration of the eNaira project a few weeks back, I ruminated over the CBN’s decision to launch its own digital currency after it had previously shown hostility towards players and traders in Nigeria’s cryptocurrency space. I also expressed my opinion on the CBN’s choice of a rather ‘unknown’ foreign company, Bitt Inc. and what the move would mean for our innovative fintech players in the country.

Yes, the Nigerian Fintech ecosystem with the likes of Remita, Paystack etc. has proved that a lot can be done when innovators are allowed to leverage technology to solve problems. The SystemSpec’s historical example of being able to leverage technology to shrink 20,000 plus government accounts into a single account with a solution called Remita that was developed 100 per cent locally, shows that a lot is indeed possible. Yes, one may assume that the eNaira is about blockchain, what do indigenous FinTechs know about this emerging technology? Well, a lot as many of them are already building robust blockchain infrastructure in readiness for what is ahead. My point here is that we should give our own a chance to innovate and prove themselves, rather than helping unknown foreign companies to build capacity.

While I applaud the CBN’s initiative to launch its own CBDC, there are still a few drawbacks that could rob the development of much enthusiasm not to mention public trust. Even as I write, different issues have crawled out of the woodwork, all against the CBN’s approach towards the eNaira project.

The most pressing of these issues is the domain name selected by the CBN. On Monday, the apex bank launched www.enaira.com as the official website of its digital currency. You may already be aware; however, it is worth mentioning again that choosing a domain name with a dot com is an erroneous move for obvious reasons. By its very existence, the eNaira is supposed to be a proudly Nigerian asset. If this is the case, why does the website bear a .com rather than a .ng as is appropriate? Why would our government refuse to patronise and popularise one of the country’s most important national assets?

Does this move portend danger to the country as a whole? Economically speaking, I strongly believe so. I had a brief chat with the erstwhile President of the Nigerian Internet Registration Association, Rev. Sunday Folayan. I quote his words.

“There are principles around choosing domain names. There is the safety of national assets if registered under .ng. By the time the men of the underworld finish cloning the eNaira.com website, the ordinary citizens will be over scammed. There is no doubt that in this clime the government’s use of a dot com is untrusted, easy to get (or lose), and not in anyway Nigerian.”

He added that since it is a given that the website can be cloned, many variants (fakes) will show up shortly. Unfortunately for the average citizen and those who are not technically inclined, knowing the real one will be an uphill task. The right call, in this case, would have been to use anything close to enaira.cbn.gov.ng.

This just goes to show that the government plays its card so close to its chest much to the detriment of the country and the citizens. I mean, there is an established membership-driven organisation for the registration of .ng domain names; yet, the CBN chose to ignore key stakeholders, thus leaving citizens and their hard-earned money at the mercy of unscrupulous characters.

I also had a conversation with the current President of NIRA, Muhammed Rudman, whose position is similar to that of the former president. According to him, the.gov.ng domain is only assigned to government ministries, departments, and agencies that have been thoroughly vetted; as such, there is no way for a criminal to register a domain under the gov.ng.

He said, “Choosing a domain name with a dot com is capital flight because the domain is paid in USD. The amount for a single domain may be small, but if other Nigerians do the same, the amount adds up. With the current economic realities, we should all look inwards by purchasing local content, and it is the government’s responsibility to lead the way.”

I totally agree with his assessment. I thought I was immune to feelings of shock and surprised where our government is concerned. But this level of hypocrisy and thoughtlessness of our leaders is incredibly shocking. You see them at the forefront, volubly advocating for local content/product consumption and banning startups working hard to innovate in order to protect our ‘precious’ naira. Yet their actions completely contradict what they preach. If there was a dollar for every citizen each time the government leapt into action without thinking about the long-term consequences, many Nigerians would have had quite a tidy stream of income. And maybe there would be a check on incessant directives and policies churned out with reckless abandon.

Anyway, I know for a fact that some shrewd people may have gone ahead to register some .ng extensions of eNaira. However, it is not too late for the CBN to make another choice having thoroughly considered all the principles around choosing domain names. The eNaira belongs to the entire nation not the personal commodity of the ruling class. The CBN should use a sub-domain under cbn.gov.ng for any new initiative to protect Nigerians from pains due to scams and phishing.

The CBN, eNaira, and a possible litigation

To say that Nigeria is home to hilarious leaders is an understatement. As if the issue of the CBN’s eNaira domain name is not striking enough, the apex bank has been accused of trademark infringement. How positively scandalous!

A statement issued by Olakunle Agbebi & Co, solicitors to ENAIRA Payment Solutions Limited popped up a few days ago, warning the CBN to desist from using the proposed name- eNaira. Interestingly, the firm was reportedly incorporated on the 7th of April, 2004, and is still functioning as a legal business entity to all intent and purposes.

Not willing to be sacrificed on the altar of governmental ambition, the company has figuratively yanked the rug from beneath the CBN. A part of the statement reads:

“The potential to deceive the general public into believing that this product emanated from our client’s company is real and the consequences for our client are grave. The potential to expose our client to all manner of damage, loss of business, and loss of goodwill are also very real.

“Our client has approached the federal high court in suit No. FHC/AB/CS/113/2021 between ENaira Payment Solutions Limited vs Central Bank of Nigeria to seek restraining orders, including an order to restrain the CBN from proceeding with the proposed launching on the 1st of October 2021.”

The CBN has been slapped with a lawsuit; which begs the question: How prepared is the CBN to launch a widely accepted and controversy-free digital currency? If recent developments are anything to go by, I would say not yet and definitely not in a rush.

So now we know one of the reasons that led to why the launch date was postponed. I don’t exactly buy the story that the postponement is because of the Independence celebration. Honestly, what is even there to celebrate with the country sinking more and more into poverty with growing insecurity?

In any case, the CBN and the government choose to spin this, what is important is developing a national product that will have positive impacts on the economy and improve the economic situation of Nigerians. Nigeria should not be in competition with other countries to launch its CBDC, seeing as our circumstances are indeed peculiar and complex.

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