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‘They’d Rather Buy Bitcoin and Take That Risk’: An Interview With Paxful’s Nena Nwachukwu

In October, police corruption in Nigeria hit a low point when reports surfaced of a special anti-robbery squad (SARS) officer allegedly killing a young boy. Weeklong protests across the country followed.

The authorities tried to suppress the protests by freezing the organizers’ bank accounts. But bitcoin came to the rescue.

While authorities certainly were able to shut the protesters from sending and receiving nairas, they also underestimated people’s confidence in cryptocurrency and encouraged many to use bitcoin for the first time.

Nena Nwachukwu will speak at CoinDesk’s Crypto State event, in Lagos, on July 8.

Nena Nwachukwu, the Nigeria regional manager at Paxful since 2020, is at the forefront of the cryptocurrency industry in Nigeria. Paxful is a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to meet with each other and exchange different cryptocurrencies on nearly 400 payment options. According to data shared with CoinDesk in January, Nigeria is Paxful’s biggest market, making the country a key player in the crypto industry.

Right now, the company offers bitcoin, ethereum and the stablecoin tether. Nwachukwu joined Paxful last year after working for Chinese cryptocurrency trading platform Huobi in Dubai, where she was responsible for the company’s expansion to the Middle East and Africa. At Paxful, she focuses on business operations and developing new products while also managing accounts of VIP clients.

Nwachukwu, who will be speaking at CoinDesk’s Crypto State event on July 8, discusses Nigeria’s significant uptake in crypto adoption and entrepreneurship, which has made the country one of the biggest adapters of the cryptocurrency in the world, according to Statista.

The following has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

CoinDesk: Nigeria is the leader in crypto trading. How did the crypto adoption in Nigeria evolve?

Nena Nwachukwu: When crypto first got popular in Nigeria, prior to October 2020, a lot of people had heard about cryptocurrency or bitcoin, but nobody really knew or cared about what it was – just a few select people who were tech savvy. In Nigeria, we’ve got a lot of economic and regulatory issues and unemployment and people have always been interested in finding an alternative source of income.

What was the main event that steered people towards crypto?

Bitcoin happened in 2020, during the police brutality protest, when the government stopped the organizers from accepting donations with their bank accounts, which led promoters to using cryptocurrency and bitcoin as a payment. That was the main game changer because that protest went on for about two weeks. People were talking about how organizers would pay for medical emergencies or how they would pay for those who are on the front, protesting all day, all night. Bitcoin got very popular because it came into the discussion. Now, almost everybody in Nigeria, even my Mom and my Dad, who never cared about what I did, are asking questions about bitcoin.

They’d rather buy bitcoin and take that risk.

ban that prevents financial intermediaries from processing transactions for crypto exchanges. What happened there?

That’s an interesting question, which at first we did not like to talk about but now thankfully the central bank clarified the position. When the news first broke out earlier this year, the trending topic was that the central bank banned cryptocurrency trading. However, they came back to clarify that cryptocurrency was not banned because they knew they cannot track the currency. Banks and nonbank financial institutions were stopped from supporting cryptocurrency payment companies, so if a cryptocurrency business wants a bank account, they’re not allowed to own that bank account anymore. But the central bank has clarified that they’re not stopping trading.

So, how has this changed people’s behavior around crypto?

When something like this happens, one would think people would stop trading cryptocurrency, but it actually got more people interested. It kind of works in a reverse way here. When the government bans something, it gets people more curious. After the ban was enforced, we saw a lot of interest. In fact, trading [on Paxful from February to March 2021] increased by about 23% after the ban. Trading itself was not banned, so now there are even more people [in the bitcoin movement]. People are also looking at dogecoin, which is always trending on Twitter around here. Trading hasn’t slowed down at all, and I don’t think it’s going to anytime soon because, again, the naira is devaluing and people are very interested in preserving the value of their wealth.

My only concern is that our government and regulators will be left behind if they don’t find a middle ground to work with everyone.

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