Is the Nigerian government using the cryptocurrency ban to punish dissenting young people?

End SARS peaceful protest in Alausa, Nigeria
Sophia Purdy-Moore

On 5 February, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sent a letter to the nation’s financial institutions reminding them that the government has banned dealing in cryptocurrencies or facilitating payments for cryptocurrency exchanges. According to the letter, failure to comply will result in “severe regulatory sanctions”.

The ban comes after widespread youth-led protests against police brutality and bad governance. These protests were largely funded through cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, after the government allegedly stopped local payment platforms collecting donations in a move to suppress protests. Young Nigerians took to Twitter to call out the government for further suppression.

Government suppression of the youth-led movement

The movement against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) rose to prominence in October 2020. This was after young Nigerians mobilised against police brutality, intimidation and extortion, and bad governance. The government disbanded the notorious police unit in response. The unit had been accused of harassment, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights abuses. However, police brutality continued even after the unit’s end.

The Nigerian government continues to cover up the tragic Lekki Toll Gate massacre, in which security forces shot and killed at least 12 peaceful protesters on 20 October 2020. Following the deaths of at least 51 civilians during protests in October, president Muhammadu Buhari claimed the violence was a result of “hooliganism“. The government has banned protests. According to Amnesty International, many movement leaders have been “arrested, tortured and had their bank accounts frozen”, while others have been compelled to flee into exile. The government’s recent move to ban cryptocurrency looks like another thinly veiled attempt to suppress the youth-led mass movement.

Funding the movement

Young Nigerians took to Twitter, highlighting that the government used a similar tactic to block anti-SARS leaders receiving funds from across the diaspora in an attempt to suppress the movement. One Twitter user said:

According to another Twitter user, the government was supposed to allow anti-SARS movement leaders whose bank accounts had been frozen access to their accounts on 4 February:

Victor Babatunde presented documents which seemed to show that these accounts remain frozen:

The government’s ulterior motive

Mark Amaza highlighted the link between the Central Bank of Nigeria’s cryptocurrency ban and government attempts to suppress the anti-SARS movement:

As did JJ. Omojuwa:

Is the Nigerian government punishing its youth?

Many young Nigerians feel as though the government is looking to antagonise its politically active youth. And it’s trying to punish them for rising up against police brutality and bad governance. Even if this comes at the expense of the nation’s economy:

One user expressed their frustration at a government which refuses to acknowledge the killing of peaceful protesters and has failed to improve prospects for young people in the country:

A symptom of bad governance

Performing artist DJ Switch highlighted that this is yet another symptom of bad governance in Nigeria. She called leaders “poverty promoting dinosaurs”:

An opportunity for further harassment

Others suggested that the cryptocurrency ban will provide another excuse for the country’s heavy-handed security forces to harass and persecute young Nigerians:

 Economic impact

Omojuwa highlighted the significant impact this policy is likely to have on Nigeria’s already struggling economy:

Meanwhile, activist Reno Omokri highlighted that though this will be blow to the economy, it won’t dampen the youth-led anti-SARS movement:

Though the Nigerian government is unlikely to confirm the connection between the banning of cryptocurrency and the suppression of anti-SARS protests, this does look like an attack on Nigeria’s youth. And this move is highly unlikely to assuage young Nigerians’ dissatisfaction with, and resentment of, a corrupt, incompetent government.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Oludeleadewalephotography

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