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Cashless Nigeria: Some Cultural and Environmental Facts


By: Alice Omaji  
 Published Published March 20th, 2012

Money making is fundamental to the effective functioning of any society that all aspects of the society need to be considered and addressed in order to help citizens gain self fulfillment. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has promoted many benefits for using elecronic transaction  including reducing the risk of loosing cash through robberies, cash-related crimes and financial loss in the case of fire and flooding incidents.

In a culture that is said to be collectivistic and mainly rural, changing an economy from cash- based to cashless requires that certain issues be considered if we are to succeed.  A culture expert, Hofstede Geert divided national cultures into different dimensions one of which is Collectivism and Individualism.  Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family only. In this type of society, the “I“ is above “We“.

Collectivism stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. In this type of society, the “We“ is above“I“.

I lived in Australia for more than 20 years and have been back for the past 3 years. Some of my observations would be drawn from e-transactions in the Australian environment. Mainstream or White Australia culture is mainly individualistic while that of the Aboriginal or Indigenous people is collectivistic which is similar to that of Nigeria. My comments are classified into the following dimensions: cultural aspects, educational aspects and infrastructure access and their potential effect on success or failure of a cashless society.

Cultural Aspects

For a sucessful cashless society, the current culture of openness or sharing of resources with other  members of the family will need to be revisited. Fundamentally, electronic transfer systems require that end users hide their personal identification number (PIN) and automated teller machine (ATM) cards and store them separately so that no one else knows. This aspect is user-friendly in an individualistic environment where secrecy or independence is part of the culture but may require a new orientation in a collectivistic culture. From my personal experience of using the ATM in Nigeria, I have witnessed some users seeking assistance from other persons (strangers) who happen to be around. In Australia for example, I heard of some cases among the Aboriginal people where other members of the family demand for the PIN and cards that they don’t have full permission to operate. In some instances this has caused serious family violence. This lack of sharing attitude is frowned upon in a collectivistic culture.

Mainstream Australians do not exhibit the type of issues Indigenous Australians face.

Educational Aspects

Persons operating  a cashless society need to be informed that not even the banker has the right to see their PIN. Already I read about cases of bank fraud involving bank officers. For unsuspecting users, they may even give the bankers their full details (ATM and PIN) for assistants. This could open a new wave of bank fraud where individual accounts are cleared legitimately on behalf of the client. I also heard of cases among Indigenous Australians where their accounts details are handed over to retail agents and large sums of money are cleared without their consent or knowledge.

End users must also be taught how to read bank statements in order to monitor what comes in and out and how to remember their PIN.

Aside from the end-user, the bank workers need a lot of policy based education on how to handle such matters and where privacy has been violated for users to be advised to change PIN immediately. There must also be a legal backing for all concerned to know the repercussion of violating such rules.

Infrastructure Access

The first question that we must ask ourselves is whether their are sufficient banks or outlets to ensure access to facilities by both urban and rural dwellers. In Australia for example, banks are easily accessible and to those in rural or remote areas, some shopping centres are used for access. It would be nice to know if this basic feasilbity survey has been done and how to address some of these issues before June 2012 deadline. Another matter is availability of power supply 24/7. While there is improvement in the banking sector in this area, there is still a huge gap to ensure continuous non-stop supply of electricity. Just a few days ago I was in a bank for nearly the whole day because of system-related problems. A number of people were lying on the floor waiting for when the situation would be fixed. My heart went to many dejected, helpless, hungry and angry looking persons lying on the floor. There was nothing respectful about the sight.

On the end-user home front, individuals (urban and rural) must ensure they have two small boxes where ATM card and PIN are kept under lock and key but separately.

Since the handset is also poised to play a major role in the e-transaction, there must be assurance of power supply for charging the phones. At the moment some villagers travel outside the village to charge their handsets. Some even leave it there for days before they go back and collect it. The CBN may need to ensure efficient electricity supply continuously for all affected villages.

Implications for a Cashless Society

The few examples cited above point to the need for CBN to do a thorough home work in all the areas mentioned and determine issues of timeliness before it becomes like the law of Medes and Persia. Culture is fundamental to everything we do that it is incumbent on all Nigerians to determine what is culturally acceptable, adoptable or amendable in order to ensure that we are moving forward instead of moving backwards. Unless these matters are fully discussed and everyone is carried along, we might end up discouraging the rural majority from participating fully in the economy or even expose them to more serious dangers. These could be lose of money through robberies, cash-related crimes and even through fire and flood because they may choose not to use the e-transfer system entirely. 

NIGERIA IS NIGERIA AND THE WEST IS THE WEST. NOT ALL THAT GLITTERS IN AN INDIVIDUALISTIC CULTURE WORKS WELL IN A COLLECTIVISTIC CULTURE.

Mrs Alice Omaji writes from Salem University, Lokoja. She is the Director of Foundation and Pre-Degree Programmes. She can be contacted on 07056291624 or email: oamaji@hotmail.com


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