This week, news about Nigerian payments startup, Flutterwave, being “summoned” by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) made the rounds.
According to some reports, this had to do with the company’s crowdfunding efforts in support of the #EndSARS protests.
The demonstrations began on October 4 when youths in various Nigerian cities took to the streets to protest against police brutality and request the disbandment of a unit of the police force: the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Since then, calls for police reformation and the #5for5 demands have been added to the protests.
Startups like BuyCoins, Paystack, and Busha were among the first set of companies to donate to the fund.
However, a now-deleted tweet by Feminist Coalition, a group of Nigerian feminists fighting against the injustice of SARS, said the donation link used by the payments company as well as the group’s bank account had been deactivated.
“For demanding an end to police brutality we are now under attack! Our bank account has been deactivated and so has the Flutterwave donation link. Our members’ lives are also being threatened,” the tweet read.
Similarly, a report by Peoples Gazette claimed that this was because of pressure from the CBN and other government bodies to cut off financial supply to the protesters. It also reported that earlier on Monday, Flutterwave had communicated that an update would be made on the platform which “became suspicious when their bank account was also deactivated.”
Meanwhile, other reports from Twitter suggested that the company had been summoned by the CBN and was being questioned about the credibility of its fundraising efforts.
“No, nothing like that. The links are undergoing maintenance. When they’re back up, we’ll announce through the same people as before and update everyone. It’s just a maintenance problem,” the spokesperson said.
Before this development, the company had raised over ₦15m (~$33,000) from global donations, but while protesters wait for the reactivation of the links, donations are being made in using bitcoin.
More than $6,500 worth of bitcoin sent in less than 18 hours
Following up on its initial tweet, Feminist Coalition sent out a Providus Bank account number and a bitcoin address for the next set of donations.
Powered on blockchain.com, individuals can send any amount of bitcoin to the group. This bitcoin is then converted to naira for easy disbursement to protesters. However, considering how long it takes to convert bitcoin to naira via the platform, releasing urgently needed funds might be a painstaking process.
As at yesterday, the group had raised over ₦37m (~$81,500) while disbursing more than ₦11.8m ($26,000) across 90 protests in the country. And since the creation of the bitcoin link yesterday, over $6,500 (₦2.9m) across 132 transactions has been made.
The government or the CBN can’t clamp down on platforms with non-custodial wallets and peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchanges like Sendcash. But this is not the case with Flutterwave or any centralised payment platform.
Use cases like this spotlight the importance of blockchain, especially cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. As a decentralised system, funds raised can neither be traced to anyone nor controlled by the government.
One of the themes of the current protest is that there are no leaders. This in itself echoes decentralisation and the ingenuity of bitcoin offers the perfect condition to thrive.