By Christian Ochiama
I thank the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for this opportunity to be here today. I participated in this forum in Benin. Then I was reporting from the other side of the table. I am still a reporter but now reporting from this side of the table. As a disclaimer, I confess that this is not a technical paper. I am not a financial expert. So, I am not sufficiently qualified nor do I have the competence to deliver a paper on such an arcane subject relating to payment systems. I am here to rob minds with my professional colleagues on how to assist policymakers, CBN, in this instance, to achieve the best for everyone. System for making payments has been in place since money was invented as an abstract way of representing value. In the course of time, new and increasingly abstract representations of value were introduced. A corresponding progression of value transfer systems, starting from barter, through bank notes, payment orders, cheques and credit cards has finally culminated in electronic payment system.
Electronic Payment Systems (EPS) apart from their convenience and safety also have a significant number of economic benefits which include mobilising savings and ensuring that most of the cash available in the country are with the banks. This will make funds available to fund users both businesses and individuals. Furthermore, an electronic payment system has the ability to track individual spending and also assist in facilitating the design of products by the banks. This information is also useful to the government when making decisions. EPS also has the ability to reduce cash handling and printing costs. The arrival of the internet has taken electronic payments and transactions to an exponential growth level. Consumers can purchase goods and services from the internet and send unencrypted credit card numbers across the network, which did not provide much security and privacy. But a wide variety of new secure network payment schemes have been developed as consumers became more aware of their privacy and security. The benefits of e-payment are unquantifiable in that it has the capacity to galvanize Nigeria into a cashless society and eliminate fear of the unknown. Though e-payment is faced with challenges, like public acceptability, lack of uniform platform being operated by the banks, lack of adequate infrastructure and issues of security, with the proper use of e-payment system, corruption which is a cankerworm in the public sphere, will be holistically addressed. A payment system is any system used to settle financial transactions through the transfer of monetary value. This includes the institutions, instruments, people, rules, procedures, standards, and technologies that make its exchange possible. In other words, what I am saying is that any system that enables the transfer of funds between parties in this regard qualifies. The essence of payment systems anywhere in the world is to attain financial inclusion. It is from this perspective that we ought to appreciate the CBN’s determination to close, if not eliminate, the gap between the banked and unbanked members of the Nigerian society. In formulating its policies as they relate to this system, it has in mind the singular aim of bringing everyone into the financial net so as not to leave anyone behind. In actualizing his mandate, the CBN has enabled the introduction of some payment systems that are widely in use today. They include the Automated Teller Machines(ATMs), Point of Sale (POS), cheques, credit cards, debit cards, telephone banking, internet banking, interswitch, paystack, the newly introduced Nigerian Quick Response Code (NQR code) and many others, you know them. These were introduced basically to make payment and business transactions easy and seamless.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has primary oversight over the payment systems by virtue of the CBN Act, as amended in 1999. The CBN, as with many other central banks, designs payment systems oversight based on criteria provided by the Bank for International Settlements. These criteria include:
i) Safety – managing the risks at each stage of the payment system and across all the different products and services; ii) Security – providing confidence to the various stakeholders in the payment system market that it can be trusted and is able to withstand external threats and shocks.; iii) Soundness – demonstrating the capability and ensuring the payment systems function in a non-disruptive manner; iv) Efficiency – providing measures to assure that the payment systems are cost-effective, reliable and promote financial and economic stability; v) Accessibility – that the payment system and the various products within it can be accessed and used by all segments of the population; vi) Authorisation – creating regulations that allow entities to provide services and ensuring that regulations are adhered to by providers in the market. The CBN’s Financial Sector Strategy 2020 (FSS2020) has three broad objectives:
vii) To strengthen the domestic financial market
viii) To enhance integration with other foreign markets; ix) To build an international financial centre. Nigerian Payment Systems Vision 2020 as defined by the FSS 2020 is to develop a national payment system that is “Nationally Utilised and Internationally Recognised”. The development of the payment system has the long-termvision to reduce cash dependence in making payments. This follows the policy aimed at bringing about cashless society and financial inclusion. Those were some of the considerations that were taken into account when designing the payment system. Without doubt making policies directed at the larger society effective requires the buy- in of the media. It is through the media that people are able to get informed and updated about what is happening around them and the world and that helps them to make judgments regarding various issues. It is indeed a very critical role that comes with enormous responsibility. A piece of information can make the difference between success and or failure of a policy. To that extent, therefore, professionalism cannot and must not be compromised because personal, corporate and national integrity are, as always, at stake.
To educate we, as media practitioners must act from a position of strength. Of Knowledge. Being well-informed. Be well acquainted with the policy. This requires self-improvement. The Socratic dictum: Man know thyself. An unexamined life is not worth living, becomes for us important. We must report accurately, precisely. We must not assume that members of the public know otherwise they will ignore us. Why should they bother with us if they already know? When we present our discussions on our various platforms, conventional and social, we must learn not to talk down on our audience or talk over their heads. It irritates. We owe ourselves a duty to return the confidence the public, especially policymakers, have in the media by practicing what I choose to call development journalism.In doing this, we encourage our leaders to succeed. We can be optimistic without being subservient. At all times, we must engage our leaders, at all levels, constructivelyby providing policy options even as we point out what we perceive as the inadequacies in those policies. Having said this, when we talk about the media, we are talking of Radio, Television, Newspaper/Magazines and the Internet. These have an activated arsenal helpful for the dissemination of sensitive and impactful information to the masses.
The numerous responsibilities entrusted to the media, their scope of coverage and span of operation, undoubtedly, catapult human development across all facets of life. But the seemingly unlimited powers of the media, all things being equal, have the captivating prowess to mesmerize their diversified audience to exist either for or against a concept, policy, programme, project or any initiative with a motivated spirit sparring from their outmost belief and trust in the media. At the spark of any positivity, the media, develops strong following of development-oriented citizens yearning for patriotism, socio-economic growth, social accountability, monitoring and evaluation, productive services, among others.
Generally, the dissemination of information, a function of the media is a credible tool and means of amassing citizenship participation and their effective contribution of quota towards nation building.
The continuous publicity by the media functions as a luring activity, an appetite for the patronage of any activity of benefit to one’s society. The attainment of such feat will not be possible on the score of the media failing to perform its core mandate, but rather substituting that with selfishly coerced practices on the principle of tilted concepts developed out of unprofessionalism.
Excerpts of a paper presented in Enugu by the Executive Director/Chairman of Editorial Board of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group Ltd, Mr. Christian Ochiama, to Financial Correspondents Association of Nigeria(FICAN) on October 7, 2021