Nigerians bury cash in backyards as mobile banking stumbles

Every few days, Tasiu Abdurrahman takes the money he makes from selling spices in Nigeria’s biggest northern city and buries it in his yard.

A man looks at potatoes displayed on a stall at the Monday-Market, one of the biggest markets, in Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria, on July 4 2017.
Image: STEFAN HEUNIS / AFP

The 55-year-old closed his bank account eight years ago after growing disillusioned with standing in long lines for hours to deposit or withdraw cash. Abdurrahman is one of about 500-million of the unbanked in Nigeria, which despite having Africa’s largest mobile-phone market, is only just opening up to the technology to bring banking to its estimated 200-million people.

“My business partners need cash,” said Abdurrahman as he juggled two mobile phones at his ginger and tamarind stand, one of many dotting the streets in Kano. “If they all opened bank accounts, I would be happy to.”

Financial inclusion in Nigeria — which vies with South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy — has gone backward as the regulator blocked network operators from applying for mobile-money licenses that would allow cash transfers without the need for a bank account. Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of banked adults dropped nearly 4 percentage points to 39%, while the sub-Saharan African average increased more than 8 percentage points to 43%.

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