South African bitcoin exchange ICE3X has launched bitcoin trading in Nigeria for the first time, opening up a potentially huge market for bitcoin in Africa's most populous country.
The company has formed an exclusive partnership with Nigerian payment processor VoguePay, allowing users to buy and sell bitcoins using the local currency, the naira, directly from existing VoguePay wallets.
is also planning to roll out merchant services allowing local businesses to accept bitcoin.
Breaking new ground
Speaking to CoinDesk, ICE3X (pronounced 'ice-cubed X') founder Gareth Grobler described Nigeria as "virgin territory" for bitcoin, with only a small number of traders and hobbyists involved so far.
Setting up in the country was "pretty straightforward", Grobler added, saying it was simply a matter of expanding the business and infrastructure ICE3X already operates in South Africa.
By building a more advanced online payment system in Africa, a VoguePay spokesperson said, the company will pave the way for young African entrepreneurs to foster better business relationships, making the online markets more accessible to millions of Africans.
VoguePay's executive and research teams are based in Canary Wharf, London, while its development, operations and professional services groups are located in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos.
Massive youth market
According to the Nigeria Communications Commission, in June 2013, the country had 48.1 million active Internet subscriptions through mobile phone networks, yet ICE3X says this space has been largely ignored by the digital currency advocates.
Setting up a bitcoin exchange may have been the easy part, though – Nigeria may have other hurdles to overcome if it is to participate in the global bitcoin economy.
It is the country that gave name to, and is synonymous with, the notorious '419 scam' phenomenon, which should be familiar to anyone who has ever used email.
Bitcoin may not be able to prevent such crimes from occurring, but it's important to remember 419 scams have operated just fine for decades in the fiat currency space without bitcoin's help.
Additional security measures enabled by bitcoin, such as multisig wallets and escrow accounts, could help overseas customers transact with legitimate Nigerian businesses with greater peace of mind.
That's exactly the problem bitcoin solves, Grobler said.
It is "only natural" for Nigeria to want to take part in these new opportunities, he continued, and is a market that simply cannot be ignored any longer.
This is true even if bitcoin is not quite ready for everyday use as money.
Building a solid customer base in Nigeria aligns with ICE3X's longer-term product development strategy to have a robust, well tested infrastructure from which to launch its solutions.
ICE3X "cannot forsee" entering any additional African markets at this stage, Grobler said, but does plan to launch a USD market later this month.
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