Thursday, 30th November 2023

‘Decentralisation and quest for alternatives to traditional financial systems’

By Tobi Awodipe
19 August 2023   |   3:02 am
Samuel Akpan is the Global PR spokesperson for Consensys in Nigeria. Consensys has been at the forefront of innovation since 2014, driving technological developments within the Web3 ecosystem. Akpan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication and two post-graduate diplomas, including an MBA pathway degree from OTHM. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, he speaks…

Samuel Akpan is the Global PR spokesperson for Consensys in Nigeria. Consensys has been at the forefront of innovation since 2014, driving technological developments within the Web3 ecosystem. Akpan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication and two post-graduate diplomas, including an MBA pathway degree from OTHM. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, he speaks on the company’s impact on the Nigerian Decentralised Finance (DeFi) and crypto space. He also gives insight into broader implications of blockchain and Web3 technologies on industries and financial freedom.

How is Consensys contributing to the blockchain ecosystem and what role does Nigeria play in its global strategy?

I think we are playing a strong role already; we have been making inroads despite the regulatory landscape in the country. In March, we announced our partnership with Moonpay to enable users to buy crypto directly into their self-custodian wallets without using a centralised exchange. This is very important in the scheme of things because as we can all recall, last year, a number of these centralised companies blew up and some of their owners disappeared with people’s money. The difference with a wallet like Metamask is that whatever you put on the wallet is yours and not even me can take it away from you. Even if it’s stolen, it is useless to the thief; that is why it is a self-custodian wallet. Giving people the opportunity to take funds from their bank account into their wallet without interfacing with a centralised exchange is a big move. There are still a few more initiatives in the works which I wouldn’t mention; but what I can say now is that the survey we conducted painted Nigeria in a good light and a number of those work streams, which we are going to expand, is our contribution to the blockchain ecosystem in Nigeria. People know Nigerians are aware of crypto. We are way ahead in guessing correctly what a blockchain is, highest percentage wise in terms of crypto purchase and ownership. This shows us that we need to move fast and I expect a lot more to happen over the next one or two years.

So, if one misplaces one’s password, the money is still safe?
Yes. Unfortunately, if you misplace your seed phrase, no one can recover it. Think of it like your house key, which if you misplace, you can break down the door. If your seed phrase is misplaced, there is no way to break the Ethereum blockchain. With a self-custodian wallet, your funds are not in that wallet. Just like bank apps, your money is not in the app exactly, it is in the bank’s database or safe. There is no centralised exchange and that is why it is a new paradigm because you have eliminated the need for a ‘middleman’. We know that not everyone has the capability to self-custody and we gave people back-up options and so, there are initiatives that would allow users create two trusted parties who can help recover the funds in case you misplace your wallet or pass away or anything at all.

What success stories can you share about the partnerships you have so far had with Nigerian organisations?
We have had a few. There are several people that applied for grants through our Metamask grant programme. Unfortunately, the way it works currently, we do not ask people where they come from but we know that many recipients are Nigerians. We also worked with Moonpay and we intend to do more. We know we can do more and like I said, a lot will be happening in the next one to two years.

How would you say Web3 differs from traditional web technologies?
Web3 refers to the next generation of the internet where individuals have more control over their data, privacy and online interactions. The web we currently are in is owned and controlled by a few organisations – Facebook, Google and a couple of centralised companies in the middle – and no one questions them. These people can wake up one day and ban your social media accounts without any reason, fundamentally altering people’s lives. These companies sell your data without giving you a percentage of the profit they make from said data. They use the content people create to enrich themselves without sharing that value with the creators. Web3 is looking to change all that so that creators and users get value. It is simply a decentralised form of the internet whereby middlemen, if any, must seek permission from individuals to be able to move.

What are the key advantages and potential use cases of Web3 technology in industries?
Anywhere there are middlemen, Web3 has a use case. Crypto’s main purpose is value transmission, but much cheaper compared to traditional banks. If you think of how much banks and finance companies charge to enable transfers or move value, you will see it is unnecessary. If we can reduce this cost by almost a hundred per cent and still achieve value and efficiency, why don’t we explore that option? Right now, the fastest and cheapest way to send money from Lagos to say, Australia, is via crypto. It’s a technology that can move value quickly, seamlessly and instantly while still being affordable. It is also open and usable by anyone. People are struggling to open and maintain bank accounts whereas if you have internet connection, you can do this all on your own.
Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is something I am also very happy about because of its ability to create alternatives to traditional financial systems. Imagine a world where you don’t only have to rely on your traditional, local financiers for loans or mortgage but you can also rely and talk to protocols that exist globally, from your crypto wallet. This is possible with DeFi today and we would see more of these as the ecosystem continues to expand. There is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) today and there are other self-sovereign solutions that people can use to prove that they are who they say they are anytime they interact on the internet. Beyond artworks which they are mostly known for, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) can also be used as authentication mechanisms, which in turn brings transparency into the system. We know transparency improves accountability and that is what crypto brings to the table.

Consensus has an NFT platform. How is it empowering creators, artistes and collectors in Nigeria?
Our NFT platform is still new and we are trying to perfect the technology. What we realised is that a lot of NFT platforms are built for native crypto people and don’t often cater to traditional brands like gaming organisations, sports and lifestyle brands. This set of people have no clue what a blockchain is not to talk of what an NFT is and this is what we are trying to change. We have done some initiatives internationally not yet locally. We have partnered with lottery brands, artistes and sport brands as well. We did one for the Sacramento Kings where we created a new auction platform that participated in live bidding in an on-game sports gear and that helped increase the resale value of the gear and we have worked with them on some other initiatives which would come to light soon. We are still in the early stages and it is only when we have perfected the tech that we can comfortably extend it to other places.

What impact have NFTs had on the global art scene, and what potential do they hold for Nigeria’s art community?
As part of our rebrand, we interviewed builders of every form, including artistes, tech people and people into music NFTs. We spoke with Yinkore, a Nigerian digital artist, who revealed that after being introduced to crypto, she made more money selling digital arts in one month than she would have made from her law firm salary in a year. This is the potential it holds; you can get capital from anywhere in the world. You may see something nice on social media that you want but the seller is in India for example. How do you pay the person? Crypto enables you to do this instantly and like Yinkore, her market exploded beyond the shores of Nigeria across the world, and that is what we expect to happen with crypto. Thanks to the internet; you can talk to anyone in the world and I strongly believe we should be able to send funds to anyone globally, quickly and cheaply. NFTs would help Nigerian artistes to explode into a global market space and compete for fans across the globe instead of just limiting themselves to Nigeria and what is currently obtainable within the country.

How does Consensys ensure Web3 technologies are accessible and user-friendly for individuals and businesses, particularly in regions with limited technological infrastructure?
There are barriers like poor user interface (UI) and limited on-ramps and even though we have solved some of these issues, some remain and that is why we are selling the vision of a builder’s mindset. We want to encourage partners and entrepreneurs that are making strides in reducing these barriers to take up the challenge and once there is progress, we are happy to join you on that journey to ensure we reduce these barriers. We won’t lead this new age of the builder but simply support it and part of our objectives is to encourage everyone in this space to keep doing the work.

What steps are Consensys taking to bridge the gap between Web3 technologies and mainstream adoption?
We are doing several things, like improving our UI and for one of our products, Metamask, we made the UI more friendly and added some improvements so people know what they are signing. We understand that crypto is a collective effort of different protocols, companies, individuals and organisations and everyone in this space is thinking how to ensure the next step of mainstream adoption. Right now, it is a bit of trial and error but we will keep at it till we find a working formula.
Consensys has been undergoing a couple of rebranding initiatives. Can you provide an overview of some of them and their significance for the company’s future direction?
There were a few things we decided to look at in terms of rebranding and the first was a much more involved brand identity. We decided to redefine what a builder is. For instance, if you look at Nike, one thing they did was redefine who an athlete was and make it look like anyone and everyone can be an athlete and for Web 3, the idea is pretty much the same. We are redefining the builder and making it inclusive for everyone and offering new perspectives on how Web 3 can be. We have a new website which reflects these new values, a new brand message focusing on the builder, a bright new visual identity, a modernised logo to reflect a contemporary new brand. We know Web3 is on the cusp of a new paradigm shift and the primary reason we evolved our identity is to create the world we want to see, which is encouraging everyone to be a builder.

Some things must have spurred the need for a rebrand; how does it align with your company’s vision and mission?
Everything I said earlier ties into translating our values into our identity which we want to communicate; we are a brand that furthers builders. We have never undergone a formal branding process since we were founded in early 2014 and there have been several changes over the years. This process gave us the opportunity to align ourselves publicly and say this is where the world is headed. The result of the recent survey we carried out was like a tick in the box to remind us that we are moving in the right direction to go ahead with what we are doing.

Are there any upcoming projects, partnerships or initiatives by Consensys that will benefit the Nigerian blockchain ecosystem or the Web3 community as a whole?
Once we are ready to announce these initiatives, we would make it known to the community and world.

How do you plan to support local developers and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
We have been doing this and intend to continue doing this. We have had a lot of developers start with us and eventually move to the United Kingdom. So, it is hard to give a definitive number. We are a remote company and hire people from over 40 countries and across six continents. We want to support the right people and not just anyone. We want to partake in and support more local conferences and initiatives over the next couple of years and I am very excited about what we are building in Nigeria and across the continent.

You have emphasised the role of builders within the blockchain industry. Could you elaborate on the specific projects or initiatives your company has undertaken recently that exemplify this builder narrative?
We don’t want to pick and choose who qualifies to be a builder. The idea is that anyone and everyone can be a builder so we want to inspire and champion the builder in everyone. We have played a significant role in building and enabling the Web3 infrastructure and Metamask is the world’s most used self-custodian wallet in Nigeria and top five globally. Nigerians understand the need for self-custody and are doing so. We also have products that enable people to access the blockchain, so it routes data directly to and from the blockchain. We have proven ourselves as builders and our rebrand aims to inspire and champion the builder nature and ability in everyone. We have the tools from an infrastructure point of view and the idea is to become a trusted steward for builders and developers to go on and build for the world.

How are you engaging with local communities and builders in Nigeria? Are there any notable partnerships that demonstrate your commitment to supporting and empowering Nigerian builders?
Yes. As I said earlier, we worked with Moonpay to ensure we have all ramp access for millions of users of Metamask locally. We have also taught individuals and businesses through various means on how crypto works and how it would benefit their businesses. We will continue to do more soon. I remain shocked at the result of the survey that showed Nigeria as a crypto-knowledgeable country, far higher than other countries. It showed that 70 per cent of Nigerians surveyed guessed what a blockchain is. The market that came after Nigeria was under 40 per cent. Nigeria scored high in general crypto knowledge and for me, it means that we understand what crypto is here for. A lot of the noise and focus might be on trading of crypto tokens and its high and low. But at the core Nigerians understand that it is an alternative to our present financial system and a way to participate in the global economy without being restricted to our location. It is very comforting for us and I hope it would spur more companies at a global level to engage with us to further the industry.