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Why did the eNaira Speed Wallet disappear from Google Play Store and reappear about 24 hours later?

Introduction

It is no longer news that the eNaira Speed Wallet—the host app for Nigeria’s central bank digital currency (CBDC)—reappeared about 24 hours after it disappeared on the Google Play Store on Wednesday 27 October 2021. What really led to this sudden disappearance and reappearance of the eNaira Wallet app?, Nigerians have been asking.

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says eNaira Speed Wallet was removed for upgrade.

According to the CBN Director of Corporate Communications Osita Nwanisobi, the removal of the e-Naira Speed Wallet app was necessitated by the need to upgrade its functionalities after complaints had been received in respect of the glitches experienced by users.

“There is an upgrade going on at the moment by Google; try in the next few hours”, he said on Thursday 28 October 2021. “The application is now back online”, added the CBN spokesperson.

The CBN spokesmanin what bounced on Nigerians as awkwardblamed Nigerians for the removal of the eNaira Speed Wallet from Google Play Store. Speaking at the CBN Fair for the southeast geopolitical zone in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, the CBN spokesperson claimed that by entering incorrect details during sign-up, Nigerians contributed to the glitches that led to the eventual removal of the app from Google Play Store.

Meanwhile, the CBN spokesperson did not explain how an intending user’s inability to enter the correct sign-up information for an app could possibly affect the health of the app. More so, the alleged user-triggered glitches resulted in the removal of the app from the app store. 

Except the eNaira that was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari last Monday was simply an event-ready eNaira while the eventually uploaded app on Google Play Store on Thursday is the user-ready eNaira, CBN spokesperson’s explanation appears to raise more questions than answers. Rather than an outright removal of the app, could an app update not have been carried out after an app-update notification has been sent to all users by CBN? And if removal is considered most appropriate by CBN, should it not inform users before taking such action? 

To find answers to the questions on the lips of many Nigerians about the removal of the eNaira from Google Play Store last week, CAB returned to town to speak with some players about it.

Why did the eNaira Speed Wallet disappear from Google Play Store until 24 hours later?

Lucky Uwakwe, Founder of SaBi Exchange, observed that “Google, by virtue of its modus operandi and terms and conditions, normally takes down apps that have gotten a lot of negative comments, especially for newly launched apps. In the case of the eNaira Speed Wallet, it had a lot of negative comments. After the reappearance the news from CBN was that it did upgrade on the app hence the reason for the disappearance from Google Play Store. For the sake of letting the matter lie, we will take this as the official reason”.

Rather than let sleeping dogs lie, we decided to pull their tails a bit by probing further. 

Expressing his doubts about the reason given by the CBN spokesman for the sudden removal of eNaira Speed Wallet from Google Play Store, Mr. Uwakwe pointed out that “[i]f that was the case, CBN or the app owner would have notified its users via its various channels on social media or via the app itself of a pending update or upgrade. The eNaira Speed Wallet creator (CBN) did not do this”.

Could it then be that it was Googlenot CBNthat removed eNaira Speed Wallet from Google Play Store?

Charles Okaformbah, CTO at Convexity and a blockchain solutions architect, does not think so. According to Mr. Okaformbah, the removal of the eNaira Speed Wallet “[i]s not as a result of bad reviews that Google pulled down the app on Google Play Store. Google doesn’t do that. Rather, how it works is that if the app violates the Google developer policy on the Play Store, Google can take action to remove it”.

Similarly, Chiagozie Iwu, CEO of CI Cryptosolutions, does not think that it was Google who removed the eNaira Speed Wallet from the Play Store. “I think the eNaira Speed Wallet was removed because of the negative reviews. But I don’t think it was removed by Google. When I checked the rating on Google Play Store, it was about 2.3 stars. I don’t think that’s enough to delete it from the Play Store”.

Sometime on Monday after its launch, the eNaira Speed Wallet app had a 2.0 rating and 2,150 reviews from users who had downloaded it. But after resurfacing on Thursday 28 October, its rating had climbed up to 3.1, with 3,328 reviews at 6.30pm. By Saturday 30 October at 1.00am (WAT), while reviews had climbed up to 3,909, rating had fallen to 3.0 on Google Playstore. By 6:35pm (WAT), reviews had further climbed up to 4,010 but rating had further fallen to 2.9.

Who removed the eNaira Speed Wallet from the Google Play Store? CBN or Google?

Mr. Uwakwe, who is also Co-founder and COO at Blockchain Solutions Limited, thinks that Google did, regardless of the fact that Google did not pre-notify users about it before the removal. 

Contrasting CBN’s responsibility to Nigerians with Google’s responsibility to users, Mr. Uwakwe opined that “Google has no history of pre-notifying the public if an app is to be removed. As long as the app has met the criteria of what will cause it to be removed—which in this case the rate of negative feedback from app users is enough to make Google take it down pending when the app owners fix the issues raised by the users on Play Store”.

Mr. Iwu, who is not known to be a fan of the eNaira, also believes that CBN removed the app. In his words, “I think CBN removed it and then tried to fix some bugs and reupload it. They probably didn’t want people using it while they were trying to fix the bugs. So there are two ways it could have been done. They could solve the bugs and then update it. But probably, they wanted people to have a better version of the app”.

Mr. Okaformbah, a developer who isn’t new to Google Play Store, also believes that CBN removed the app itself in order to fix it. According to him, “[t]his could be as a result of the CBN eNaira development team disabling the app due to the issues that users were facing, most especially the eNaira Speed Wallet for users. The action could also be to review the negative comments and low ratings of the app for possible deletion by the development team in order not to damage the reputation of the project further”.

Therefore, Mr. Okaformbah opined that “[i]t is not as a result of bad reviews that Google pulled down the app on Google Play Store. Google doesn’t do that. Rather, how it works is that if the app violates the Google developer policy on the Play Store, Google can take action to remove it. But in this case, the removal was an action by the owners of the app to do some work on the app itself”.

How does app removal really work on Google Play Store?

According to Google Developer Program Policies, there are cases where an app would be removed from the Play Store by Google. They include impersonating other apps, infringing intellectual property, and promoting deceptive or malicious apps or apps intended to abuse or misuse any device, network, or personal data. Other reasons Google will remove apps from Play Store are when apps contain malware, crash, or “exhibit other behavior that is not consistent with a functional user experience. 

While exhibiting other behavior that is not consistent with a functional user experience may reasonably apply to the eNaira Speed Wallet considering poor user experience, Google does not have the practice of removing an app in the manner the eNaira Speed Wallet was removed. This is in contrast to Apple Store policy where poor rating may result in a removal by Apple. 

It is when Google is protecting users against potentially harmful apps (PHAs) that it applies Google Play Protect—Google’s built-in malware protection for Android—by removing the affected apps from Google Playstore. Where this is the case, a push notification from Google Play Protect will inform users of this change, giving them the option to remove the app from their device. 

For financial services, Google only prohibits apps that “expose users to deceptive or harmful financial products and services”. The app owner is required to comply with the state and local regulations for the targeted region or country.

Third-party services may be triggering some of the issues being experienced with the eNaira Speed Wallet.

After the launch of the eNaira on Monday 25 October, of the over 10,000 users who had initially downloaded the eNaira Speed Wallet, many dropped various negative reviews. While some complained about their inability to link their BVN in the sign-up process, others complained about the frustration they faced with their NINs, phone numbers, amongst others.

Mr. Okaformbah pointed out that the eNaira Speed Wallet app may not be the problem. According to the blockchain developer who has done some work with Sterling bank Plc, this is because some of the problems being experienced by users may be traceable to third-party services integrating with the app. With this in mind, he does not think that CBN’s development team should take all the blame. 

According to Mr. Okaformbah, “[s]ome of the issues that come up while using the app may not necessarily be from the eNaira app itself but third-party service integrations such as for example the NIMC NIN service or a BVN service that needs to check if the user’s NIN or BVN is correct. If the third-party service such as the BVN is failing, this will impact the usage of the eNaira app itself”. 

“If that was the case”, started Mr. Uwakwe, “CBN or any app owner would notify its users via its various channels on social media or via the app itself of a pending update or upgrade. The eNaira Speed Wallet creator (CBN) did not do that”. 

Mr. Uwakwe emphasized that CBN must realize that “by virtue of having launched a product which is available for public use where it is expected to make profit via transaction fees, CBN needs to come to the reality that it is now [effectively] both a government agency and a private company, so to speak”. Therefore, it will “no longer be business as usual when CBN could simply declare or decide a thing in the financial space without being asked questions by anyone or by the members of the public”. Given this scenario, Mr. Uwakwe, who co-founded Cheetah Africa, asserted that CBN must realize that it has a responsibility to always notify its customers (the Nigerian populace) of any update or upgrade to its app. It cannot leave users guessing or confused.

Are the eNaira and the CBN really ready for Nigerians?

Understandably, some Nigerians have started questioning the readiness or otherwise of the eNaira Speed Wallet app, and by implication the readiness of the CBN. If the CBN spokesperson’s explanation is anything to go by, it is Nigeriansnot the eNaira Speed Wallet or CBNwho are not ready for the eNaira. 

Consider these: Nigerians did not have the opportunity of seeing the no. 1 citizen of the country sign-up on the eNaira Speed Wallet live. Nigerians did not get to see the no. 1 citizen transact on the app as millions of people had expected. These raised eyebrows. It suggested, rightly or wrongly, that both the eNaira and the CBN may not be ready and well prepared respectively.

Being the unveiling event of no less an innovation than the first-ever digital currency of NigeriaAfrica’s biggest economy and one of the most advanced fintech ecosystems in the worldone would have imagined that Mr. President would at least have created an eNaira account and transacted with either Governor Godwin Emefiele or the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo. 

That did not happen. 

What happened was the unveiling of the eNaira on a white boardthe type that just makes you feel that the unveiling was sandwiched between a comedy and a tragedy. It was neither digital nor analog. That Monday, the eNaira logo smiled back at Nigerians with foreboding. 

Mr. Iwu’s general view of the eNaira is that it is neither well designed nor properly targeted, therefore it may end up not achieving the purpose for which it may have been created. According to him, “Firstly, the app requires me to use my bank’s app before I am able to transact with it; so what service does it offer me that my banks don’t already offer? So it doesn’t look to me that the CBN is targeting people that do not have a bank account. Obviously, anybody with a smartphone to download an app should also have a bank account in the first place. The fact that I have to use my bank account to login defeats the saying that they are going to “bank the unbank”. 

Indeed, currently the eNaira Speed Wallet is not for the unbanked. Although the CBN has announced that it would deploy USSD in order to enable people without smartphones and the Internet to also access the eNaira, it is yet to be deployed.

“Secondly”, continued Mr. Iwu, “the app was done haphazardly. A lot of bugs here and there. While it is true that apps do have bugs, CBN could have done much better with its budget for the eNaira whichfrom what I gathered—is up to N13 billion. The eNaira Speed Wallet was very unprofessional; it had very very basic bugs. Even the API connection between the app and the bank open APIs was very bad. [sighs] It was a disaster”. Mr. Iwu manages the Naijacrypto exchange app and the Naijapay payment gateway.

Mr. Okaformbah, on his part, thinks that eNaira development team could have avoided the many issues that users faced if it had conducted thorough close testing on the app before launch. “I think that if the app developers had done a lot of testssay close testing of the application with some selected group of people outside the development teamI believe some of the issues would have been noticed and fixed”, he said.

“Even before now,  my view has been that the eNaira is not what we need right now. There is no actual value. It is just some PR stunt that we are the first country to launch a CBDC. There is no proper targeting. For those that say it is a blockchain project, I still don’t think it is a blockchain project”, opined Mr. Iwu. From various discourses and editorials out there—both before and after the eventual launch of the eNairaMr. Iwu does not appear to be alone.

There are also others like Lloyd Onaghinon (FCA, ACTI), an economist with corporate, business, and retail banking experience, who believes that a more collaborative CBN would greatly benefit Project Giant. Mr. Onaghinon suggests that “[a] co-created eNaira rather than one where the CBN gave the lead would have been great. Imagine if the telcos, fintechs and banks came together to ensure it was one that could be used seamlessly across their platforms. The acceptability and adoption could have been faster and the confidence levels could have been higher”. Here, Mr. Onaghinon contemplates a collaborative process that will ensure that eNaira easily operates across all the available platforms in a coordinated fashion.

Conclusion

The launch of the eNaira last week has been an anti-climax. After the heavy rain of user complaints following the dark clouds that had gathered on Google Play Store since launch date, the disappearance of the eNaira Speed Wallet from Google Play Store, by hindsight, became unavoidable. This sudden disappearance of a newly unveiled bride caused some Nigerians headache and probably heartbreak for others. And others may have used the incident to fuel their criticisms and suspicions.

With the reappearance of the eNaira Speed Wallet after 24 hours of its sudden disappearance from Google Play Store, users will hopefully start having a significantly enhanced and improved user experience with the app. 

Considering the noticeable trust deficit out there, many also believe that CBN has a lot of work to do—a lot of work.

However it turns out, it is expected that being a “work in process” and “a journey” which has only just begun, the eNaira platform will need fixes and upgrades from time to time. And however we may look at it, CBN must do better if it really wants to get the eNaira right and boost trust and adoption of Nigeria’s own digital currency.

Have you created your eNaira Speed Wallet and transacted on it today?