Asked to comment on the plans, Binance West and East Africa Director Nadeem Anjarwala said in a statement: “As we continue to support blockchain adoption across the African continent, Binance is looking to partner with Nigerian Export Processing Zones. [the regulator overseeing the Lekki Free Zone] To establish a virtual free zone generating long-term economic growth through digital innovation. We look forward to sharing key details as plans are finalized.
It is surprising that a Nigerian government agency has signed a crypto partnership. While Nigeria is one of the world’s largest global markets, ranked 11th overall in crypto research firm Chainalysis’ Global Crypto Adoption Index Top 20 in 2022, the country’s regulators have often been hostile. The Central Bank of Nigeria has banned banks from enabling cryptocurrency transactions in February 2021.
In a statement, Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority CEO Adesoji Adesugba said the partnership with Binance “seeks to create virtual free zones to tap into the trillion-dollar virtual economy in the blockchain and digital economy.”
“It’s clear that the world is moving towards crypto,” Edu said. “And Nigeria cannot lock that door forever.” Incoming President Bola Ahmed’s Nineveh Manifesto seems to echo this, saying his administration will “revise government policy to encourage the prudent use of blockchain technology.”
While developing its digital infrastructure is currently Etana’s main focus, building a physical city may not be easy, judging by the experience of nearby development projects. Eco-Atlantic, a private urban project built on sand outside of Lagos “reclaimed” from the ocean, has seen slow progress since 2009.
The Lekki Free Zone itself has been plagued by disputes over alleged displacement of local communities to make way for the project. Local residents say that more than 12 villages in the Ibeju-Epe area where the free trade zone was established have been unilaterally returned by the government.
Otunba Ladipo Olusanya Adeokun, a community leader of the Idashon community in Ibeju Lekki said, “They said they want to use the land for income purposes, there is no refinery in Lagos state, so they have planned for our children”. “What about us who give birth to our children, don’t we plan for our future? Where is the money to take care of our children?
Communities around the free port have limited access to power, while Lagos itself suffers from homelessness. Building a high-profile new community like Itana is unlikely to solve those problems anytime soon.
“What I can say is that it’s not going to be cheap,” says Yakubu Aliyu Bununu, a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Ahmed Bello University in Nigeria. It’s going to take them years and years to earn enough to live in Eco-Atlantic or Alaro City or the towns that are growing around that area,” says Adunbi. (Alaro, where Itana is located, advertises housing prices from $65,950; the median annual income of Nigerians is $2,080 in 2021.)
But Aboyeji says Etana’s aim is not to lock in air-conditioned high-rises for the wealthy. “We’re not trying to pack a bunch of rich people into space, are we? What we are trying to do is to bring together a group of productive young people.
The 72,000 square meter site that will now be Etana sits empty. What was once a swamp is now filled with orange sand, protecting the original foundations. But, according to Aboyeji, the project is all about potential, about becoming a vessel of restless ambition for the Nigerian tech scene.
“We are not some foreigners trying to conquer Nigeria. We are Nigerians trying to figure out where to do our business in Nigeria and where to build for the world,” he said. I think we have a lot to teach the West about this.