Tola Odeyemi is one of the stakeholders moulding the nascent blockchain technology in the African region. She is the West Africa Government Affairs Lead at Binance, the largest crypto exchange in the world by trading volume.
In an interview with Technext, Tola Odeyemi narrates her journey into the blockchain space and discusses the prospects of partnering with the Nigerian authorities to foster more adoption of the blockchain.
Her first degree was in Electrical Engineering, and her second was in Systems Engineering, although she initially planned to become a medical doctor.
Tola Odeyemi had a technical background but found her way into policy when she joined the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) when the Nigerian Fintech space was just coming up, in the early days of Interswitch, payment gateways and PSSPs.
“I was lucky enough to be in under Mr. Tunde Lemo, who was a Deputy Governor Operations at the time. I was in the project where we were looking at the regulations and policies for the sort of upcoming payment innovations. So that’s sort of my first gateway into policy and technology.”
After working at the CBN for five years, Tola Odeyemi joined the Lagos State government in 2015 as a special assistant on global affairs and partnerships to the governor, Akinwumi Ambode. She eventually became a Senior Special Assistant on public utilities and the Executive secretary of the Lagos State Environmental Trust Fund.
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After the administration of Akinwumi Ambode, she joined Uber Technologies as the head of public policy for West Africa. That was also interesting because she was in the cross-space between technology and government.
After working with the government works and seeing how the private sector pushes for appropriate and proper regulations for an innovative or disruptive sort of technology, which people saw Uber as at the time, Binance just made sense for her in that this was another sort of technology innovation that need partnerships with governments, with regulators, with policymakers and politicians.
Looking at Tola’s records, she had not been in the blockchain industry before joining Binance. But she managed that transition because Binance bridges the gender gap through numerous initiatives in education, and empowerment for women.
“I feel comfortable in Binance, even though blockchain is male-dominated. And I think that’s one of the good things about blockchain in that the industry is starting well. Most technologies would have gone five, six years before there’s a need to sort of start gender rebalancing. But blockchain has started with gender balancing right from the very get go, which is one thing that excites me about blockchain.
Blockchain in Africa
As the West African Government Lead at Binance, Tola Odeyemi is in one of the best positions to assess how blockchain technology has fared in the region. Tola says Africa has always found ways to leapfrog traditional institutions.
“Now with crypto, you have on the spot settlement across, crypto has completely solved those problems. Another thing crypto has done for us on the continent is that we are able to either use crypto as a store of value or as an investment asset. So I would even say, like, for us in Africa, crypto is the new gold. It’s the new gold for us, in that gold appreciates, gold keeps its value, and that’s what crypto has done for us, regardless of what our economies are going through.”
Looking at young people, crypto is bridging the gap in economic demographics seeing that there are young people who have the opportunity to quickly scale up their skills, either in blockchain technology, according to Tola Odeyemi.
“I’m very blockchain and crypto positive. I wouldn’t have been in this role if I wasn’t. And it’s also very interesting now that most of the major economies in Africa are also looking at regulations, because what this means is that they are recognizing the power of both blockchain and crypto on the continent.”– Tola Odeyemi.
The Nigeria X Binance partnership
Sometime in 2022, there was an announcement about a partnership between the Nigerian authorities and Binance.
However, this generated a lot of controversies because there is an existing ban on crypto-related transactions by the CBN. Moreover, till now, the details surrounding this partnership are still unclear, and the common Nigerian do not know how it would affect them.
Tola Odeyemi says the point is to continue to support the Blockchain adoption in Nigeria and the African continent, which is what the collaboration with the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) was set to establish.
“NEPZA is setting up virtual free trade zones with the goal to generate long term economic growth through digital innovation. Which is where Blockchain came in. In terms of digital innovation, we’re still building. We’ll continue to support NEPZA and hopefully we will share key details with you as we fine tune and finalise the plan.”
There is a perspective that it is contradictory that the Nigerian authorities, under which the CBN banned crypto transactions, are collaborating with the world’s largest crypto exchange. But Tola says all she can see from it is interest.
“You don’t address something that you’re not interested in. So what it shows to me is an increased interest with engaging and understanding blockchain technology, either through virtual zones, through regulations, through CBDCs. Again, all we can do is prioritize that dialogue with governments to assist them in keeping abreast of developments in the crypto industry.” – Tola Odeyemi.
Binance’s relationship with the incoming Nigerian Government
Nigeria, which is at the forefront of crypto adoption in Africa, just got a president-elect. And according to the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s manifesto, he aims to enable the use of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies in the nation’s banking and finance sector. The manifesto suggests reviewing existing Nigerian Security Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations on digital assets to make them more business-friendly.
Emmanuel Ebanehita, Marketing Director (West Africa) at Binance, speaks on Nigeria’s partnership with the exchange
Asked if there are plans from Binance to forge a partnership or relationship with the incoming government to improve crypto adoption in Nigeria, Tola Odeyemi says:
“At Binance, one of the things we believe in is regulatory and institutional collaboration with key stakeholders in the blockchain ecosystem. And what we want out of it is to promote a stable regulatory environment that ensures consumer protection, user privacy, a collaborative approach to regulation, security, and others. So we’ll continue to work with all policymakers, politicians, regulators, to shape these conversations, to encourage innovation and of course move our industry forward in the region.”
Subsequently, Tola Odeyemi said she would continue to ensure that African users, African policymakers and institutions, have access to the right knowledge and understanding to harness the true power of blockchain for financial freedom.
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