It started in November last year. Actually it started earlier but that’s when the story really took off.
I was pulling something over 50 hours a week at the office. Regular lagos hustle. Briefly at lunch or on the way back home in traffic, I’d read all kinds of random, interesting news for pleasure and for the information – like there’s a difference. Something fascinating always seemed to be happening in some part of the world.
And that’s how I came upon Bitcoin once more, it was smashing its own records and grabbing headlines at some of my favorite sites: Business Insider and Forbes, among others. Soon enough, economist.com was running stories on it too.
The first time I’d heard about Bitcoin was in January, 2013. I liked the idea of cryptography underpinning it, a secure network, decentralized internet-based payment system, theoretically free of government induced-inflation but I remained skeptical of it’s real-world relevance and ability to sustain the lofty price it was going for. Then it sold for about $60.
But by now, one bitcoin went for over $300 each. You do the math. That’s a 400% increase in price. I was certainly intrigued. Such returns are extremely rare to find. Don’t believe me? Ask your favorite local investment fund what they earned in 2013. You’d be very fortunate if that neared 20-30%. For comparison, the Nigerian Stock Exchange rose by over 40% last year, and that was considered, AWESOME.
So I thought maybe this Bitcoin thing will fall eventually, but if it works just a bit longer i.e if interest in it continues to sustain price gains , I might be able to make decent money in the process. (As of today, my confidence in Bitcoin’s technology and the potential it holds has substantially increased. )
Luckily for me, Bitcoin was attracting a lot of people’s attention, so much that a US Senate Hearing was scheduled to take place in a week’s time on the implications of Bitcoin, as the wrap-up of a three-month investigation.
It was a good and favorable time because Bitcoin’s price had a history of being sensitive to major news regarding it. If news was positive, its price could be expected to rise and if not, drop. I quickly went to work with this bit of information, and proceeded to study updates on coinmarketcap.com. It was a site that tracked the prices of Bitcoin, and related crypto-currencies. There I noticed that the price of the second currency by market capitalization i.e the currency with the second biggest total financial value; sold for a mere fraction of Bitcoin’s price – about $3.5. I decided to focus on buying it. My reasoning was that it would be far easier for that currency, Litecoin to double in price than for Bitcoin to do so, and I intended to spend up to 30% of a month’s paycheck on it. So far so good.
All that was left was to go ahead and buy the currency. The procedure was anything but straight-forward.
I would need to first convert naira to dollars, then send it overseas to people that could convert it into an electronic but non crypto-currency with which I could then buy Bitcoins without which I could not obtain Litecoins, all the while making sure I did not pay too much in commissions and fees or get defrauded.
Over the next few days, I searched websites at night and called up and visited different banks during lunchtime, attempting to convert my Naira to Dollars. First they gave me exorbitant rates for foreign exchange and exorbitant wire transfer costs. Many bank’s fees would have taken too much of my money in transfer fees, some up to as high as 15%; another said I could open a domiciliary account if I would bring two customers currently operating similar accounts with them as referees. With the short period of time I had, it was unfeasible. I thought I had scaled over the first part of the process when one bank offered me a dollar-denominated VISA card. I was already inside a branch to fill out the form when I learned that they would NOT sell me the dollars needed to fund the account.
I was exhausted. Time was running out, but I wasn’t going to give up just yet. Four days to the hearing, on November 14th, a Thursday, I discovered that a legitimate-looking Russian website was willing to accept debit cards as a payment method for Bitcoin.
I just had to transfer the money to one of my accounts with a VISA debit card.
When I got home that night, I repeatedly attempted to log into my bank’s online banking platform but it was down. Friday was tense, busy and hectic. I had so much work to do that I might not have had lunch (I don’t remember for sure) and going to bank physically wasn’t possible.
I spent ALL of that weekend trying to make the transfer. I tried at least a dozen times and on different internet connections and devices, but the internet banking platform wouldn’t open. It was disappointing.
The US Senate Hearing was scheduled to start at 3pm, Eastern Standard Time on Monday.
In the past week, Bitcoin had risen from around $330 to $400 in anticipation of the hearing. My intricate plan to buy Litecoins and gain a 100% profit before selling, was in jeopardy. The online banking platform didn’t work before the start of work, at lunch time or any other time. I closed early that day, and by 6.30pm or so I was on my way home.
While in traffic I pulled out my Blackberry, and navigated to the errant bank’s website. and to my surprise, it opened. I quickly elected to transfer all the money in the account before it became inaccessible again, and by 6.55pm the transfer was effected. I was excited. I’d finally done it after lots of effort.
Because Nigeria’s time is GMT+1, the hearing would not begin in the United States until 8pm, Nigerian time. I only had to get to a computer, make a few clicks, wait and potentially earn over half my monthly salary from a couple hours of research and speculative thinking. Not too bad, I thought.
As soon as I got home I powered on my computer, opened the relevant websites, created a user account on the Russian website and typed in my VISA card details to purchase Bitcoin.
The page I saw next is not one I am likely to forget in a hurry.
My card was declined, because it was issued for a Nigerian bank and the Ukrainian company that processed the site’s VISA card payments would not accept a card from Nigeria. I was devastated. My tenacity, effort and planning had all gone to waste.
Four days after the senate hearing, the price of Litecoin doubled to $8 and in three weeks time, it reached $20. My assumption had been correct, but I could not profit from it. I felt as if I’d lost money.
Less than a month later, I tried once more to obtain Bitcoins. This time was different.