A trader sells dried seafood and tomatoes at a stall in Swali market in Yenagoa, Nigeria, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg
INTERNAIONAL - Nigerian legislators approved a 2018 budget of 9.1trillion naira (R312billion), its biggest yet, to help boost economic growth less than a year before general elections. 

The Senate voted to increase spending plans by more than a fifth from the previous year, according to proceedings led by chamber President Bukola Saraki on Wednesday. The House of Representatives, the National Assembly’s lower chamber, also approved the plans.

The bill comes six months after being presented to lawmakers by President Muhammadu Buhari and is 5.8percent more than the 8.6trln naira budget proposed in November.

The legislators also increased the oil-benchmark price for the budget to $51 (R637.30) a barrel from $45 proposed by Buhari, on the assumption of crude output of 2.3million barrels daily and an exchange rate of 305 naira a dollar.

Africa’s most-populous nation and biggest oil producer wants to boost economic expansion to about 3.5percent this year, partly by investing almost a third of the budget in roads, rail, ports and power.

Recovery

Last year, the economy staged a fragile recovery after contracting in 2016 for the first time in a quarter century.

The plan includes recurrent expenditure of 3.5trln naira, capital spending of 2.8trln naira and debt service of 2.2trln naira. The fiscal deficit is forecast at 1.9trln naira, or 1.73percent of GDP. Buhari will have to sign his approval for the budget to become law.

It’s important for the administration to continue to boost spending on infrastructure, because that's what will help the ruling party to win the next election scheduled for February, Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun said in a January interview. Buhari said he would seek another term.

While fiscal expansion could spur growth, it might increase inflationary pressures, according to economists, including Razia Khan at Standard Chartered Bank.

That may limit room for the central bank to cut its key interest rate from a record 14percent, where it's been since July 2016 to curb high inflation. Annual price growth slowed to 12.5percent in May, the lowest rate since March 2016. The bulk of the budget deficit will be funded by 1.7trln naira of borrowing. 

- BLOOMBERG