The United Kingdom reinforced its commitment to Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram on Wednesday, through continued counterterrorism training, military support and an expanded humanitarian aid package.
The £200 million ($259 million), five-year emergency assistance package was unveiled on Wednesday afternoon, directly after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s trip to Nigeria’s isolated northeastern regions.
CNN was one of only two broadcasters given access to the foreign secretary’s trip, which included visits to Boko Haram stronghold areas in and outside Maiduguri – the regional capital inside the war zone – where foreign governments and journalists have had limited access for years.
Over the two-day trip, Johnson, along with international development secretary Priti Patel, visited military compounds and camps for the internally displaced in the country’s northeast – regions where ongoing violence has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced.
At a clinic in Maiduguri on Wednesday, villagers who had fled Boko Haram violence recounted harrowing tales of terror and destruction.
A male farmer, who has not been named for his protection, told CNN that unarmed Boko Haram fighters first came to his village but local villagers sent them away. A few days later, the militants returned and shot him in the arm. He was then taken to the clinic, run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Asked what he wanted to be done about the situation, he said simply: “The government needs to defeat them.”
Another victim, a 26-year-old man, narrowly escaped a suicide bombing and had come to the clinic to recover after losing one of his arms. He also was badly burned. He told CNN he was past the point of anger, saying, “What I want is to get on with my life and get an education.”
Beat Amin Mosimann, head of the ICRC in Borno state, said most injuries seen at the clinic are from bomb blasts, adding that most of the suicide bombers – and their victims – were children.
Last month, researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University spoke to this alarming trend, reporting that a majority of suicide bombers used by the terror group are women and children.
On Wednesday, Johnson reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s commitment to supporting Nigeria’s military counterterrorism units to eradicate these terror tactics.
To date, the British government has provided military training to 28,000 Nigerian troops in the fight against Boko Haram. In addition, over 40 UK military personnel have been deployed to Nigeria long-term.
Johnson also spoke of the “profound knock-on effects” that Boko Haram violence has brought to UK shores.
“The consequences of this catastrophe are felt in our country. When you have massive pressures like this – when you have massive tracts of the country under control by terrorists, of course it drives great waves of migration, drives great waves of refugees to our country,” he said.
“…They (Boko Haram) played a huge part in causing a political crisis in Italy and other European countries.”
“When we fail to cure one sore, infection spreads,” Johnson added.
Famine in the foreground
An estimated 20,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram, with 1.7 million displaced and threats of widespread famine now looming because of ongoing attacks and a growing internally displaced population unable to tend to their farmlands.
An estimated 8.5 million people also are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, according to the British government.
Last week, UNICEF warned that famine is imminent for the northeastern region.
Of particular concern are the 450,000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN agency.
The United Kingdom’s expanded humanitarian package will deliver food, medicine and infrastructural access for aid workers and educational support to the country over the next five years.
However, Patel cautioned that the package was meant as a supportive role, calling on the Nigerian government to do more in helping Nigerians “to stand on their own two feet and rebuild their lives in safety.”
“Terrorism knows no borders and the Nigerian government must now follow our lead to stop innocent people dying and securing the area so that these people can rebuild their lives in safety – reducing the threat of radicalization and migration for the UK at home,” she said.
CNN’s Nic Robertson reported from Nigeria. CNN’s Kara Fox wrote from New York.