ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian ground forces backed by warplanes on Tuesday battled Islamist Boko Haram militants in a second day of heavy fighting around a northeast town, in which the officer son of former president Olusegun Obasanjo was wounded, a senior official said.
Since the weekend, the government of Africa’s biggest economy has sent in reinforcements to check a push southwards into northern Adamawa state by Boko Haram, which has seized towns and territory in the northeast in recent weeks.
Nigerian air force jets were bombarding the Islamist group’s positions in and around the town of Michika, the government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. They were also hitting the militants at Madagali, Bazza and Uba.
“Reinforcement of troops is ongoing, and I can tell you the fight is tense,” the official in Abuja said. Nigeria’s defense headquarters has not provided details of the fighting, despite repeated requests.
In neighboring Borno state, where Boko Haram has seized a string of towns and villages in an apparent bid to create an Islamist enclave, Nigeria’s army on Monday blocked the group’s advance towards the state capital, Maiduguri.
Former President Obasanjo’s son, Lt. Col. Adebayo Obasanjo, was among soldiers wounded when the platoon he was leading was attacked at Bazza near Mubi in Adamawa state by Boko Haram insurgents on Monday. He was evacuated to a hospital.
Doyin Okupe, a senior aide to President Goodluck Jonathan, said on his Twitter account that Obasanjo had been shot in the thigh, but was in good spirits.
Twice-president Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped down in 2007, has criticized Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, especially the government’s failure to move more quickly to rescue more than 200 northeastern schoolgirls abducted by the militants in mid-April. They are still being held.
Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is sinful” in the local Hausa language, has killed thousands since 2009, when it launched an insurgency in the poor northeast.
Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, last month declared a “Muslim territory” after capturing Gwoza near the Cameroon border, apparently inspired by the example of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, which announced the creation of its own, separate caliphate.
Columns of heavily armed Boko Haram fighters have overrun several northeast towns, killing males over 18 and preaching Islamic rule to the survivors.
In a national vote due in February, southerner Jonathan is expected to seek re-election. Many believe political tensions stemming from the historic rivalry between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south are also stoking the Boko Haram insurgency.
Aditional reporting and writing by Pascal Fletcher in Lagos; Editing by Larry King