A Nigerian senator says thousands of people are fleeing a northeastern city amid conflicting reports that it has been seized by Boko Haram Islamic militants.

Sen. Ali Ndume said Tuesday the military is claiming it has repelled the insurgents in fierce fighting for the city of Bama but the stream of refugees indicates otherwise.

It would be a major victory for the militants if Boko Haram has seized Bama, the second largest city in Borno state. That would leave the way open to attack the Borno state capital of Maiduguri that is also the military headquarters of the fight against Boko Haram. Ndume said Bama is 75 kilometers (45 miles) from Maiduguri with a population of about 200,000.

Boko Haram has declared an Islamic caliphate in villages it holds.