The Nigerian army says it has found no clues to the whereabouts of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped last year by Boko Haram, despite the retaking of many towns from the militant group.
Chief of Army Staff General Kenneth Minimah told reporters the army is making inquires about the girls in all liberated areas. But, he said those questioned "have not made any comments suggesting the Chibok girls were there and taken away."
Boko Haram abducted the girls from a government-run secondary school in the town of Chibok nearly a year ago, on April 14, 2014. The kidnapping provoked an international outcry against Boko Haram and intense criticism of the government for failing to protect or find the girls.
General Minimah, addressing a news conference Tuesday, said Boko Haram now controls only three local government areas in northeastern Borno state, and has been pushed out of all areas it controlled in nearby Yobe and Adamawa states.
He expressed hope the remaining areas, identified as Gwoza, Kalabaldi and Abadam,) will soon be liberated. Asked whether elections can be held in the recaptured areas, he said he would leave that question to Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission.
Nigerians go to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections on March 28. The elections were postponed from February because of insecurity in the northeast, the center of the Boko Haram insurgency.
President Goodluck Jonathan is running for re-election against former general and military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
Boko Haram has been a central issue in the campaign. The militant group has killed thousands of Nigerians over the past five years and captured towns across the northeast for an envisioned strict Islamic state.
Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger launched a joint offensive against the group in January, after the militants seized a multi-national base on the shores of Lake Chad. Nigerian soldiers told VOA last week that soldiers from South Africa, Britain and Ukraine are fighting alongside the army. Nigerian officials say the soldiers are training Nigerian troops on how to use newly-purchased equipment.