LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s military says it has no news of the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists nearly a year ago, despite liberating dozens of towns from the girls’ Boko Haram abductors.
The admission of lack of progress on the missing schoolgirls comes as the Nigerian military, bolstered by forces from neighboring countries, is regaining towns and cities held by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. The military’s successes come as Nigeria prepares for a critical presidential election on March 28.
Other kidnap victims have escaped and some have been freed by the militants, but there has been not a whisper about the girls whose mass abduction spawned the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and provoked protests around the world.
‘‘No news for now because in all the liberated areas we have, we have also made inquiries, but the truth is, when the terrorists are running away, they run also with their families,’’ army chief Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah said.
‘‘We are optimistic that . . . we will get further details on them’’ as Boko Haram’s area of influence shrinks, Minimah said in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
The military ‘‘liberated completely’’ the two northeastern states of Yobe and Adamawa from the extremists this week, said Minimah. He said Boko Haram now holds only three of 27 local government areas in Borno, the third northeastern state under a military state of emergency and the birthplace of Boko Haram.
On Monday, the military said it had recaptured Bama, the second city of Borno state, as it prepares a final push against the extremists. The victories, after years of failure, follow an offensive at the end of January by troops from Chad.
Despite the lack of news on the girls, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, currently campaigning for reelection in a tight race against former military dictator General Muhammadu Buhari, has repeated vows to bring the girls back.
‘‘I am more hopeful now than before on the Chibok girls,’’ Jonathan said Feb. 5. But unconfirmed reports indicate that many of the schoolgirls may have been forced into marriage with their captors, some carried across Nigeria’s borders and at least three died early on from snakebites and untreated malaria and other ailments.
However, Jonathan says he remains optimistic.
‘‘I believe that the story of the Chibok girls will be better, now that we are working with Niger, Cameroon, and Chad,’’ he said, referring to a regional army of 8,750 troops to fight Boko Haram as the militants carry their fight across Nigeria’s borders in an effort to recreate an ancient Islamic caliphate.
More than 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes by Boko Haram’s six-year-old Islamic uprising. Some 10,000 people were killed in the uprising last year, according to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Some 276 girls were snatched before dawn from the government boarding school in Chibok on April 15. Dozens escaped in the first couple of days. But 219 remain missing.
A spate of recent suicide bombings carried out by young women and girls has raised fears that Boko Haram is using kidnap victims to increase its deadly toll.
In videos, Boko Haram’s leader has said that girls should be married off, not educated. The group’s nickname means ‘‘Western education is sinful.’’
Restless nights have been the lot of the Rev. Enoch Mark, a pastor with the Church of the Brethren whose two daughters are among the kidnapped girls. He said he is in hiding because he has become a wanted man by Boko Haram because of his role as a spokesman for parents of the Chibok girls.
‘‘I have been spending the nights sleeplessly worrying about what condition my daughters might be in,’’ Mark said. ‘‘I am so disturbed, thinking of my daughters, thinking of the other Chibok girls.’’