Nigeria says has pushed Boko Haram out of all but three areas

ABUJA (Reuters) - The Nigerian army said on Tuesday it had pushed Boko Haram out of all but three local government areas in the northeast, claiming victory for its military push against the Islamist insurgents less than two weeks before an election.

"We have three local governments remaining, Abadam, Kalabaldi and Gwoza, and we are optimistic that with time we will liberate those," Lieutenant-General Tobiah Minimah, the army chief of staff, told reporters.

At the start of the year, Boko Haram, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria, controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium.

But a concerted push by Nigeria's military and neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger has inflicted several defeats and, at the weekend, Nigerian forces recaptured the city of Bama, the second biggest in Borno state in the northeast.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for re-election, had been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the insurgency, and his rival, Muhammadu Buhari, has been campaigning on his reputation for being tough on security matters when he was military ruler of Nigeria in the 1980s.

It is not clear how much impact the military advances will boost Jonathan's election changes in the tightly fought race.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)