By SAM EYOBOKA
LAGOS – Presidential candidate of the Fresh Democratic Party, Rev Chris Okotie, has condemned the Nigeria Elections Debate Group, NEDG, for the last minute change of the rules of participation, which eliminated him from the presidential debate.
In a statement in Lagos Monday, Rev Okotie alleged that from all indications, there was a deliberate conspiracy to exclude him from the debate. He claimed that he was initially invited in writing to participate, but noticed that when the final list of invitees was released, his name was absent.
Okotie explained that he had earlier noticed some prevarications and complained to the NEDG officials, but was assured that the final list of participants and the criteria would be published. He expressed shock that when the list was finally published, his name was was not on it.
The FRESH candidate claimed that from the criteria published in the Thisday edition of Friday, March 25, 2011, his party met the conditions which stated partly that for a party’s candidate to be invited to the NEDG debate, it must have at least a candidate running for the House of Representatives.
“The NEDG, in its haste to execute some secret agenda, failed to get its facts right. We’ve a candidate for Ethiope East running for House of Representatives; we also have a governorship candidate in Imo State. So it is clear that this decision is targetted at Okotie,” he alleged.
He pointed out that it was wrong for the NEDG to set up rules which were targetted at screening out smaller parties, adding that one of the key tenets of representative democracy was a level playing field for all participants.
The FRESH flagbearer, who is taking his third straight shot at the presidency, argued that since INEC officially recognised the eighteen presidential candidates and their parties, the NEDG ought to have invited all the candidates for the debate, regardless of their perceived electoral disadvantages.