Former governor of Nigeria's Delta state James Ibori attends a social function in Lagos in this file photo taken December 10, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer
A former Nigerian governor who spent years in jail in the United Kingdom for money laundering and was released only last December declared on Sunday that he is not a thief.Former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, denied on Sunday that he stole any money from public  coffers during a church service to thank God for his release.

The service took place at Ibori’s home town, Oghara, where his kinsmen held a thanksgiving service for him.

Ibori said he was wrongly accused and maligned by those who branded him a thief. But he’s an innocent man who spent years in jail for the crimes he never committed.

There were unconfirmed reports that the event was sponsored by the governor of the state for N350 million.

Ibori is being celebrated as a hero by the same people whose lives could have been much better should he have used the money he stole to develop his state.

“I am not a thief; I cannot be a thief,” Ibori was quoted as saying by The Nation newspaper.

It was not the first time Ibori had been convicted. In his younger days, he was convicted for credit card fraud in the U.K. before returning to Nigeria to take part in politics. He rose to become governor of the oil rich Delta state and ruled with an iron fist.

The Nation newspaper quoted Ibori on Sunday during a special thanksgiving service at the First Baptist Church as claiming that the biggest pain he felt over his travails was the suffering his people went through because of his absence.
Ibori said his joy was that he was alive and back with his people, adding that he was aware those behind his travails wanted to separate him from his people.

In attendance were politicians, clergy, traditional rulers and other enthusiasts.

“Today, I have decided to speak for myself. I am not a thief; I cannot be a thief. Today is the day they say I should give testimony to God. For those who know me, you know that my life is a testimony itself. I have said it over and again that my life is fashioned by God, directed by God, sealed, acknowledged and blessed by God. I believe that since the day I was born.

“Like the Archbishop said, when this whole commotion started, what was most painful to me was the pain and suffering that my people were going through.

“It has nothing to do with me as a person because, for some reasons, like I said to you, I drew my strength from God. So, somehow, I knew that God would stand by me. I knew that one day, this day would come. I am indeed very pleased that I can now stand before you and look at your faces, the faces that I have missed, and those of you who have indeed suffered the pains of my absence. It has nothing to do with me.

“So, when I reflect, it gives me joy that all your prayers, God has answered them, with your support and solidarity with me all through this period. It is indeed not what I can begin to say.

“Like what our former Chief of Staff, Francis , said it is ‘ungbikuable’. If I am to give testimony of my journey, you will not leave here. The only testimony that I have is the fact that I am back and alive in your midst. And again, I say that I never had any doubt in my mind that I would get back home.

“When I looked at how things were going, I discovered that they wanted to separate me from you, my people. They wanted me to go to the corner where I wouldn’t be seen. That’s how I see it. At a point, I called my older brother (former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan): ‘How to get home is what I am about to do now’. It was a pragmatic decision.

“I am happy to be home with my people. There is nobody who can battle with the Lord. An Urhobo adage says there is time for everything (okiemute). A day will come when I will tell my story and everyone of you will hear me. Today is to thank God,” he said, according to The Nation.

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