Who Is Herbert Wigwe? The Untold Story Of Access Holdings Plc Late CEO

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    In what has been described as a National tragedy, the group chief executive officer of Access Holdings Plc, Herbert Wigwe, passed in a fatal helicopter crash in the United States. The late banker was not alone; he died alongside five other passengers aboard the chopper, including his wife, Chizoba Wigwe and his eldest son, Chizzy Wigwe.

    According to reports, the Eurocopter EC130 helicopter flying the elite Nigerian family crashed in California, near the Nevada border, around 10 pm on Friday, February 9 2024, in Califonia time (7 am, Saturday, February 9 2024, Nigerian time). Herbert and his family were reported travelling from Palm Springs, California, to Las Vegas when they met their untimely death. Since the late banker’s passing was confirmed, the United States authorities have yet to figure out what led to the helicopter crash. However, there are speculations that the bad weather conditions could have been a major factor.

    However, reports about the tragic crash have sent shockwaves across the country. While sending their condolences, many Nigerians have been comparing Herbert Wigwe’s tragic end to how American Basketball legend Kobe Bryant passed in a chopper crash four years ago, also in California, with his daughter and family friends aboard. Herbert Wigwe’s ill-fated end has become a cautionary tale for why family members shouldn’t travel together.

    While still alive, Herbert Wigwe told The Punch that his biggest fear is failure. The serial entrepreneur said he can’t have a bank that goes under. But it looks like there are worse things to fear than a failed bank.

    Who is Herbert Wigwe?

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    The name Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe may seem very unfamiliar among many Nigerians. Sadly, before he passed tragically at the age of 57, he was one of the most successful bankers in Nigeria. The finance expert from Isiokpo, Rivers State, was born on August 15 1966, to a family of 7, including five siblings. But because his parents were civil servants, young Herbert grew up in places like Port Harcourt, Benin, Ibadan and Lagos.

    Of course, he was a very restless and troublesome child but also exceptionally brilliant. It’s no surprise that Herbert would go on to earn his first degree in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. After that, the trained accountant secured a scholarship for a master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales. Since then, Herbert earned another master’s in Financial Economics from the University of London and became an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme.

    Like many accountants, the serial entrepreneur started his career as a management consultant at Coopers & Lybrand, Lagos, where he would later qualify as a chartered accountant. Years after, Herbert had a stint working at Capital Bank before joining Guaranty Trust Bank, working in corporate and institutional banking and then bowing out as the executive director in charge of institutional banking.

    In 2002, Herbert and his longtime business partner and friend, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, bought Access Bank and grew the banking institution into the 4th largest bank in Nigeria between 2002 and 2017. During this period, the finance expert occupied various positions within Access Bank, including deputy managing director at Access Bank. Herbert also served as the chairman of Access Bank (Ghana) and Access Investment & Securities Limited. In January of 2014, the successful banker emerged as Group Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank Plc, succeeding his business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. 

    While speaking with The Punch on October 13 2019, Herbert revealed that he initially wanted to go into investment banking because people in that field appear to have an intricate understanding of finance. “I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer, although I thought they were also interesting fields. But, I found finance more interesting,” he explained.

    That singular decision would make Herbert a known name in the banking and finance sector. In 2016, the Access Holdings CEO was named Banker of The Year by The Sun and Vanguard newspapers. Since then, Herbert has received several other awards and honours, including the Nigerian national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger and inauguration as state patron of the Boys’ Brigade for the Lagos State Council. In March of 2022, Wigwe was appointed Access Holdings Group CEO.

    Following success in just about everything he puts his mind to, including his philanthropic effort through his HOW Foundation, Herbert once considered going into politics. After all, it’s where Nigerian boomers go to retire. But he had a change of heart.

    When the elite banker was not working, he told The Punch that he loved travelling. Herbert especially loved running, going to the spa and spending time with his family. Speaking of family, the finance expert would easily win the award for best family man in the business, perhaps after Femi Otedola and Tony Elumelu.

    Herbert was married to Chizoba Wigwe, and their marriage was blessed with four children: Chizi, Tochi, Hannah, and David. The chartered accountant met his beautiful wife when she returned to Nigeria for her National Youth Service Corps programme, and they got married about four months later. “One Friday evening, I was hanging out with a lady friend when I saw her. She was also the lady’s friend. I asked my friend about her and she made the introduction. We got married between 90 and 120 days after we met, “ he revealed.

    Herbert Wigwe and wife
    Herbert Wigwe and wife

    During the interview, Herbert confessed that although he hadn’t dated his wife for a long time, he had married his friend and felt very lucky to have her as his wife. But according to the Oracle of Isiokpo (as named by Dr Ola Brown), his four children are his biggest achievement in life. “My children definitely come first. Superintending my kids and ensuring they grow up to become responsible is really an amazing feeling. I remember all the times I laid eyes on each of my kids for the first time. As they were growing up, all my kids slept with me on the same bed till they were old enough. Till they became young adults, I could account for almost every detail of their lives,” he bragged.

    Besides his prominence in the Nigerian banking sector, the Access Holdings CEO was famous for his flair for fashion. In 2015, The Punch described him as “One of Nigeria’s stylish top executives.”

    Unfortunately, Herbert Wigwe made a shocking and tragic exit on February 10 2024, after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed near a small town in California’s Mojave Desert, US. The finance expert was travelling from Palm Springs, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, alongside his wife, eldest son, and the former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange, Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo. According to reports, the elite banker was in the States with his family to watch Super Bowl 58 on Sunday, February 11 2024, in Las Vegas.

    Sadly, the family never got to enjoy their favourite game. All six people in the unfortunate crash passed, including the two pilots. Preliminary reports from the United States National Transportation Safety Board have speculated that the wintry California weather and rain could have caused the crash. This is not farfetched as over the past seven days, California has been ravaged by extreme weather conditions, not limited to wild storms, landslides, flooding, and tornadoes in what has been described as the fifth-strongest El Niño on record. However, the investigation is still ongoing. The Safety Board says the helicopter flying Herbert Wigwe and his family was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, so investigations could take a while.

    But since the sad news went viral, many have begun to speculate about foul play, implying Wigwe’s death was not natural and perhaps orchestrated by enemies who wanted him out of the way.

    The Oracle of Isiokpo passed at age 57 and is survived by his three youngest children. At the time of his passing, Herbert Wigwe was building a university in Isiokpo, Ikwerre LGA of Rivers state, his hometown. It was set to open officially to students in September of 2024 and become the second private university in Rivers State. With his passing, many wonder if the launch of the citadel of learning will go on as planned.

    Meanwhile, the board of Access Holdings Plc promised to announce an acting Group Chief Executive Officer to replace its late CEO soon. “In line with the company’s policy, the board will soon announce the appointment of an Acting Group Chief Executive Officer even as we remain confident that the Access Group will build further on Dr Wigwe’s legacy of growth and operational excellence,” the statement read in part.

    But the real question is if the new CEO can live up to the legacy of the late Oracle of Osiokpo. What will this mean for the future of Access Bank? 

    Tell us what you think about Herbert Wigwe’s sad passing with his wife, eldest son, and others. 

    Like Kobe Bryant, do you think Herbert Wigwe’s ill-fated end has become a cautionary tale for why family members shouldn’t travel together? 

    Do you suspect foul play in the late bankers passing, or do you agree with speculations that the weather is responsible for the crash? 

    Finally, do you agree Herbert’s passing is a national tragedy?

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