• Reports suggest rainy, wintry weather – U.S. authorities
• Tinubu, governors mourn Wigwe, Ogunbanjo, family members
• Obi abandons trip for AFCON final, sacrifices travel ticket to mourn Wigwe
• Africa lost two brightest minds, Elumelu, Otedola pay tribute
• A profound loss, NGX Group mourns ex-chairman Ogunbanjo

Though in tears, members of the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc must have seen the gaping hole created in the organisation by the late Herbert Wigwe after 22 years of commitment, first as a deputy chief executive officer (CEO), then CEO of the flagship subsidiary (Access Bank) and the pioneer Group CEO – a position he held till he drew his last breath in the helicopter crash in California, United States on Friday night.

Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former group chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), and Wigwe’s close confidant, was also on the aircraft. The manifest list include: Herbert Wigwe, 57; Chizoba Wigwe, 56; ⁠Chizi Wigwe, 29; Abimbola Ogunbanjo, 61; pilot and co-pilot, who are all deceased.

Wigwe was, undoubtedly, among the last breeds of post-consolidation larger-than-life bankers. The modern Access Bank, the largest Nigerian financial institution by asset size, is synonymous with the late Wigwe and his business associate, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. Both young but successful bankers back then in GTBank, left their comfort zones to acquire Access – a fringe and crisis-prone financial institution.

A master of the non-organic growth model, Access Bank under Wigwe and associates, led the most audacious banking in the country and is famous for the biggest acquisition deals in Nigeria.

Today, Access faces the tough task of getting the right peg for the hole left by the enigmatic banker. With no deputy to step into the shoes in the meantime, the board of directors is certainly racing against time to fill the vacant position as soon as this week.

Perhaps, it has the luxury of time since Access Holdings is a non-operating entity. Yet, the group, in a statement confirming the untimely passing of the late bank chief, said it would appoint an acting GCEO soon in line with the continuity policy of the institution.

“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 Wigwe’s legacy of growth and operational excellence,” a statement signed by the Group Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, said.

The statement noted: “Wigwe was instrumental in the growth of Access Bank, which he co-founded with his friend and business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. He took over as Access Bank Group CEO in 2014, focusing on the bank’s expansion in Nigeria and Africa before taking the helm at Access Holdings in 2022. Under his leadership, Access Bank drove its African strategy to become Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest retail bank by customer base.

“Wigwe was a member of the Access Bank UK board as well as the board of the Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NiBUCAA). He has long been an advocate for the eradication of malaria in Africa, working with the Corporate Alliance on Malaria to support this objective. He also sat on the board of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and Friends Africa and was an honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and Institute of Credit Administration.”

A two-time winner of the African Banker of the Year award from the African Banker Awards, Wigwe lost his life in a helicopter crash, throwing the Nigerian financial community into mourning. His wife and son also died in the incident.

“The entire Access family mourns the loss of Herbert, Doreen and Chizi. We extend our deep and sincere sympathies to his family and loved ones. Wigwe was a key driving force and a larger-than-life personality who brought his remarkable passion, energy and experience to the transformation of the Access franchise since joining the Bank in 2002,” Chairman of Access Holdings, Abubakar Jimoh, said in a statement yesterday.

The Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group) described as “profound loss” the tragic passing of a former chairman of the group, Ogunbanjo. In a statement on Sunday, the NGX Group also mourned Wigwe.

The NGX Group described Ogunbanjo as a visionary leader and luminary in Nigeria’s corporate legal and capital market spheres, who served as the president of the National Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) from 2017 to 2021 and as the first Group Chairman of NGX Group from 2021 to 2022, following the demutualisation of the Exchange.

“His strategic acumen and dedication were instrumental in shaping NGX Group’s transformative journey,” the statement partly read.

Expressing his heartfelt condolences, the Group Chairman of NGX Group, Umaru Kwairanga, said, “NGX Group mourns the untimely departure of Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo and Dr. Herbert Wigwe, along with his wife and son. Ogunbanjo’s leadership has left an indelible mark on our organization and the broader Nigerian financial community, and his legacy will continue to inspire us. Dr. Wigwe also leaves an unblemished footprint in our private sector.”

MEANWHILE, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the U.S. has provided an update on the crash of a chopper that had Wigwe on board. This is as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would be involved in the investigation of the accident but noted that the NTSB would be in charge.

Speaking during a media briefing held yesterday, Michael Graham, NTSB board member, said officials were at the scene to gather perishable evidence. Graham said the team was “methodically and systematically reviewing all evidence” and considering all potential factors to determine the probable cause of the crash.

The NTSB board member said although the information provided was only preliminary, witness reports suggested that a wintry weather condition was among the factors that contributed to the accident. He said the chopper had two crew members and four passengers — all of whom were fatally injured.

“Witness reports of the weather conditions at the time of the accident suggest rain and a wintry mix. The helicopter was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder. This helicopter was not required to be equipped with those types of recording devices.”

Graham added that the NTSB would look into the chopper’s airworthiness; maintenance and structure of the helicopter, operations, meteorology, and air traffic control. “The BEA — the French aviation accident investigation agency — will serve as an accredited representative because France is a state of the manufacturer of the Airbus helicopter and the Turbomeca engine.”

Graham said a report will be available in a “couple of weeks” but said a full NTSB investigation will last 12 to 24 months before a final report is published.

Wigwe’s Personal Assistant, John Faleye Olusola, 49, who had earlier flown with Wigwe from London, together with Wigwe’s wife, son and Ogunbanjo, was not in the ill-fated helicopter.

NTSB also confirmed they were all en route to the Super Bowl, today, which routinely takes place every second Sunday in February.

CONDOLENCES have continued to pour in for the Wigwes and Ogunbanjo. President Bola Tinubu yesterday expressed distress following the news of their passing. After receiving an official confirmation of events, President Tinubu in a statement issued by his spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, mourned the Nigerian business leaders and described their passing as “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension.”

Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 general elections, Peter Obi, deeply distressed by the news of the helicopter crash, shelved his plan to travel to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on Sunday as Super Eagles of Nigeria take on the Orange boys of Côte d’Ivoire in an epoch final of the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Recall that Obi was in Abidjan to cheer the Eagles to victory during their quarter-final match against Angola. It was gathered that he had already purchased a return ticket and was to depart Nigeria by 1:00p.m. on Sunday to the West African country before he was devastated by the tragedy.

“As a result, Obi is in shock, and mourning and can no longer travel to Abidjan as already scheduled but his heart remains with the boys as he wishes them victory to bring home the trophy,” an aide told The Guardian.

Writing about the deceased on his X handle, Obi said: “I first met Herbert during his early days, on the brink of starting his marital journey. I vividly remember assisting him in preparing for his traditional wedding and being there for the ceremony with his wife, Chizoba, from Achina, Anambra State. Since then, I’ve maintained a connection to his endeavours in my own modest ways.

“The loss of such an exceptional individual reminds us of life’s fleeting nature, encouraging us to live with a purpose that contributes to the betterment of humanity. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Herbert, his beloved wife, his son, and all those who lost their lives in the tragic plane crash.”  
Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, described Wigwe as the king of visionary and disruptive ideas, saying the death of the renowned banker and entrepreneur is a personal loss to him and a colossal loss to Lagos, Nigeria and the banking industry.

Sanwo-Olu who described Wigwe as “my brother, my friend and my adviser,” said “Herbert’s contributions to banking and the financial sector in Africa were unparalleled. He was an unapologetic believer in the Nigerian solution.”

Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, described the sudden death of Wigwe and others in the ill-fated crash as extremely shocking and devastating. “The tragic incident is painful and heart wrenching and we pray for God’s abiding comfort in this profoundly difficult time.”

Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, described the crash as a devastating loss for the families, friends, and the entire business community in Nigeria. According to him, Wigwe’s death has created a void that will be difficult to fill.

Abiodun also condoled with the Ogunbanjos on the death of the former chairman of NGX Group. Ogunbanjo was born into the family of the late Chief Chris Ogunbanjo of Erunwon-Ijebu in Ogun State. He described the late Ogunbanjo as not just an exceptional businessman but also a man of great character and integrity.

“In moments like this, words seem inadequate to express the magnitude of our loss. As a state, we extend our deepest condolences to the Ogunbanjo family, friends, and colleagues. We share in your grief and sorrow, and we stand by you during this difficu lt time,” he added.

Rivers State governor, Siminalayi Fubara, described the incident as a monumental disaster. Wigwe, who hails from Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers, recently established a higher institution, known as Wigwe University.

Fubara said: “There are no words to convey how terrible the losses are, adding that the state and indeed, Nigeria will miss an unassuming, iconic and accomplished illustrious son of Isiokpo in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers.

“Dr. Herbert Wigwe rose to become one of the most outstanding African financial sector leaders and global figure who superintended over the impressive growth of the Access Bank Group, and also established the Wigwe University in Isiokpo, the headquarters of Ikwerre Local Government Area with a 60 per cent local and 40 per cent expatriate faculty population.”

Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, joined his colleagues to mourn the deceased who he described as a corporate titan, not only to Nigeria but also to the entire corporate world.

He said: “This news comes with deep shock and rubs in, once again, the vanity of life. Wigwe was a brother, a team player, philanthropist, visionary, and thoroughbred professional, who distinguished himself in the banking industry and corporate world, rising through the ranks to become a pioneer and titan of our time as well as an entrepreneur of global repute and reach.”

Tony Elumelu and Femi Otedola have also paid tribute to Wigwe. In his tribute, Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings, said Africa has lost two of the brightest minds, adding that the duo of Wigwe and Ogunbanjo will be “sorely missed”.

Elumelu said the leadership and entrepreneurial drive of Wigwe and Ogunbanjo would continue to “serve as shining examples to millions of our young people”.

In a condolence message, Otedola, billionaire businessman, reminisced about his visit alongside Aliko Dangote, chairman of Dangote Group, to the newly built Lagos residence of Wigwe a fortnight ago. Otedola said he would forever cherish the memories he had with Wigwe.