[OBITUARY] Herbert Wigwe: The man who cherished life with his all

Little did he know that exactly three weeks after his now-popular tweet, he would soon surrender to the cold hands of death in a helicopter crash that would claim his dear life and that of his wife and son.

Nigeria has lost a man described as a luminary in the financial services sector, who defied all odds to endear himself in the hearts of the beloved.

The world lost Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, the late Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc; one of Nigeria’s leading multinational financial services groups, on Friday in a helicopter crash in the United States of America

The crash also claimed the life of former Chairman of Nigeria Exchange Group, Abimbola Ogunbajo.

Today and always, let us remember that life is a precious gift – a chance to breathe, feel, love, experience and connect. 

“Let’s honour this gift by living with purpose, kindness, and gratitude, making every moment count. Let us number our days,” the 57-year-old tweeted on Friday, January 19, 2024.

Wigwe’s death came less than three months after Access Holdings Plc lost the former Chairman of the Board of Directors, Bababode Osunkoya.

This was according to a statement filed with the Nigerian Exchange Limited.

(https://punchng.com/breaking-access-holdings-chairman-osunkoya-dies/)

Wigwe obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Accountancy with a second-class upper degree in 1987 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State.

In 1991, he bagged a Master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor), and then another in Financial Economics from the University of London.

The Rivers State-born ex-banking executive, who was a former Executive Director (at age 32) in charge of Institutional Banking at Guaranty Trust Bank; was appointed by the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc in March 2002 as the Deputy Managing Director of Access Bank, alongside the MD/CEO at the time, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.

The Board was clear on its mandate – to “reposition the bank as one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions within a five-year period (March 2002 to March 2007),” according to information obtained on the company’s website by PUNCH Online.

He later became its Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer in 2014.

Wigwe was an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme; a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and the Institute of Credit Administration; and an Honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria.

Under Wigwe’s leadership, Access Bank continued to build out its operations across the continent and in global trade hubs, determined to capture Africa’s trade flows with the rest of the world and within the continent.

By 2013, the bank had become AA-rated by S&P and was able to raise capital in the global bond markets, with its first successful $350m Eurobond issuance taking place in July 2012.

In the same year, 2012 – the bank became a top five bank in Nigeria following its acquisition of Intercontinental Bank and began to build a pre-eminent position in retail as well as corporate banking.

In 2018, Wigwe spearheaded the bank’s merger with Diamond Bank which, at the time, had 19 million customers, including 10 million mobile customers, and a strong reputation for data analytics and technological innovation.

Access Bank later became one of Nigeria’s leading corporate banks with a reputation for strong compliance, risk management and trade finance.

The bank grew its balance sheet by 100% and posted an impressive N1 billion profit before tax, which was more than the cumulative profit made by the bank in the previous 12 years.

Its shareholders fund today stands at over N240 billion with an expanded shareholder base of over 1 million domestic and foreign investors.

The late Wigwe-led Access Bank today became the largest bank in Nigeria and Africa’s leading bank by customer base, operating through a network of more than 600 branches and service outlets, spanning three continents, 12 countries and 36 million customers.

The bank has a network of about 366 branches across major cities and commercial centres in Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and employs 28,000 people.

Wigwe served as the Chairman of Access Bank (Ghana), Access Investment & Securities Limited, Central Securities and Clearing System (CSCS) and was the immediate past Chairman of Access Bank (UK) Limited and Unified Payments Services Limited.

Before his untimely death, Wigwe had invested half a billion dollars in building a university in Isiokpo, Rivers State, focusing on management, science and engineering, IT and creative arts and due for inauguration this year, Bloomberg reports.

He was a board member of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and a member of the Advisory Board for Friends Africa.

Indeed, the Nigerian financial sector has lost a gem in banking transformation.

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