Heartbroken: Nigerians mourn whiz-kid Wigwe

Prominent Nigerians including President Bola Tinubu and some state governors have joined other famous citizens to mourn the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Mr Herbert Wigwe, who died in a chopper crash in the United States on Friday.

They described the deceased as a brilliant banker under whose leadership the bank grew in leaps and bounds.

Wigwe, his wife, Doreen; son Chizi; and a former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, lost their lives in the helicopter crash which occurred near a border town between California and Nevada.

Earlier on Saturday, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, and Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had expressed shock over the death of the top banker and co-travellers.


On Sunday, the president, some state governors, friends and associated described the deceased as an exceptional banker.

Access was ranked 65th when Wigwe and his co-founder bought it, but the bank was reportedly one of the top four by the time he died.

Under his leadership, Access Bank experienced rapid growth including the landmark transformation of lender into a group or holding company.

The late Access Holdings group chief executive officer was about 36 years old when he co-founded Access Bank.

The Central Bank of Nigeria powerbrokers reportedly said they were young and almost frustrated with the deal.

Under Wigwe, Access Bank which had years earlier acquired Intercontinental Bank, also bought Diamond Bank.

On Sunday, Tinubu described the death of the prominent Nigerians as a monumental loss.

Access Holdings confirms Wigwe’s death in helicopter crash
Access Holdings confirms Herbert Wigwe death in helicopter crash
Tinubu mourns

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Ajuri Ngelale, in a statement said Tinubu who received an official confirmation of the event, also commiserated with Ogunbanjo who was also onboard.

Ngelale said Tinubu mourned these exceptional Nigerian business leaders and described their passing as “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension.”

“The President commiserates with the Wigwe and Ogunbanjo families, the business community, and all those impacted by this harrowing incident.

“President Tinubu prays for the peaceful repose of the departed and asks God Almighty to comfort the multitude of Nigerians who are grieving and the families of the deceased at this deeply agonising moment.”

This came as Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Governor Peter Mba of Enugu State, Alex Otti of Abia State joined other governors to commiserate with the deceased’s family members.

Sanwo-Olu in a statement was quoted as saying, “I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of my dear brother and friend, Dr Herbert Wigwe, his dear wife Doreen, and their beloved son, Chizi, in a helicopter crash.

“Herbert was not just a brother and visionary leader, but one of the brightest minds in Africa. His impact on our nation and beyond will be remembered forever. My heart mourns.

“Herbert’s contributions to banking and the financial sector in Africa were unparalleled. He was an unapologetic believer in the Nigerian solution. His dedication and passion for progress inspired us all.

“Today, we mourn not just a leader but a true friend and brother. Lagos and Nigeria have lost a remarkable soul. Rest in peace, my brother.”

In a letter made available to The PUNCH, Otti, recounted how Wigwe had promised to visit him as soon as he returned to Nigeria.

Otti said, “This is one of the saddest moments in my life. To worsen the situation, Chizoba and Chizzy who hardly fly with you were in that chopper. I’m still trying to make sense of the whole situation. I wish someone would wake me up and reassure me that this was a bad dream! But alas it is real.”

Also, the governor of Enugu State, Mbah, in a statement, said, ““This incident is an unspeakable disaster and monumental tragedy, not only to Nigeria, but also to the entire corporate world. My heart goes out to his immediate family, relatives, the Access Holdings Plc family, corporate Nigeria, and indeed the nation over these grave losses. May God grant their souls eternal repose.”

Similarly, Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, expressed shock and sadness at the news of the demise of Wigwe, his wife Chizoba, his son, and others in the helicopter crash.

His media aide, Boniface Onyedi, in a statement, said, “Governor Fubara, on behalf of his family, the State Government and people of Rivers State commiserate with the Wigwe family over this unfortunate incident.”

He urged them to be comforted by God’s assurances of His love and outpouring of global sympathy on this deep pain and loss.

He added, “Rivers State and the Nation are in tears because it would be extremely difficult to understand this sweeping loss of a family involving a strong pillar, accomplished banker and philanthropist with tentacles in the education sector.”

Fubara said the prestigious, Wigwe University, which he pioneered must not be allowed to die.

Also, Anambra State Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, said Nigeria had lost one of its most brilliant minds in the financial services sector, who brought an innovative approach to banking.

Soludo in a press statement on Sunday, signed by the governor’s Press Secretary, Christian Aburime, said as a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, he had the privilege of witnessing firsthand Wigwe’s innovative approach to banking and his instrumental role during the banking consolidation in driving the growth and expansion of Access Bank, both within Nigeria and internationally.

“His leadership extended far beyond Access Bank. Wigwe was a pillar of the Nigerian business community, a champion for economic development, an avid educationist, and a true visionary who consistently pushed boundaries for growth and development. His contributions to the banking sector, and Nigeria as a whole, will be long remembered.”

Soludo added that Wigwe’s legacy would live on through the countless lives he touched, the institutions he built, such as the Wigwe University, and the inspiration he provided to generations of youth, aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, described the deaths as devastating loss for the families, friends, and the entire business community in Nigeria.

The governor described Wigwe as a quintessential banker who contributed immensely to the Nigerian economy, adding that he was a pillar of support to his administration’s ‘Building Our Future Together’ agenda.

According to him, Wigwe’s death has created a void that will be difficult to fill.

He condoled the families of the deceased, the management and staff of Access Holdings, the business communities, and the Rivers State Government on the tragic incident.

He said, “I am deeply saddened by the news of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Herbert Wigwe and five others. My thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.

“Herbert Wigwe was not only a respected business leader but also a role model for many aspiring entrepreneurs. His contributions to the banking sector and the Nigerian economy will always be remembered.”

Also, Kwara State Governor/Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, said the incident was a huge loss to not just the Nigerian business community but to the entire country and its people who would miss the immense impacts of the two businessmen.

AbdulRazaq, in a statement signed by chief press secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, sent his heartfelt condolences to the family of Ogunbanjo, who died in the same crash.

The governor asks God Almighty to repose their souls and give comfort to their families and the rest of the country at this difficult moment.

Meanwhile, Access Bank on Sunday confirmed the passing of Wigwe, along with his wife and son, in the helicopter crash in the US.

Access Bank reacts

In a statement signed by its Group Company Secretary, Access Holdings, Mr Sunday Ekwochi, the lender said, “It is with deep sadness that the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc (‘the Company’) announces the passing of Dr Herbert Wigwe, CFR, the Company’s founding Group Chief Executive Officer and former Group Managing Director of its flagship subsidiary Access Bank Plc (‘the Bank’).

“Dr Wigwe died alongside his wife and son on Friday, February 9, 2024, in a helicopter accident in the United States of America.

“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.

“Dr 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,” he said.

Also, the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc said it would soon announce the appointment of an acting Group Chief Executive Officer for the financial organisation following Wigwe’s death in the US helicopter crash.

This was disclosed in a corporate notice filed with the Nigerian Exchange Limited on Sunday which was signed by the Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi.

Commenting on the death of Wigwe, the Chairman of Access Holdings, Abubakar Jimoh, said, “The Access Family has suffered a major loss with the passing of Dr. Wigwe who was a great friend and fine gentleman. He had a prodigious intellect, admirable personal qualities, and vast business experience which he brought to bear on the Access Family and for which we owe him a debt of gratitude.

“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.”

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board has said it is examining the airworthiness, maintenance, and structure of the ill-fated helicopter that crashed in California on Friday night.

The aircraft flew in wintry conditions from Palm Springs, Califonia to Boulder City, Nevada, when it crashed shortly after 10 pm., killing both pilots and all four passengers.

During a press briefing on Saturday evening in Barstow, California, a Board Member of NTSB, Michael Graham, disclosed that the investigation involved parties such as the Federal Aviation Administration and Orbic Air LLC, the California-based charter flight operator.

The US agency said it would meticulously examine various factors to determine the cause of the tragic incident.

Graham stated, “The NTSB investigator in charge, Aaron Sour, will be joined by a Deputy Investigator in charge. Several other NTSB investigators on scene will be examining the following areas, airworthiness to include maintenance, and structures of the helicopter, operations, meteorology, and air traffic control. Parties to the investigation include the FAA and Orbic Air LLC. As the investigation continues, other parties could be named.”

Further, Graham revealed that the BEA French Aviation Investigation Agency would serve as an accredited representative of the investigation because France is the state the manufacturer of the Airbus helicopter and Turbmeca engine.

Both Airbus helicopters and Turbomeca engines would serve as technical advisors to the investigation, he added.

Graham emphasised, “This marks the start of a lengthy process. We will refrain from drawing any premature conclusions,”

He also conveyed heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, stating, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragedy.”

Investigators are scheduled to return to the crash site on Sunday to further document the scene, utilising a drone for an aerial map of the wreckage, According to Graham.

While a preliminary investigation report is expected in the coming weeks, Graham noted that the complete inquiry might extend up to two years before the final report is published.

Graham confirmed that the crash occurred south of I-15 near Halloran Springs Road, approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Barstow.

According to Graham, witnesses reported seeing the helicopter engulfed in flames as it descended to the ground. The aircraft, he added, did not have cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, while noting that the aircraft was not meant to be equipped with them.

He encouraged the witnesses to reach out to the NTSB, providing additional details, such as photos and videos they might have captured.

Graham revealed that witnesses noted “wintry mix” conditions, including rain, at the time of the crash.

“We currently have a meteorologist working on our team and we were working to analyse and get the exact weather conditions at that time.

“Of course, that’s out in the middle of the desert so we’ll have to find the closest reporting stations nearby to be able to give any accurate report,” he said.

He added that people also reported a fire on the helicopter plus some downed power lines.

Meanwhile, there are indications Nigeria may waive its right to participate in the investigation of the crash.

In line with the provisions of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 13, Nigeria has the right to request to participate in the investigation.

Part of the ICAO provision reads, “A state which has a special interest in an accident, by virtue of fatalities or serious injuries to its citizens for instance, is entitled to appoint an expert entitled to: visit the scene of the accident; have access to the relevant factual information which is approved for public release by the State conducting the investigation, and information on the progress of the investigation; receive a copy of the accident investigation Final Report. ICAO officials only participate in accident investigations upon special request from the State responsible for conducting the investigation.”

However, top officials of aviation told The PUNCH on Sunday the Federal Government might opt to waive the right.

According to them, Nigeria does not have doubt about the US NTSB’s capacity to conduct a thorough and transparent and, as such, may not request to join in the probe.

“We are not likely to request to join in the investigation. Nigeria is not suspecting any foul play neither are we doubting the US’s capacity to conduct a thorough investigation. However, the only thing we may do is to write to request a progress report before the release of the final report,” a top official of the Ministry of Aviation who is not authorised to speak on the matter told The PUNCH on condition of anonymity.

The PUNCH further gathered that the Federal Government might only seek to join in the investigation if any members of the deceased families write and indicated a foul play had been suspected.

Also, further findings have shown that Nigeria does not allow night operations for helicopters because the lower part of the airspace has yet to be fully charted, among other reasons.

Officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency would need to chart the airspace before the NCAA could approve such operations.

The development came amid concerns over the safety of helicopters’ night flights. The ill-fated chopper crashed around 10pm.

“One of the main reasons we are yet to approve night operations for helicopters in Nigeria is because the lower part of the airspace which choppers use has yet to be fully charted. Until this is done, the NCAA may not approve it. The US allows that because they don’t have such problem. People may be scared of night flights for helicopters but I don’t think there is any problem with it once necessary safety guidelines are followed,” according to a top NCAA official who is not authorised to speak on the matter.

More Nigerians mourn

Meanwhile, several Nigerians have continued to mourn the death of the deceased Nigerians.

Akpabio reacts

In addition, the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, described the death of Wigwe as a big loss not only to the Nigerian banking and finance industry but also to the country as a whole.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Akpabio said, “I received with shock the news of the passing of Wigwe and some of his family members in a helicopter crash in the USA.”

He said Wigwe’s contribution to the growth of the Nigerian banking industry and, indeed, the economy was exemplary and commendable.

He described Wigwe as an iconic entrepreneur, a serial investor who passed on at a time when Nigeria needed his services the most.

Also, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, in a statement issued on Sunday described the deaths as shocking, devastating, heart-wrenching, and tragic.

The deputy speaker described the late Wigwe as a fine gentleman and thoroughbred professional who significantly impacted the finance and business climate.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of the Group CEO of Access Bank, Mr Herbert Wigwe, alongside his wife and son as well as Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group, and others in a helicopter crash,” he added.

Likewise, as a way of paying tribute, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general election, Mr Peter Obi, reportedly canceled his plan to travel to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, for the match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the African Cup of Nations final.

Meanwhile, a medical doctor and healthcare entrepreneur, Ola Brown, in a heartfelt note, described Wigwe as a man who always showcased excellence in all of his endeavours.

Brown, who is the founder of the Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Company, disclosed that she had quietly been planning a huge 60th birthday fete for the renowned banker.

She recalled how the late entrepreneur took a chance on her during her early days, staking his reputation even when the odds looked gloomy and inauspicious.

She said, “I always planned big surprises every year for his birthday. But for the past few years, I had started planning and saving towards his 60th and his 65th.

“I really wanted to make it huge. I had been keeping a list of things that he had mentioned in passing that he wanted to do and never had time, so my plan was to make all of them happen for his 60th birthday. It never ever in my wildest dreams occurred to me that he wouldn’t make it to sixty. He was exercising. He had given up alcohol. He doesn’t smoke. And honestly, this might be a weird and even slightly callous thought, but I just believe God wouldn’t put one family through the death of a child twice.”

Rivers APC

Likewise, the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State described the death of Wigwe a colossal loss to the state, Nigeria, and the world at large.

The Chairman, APC Caretaker Committee in the state, Mr Tony Okocha, in a statement he issued in Port Harcourt on Sunday said Wigwe was an illustrious son of the state, a top banker, and entrepreneur.

Okocha further said the news of the passing Wigwe, his wife, and his son was a rude shock.

The statement added, “The news of his passing is a colossal loss to Rivers State, Nigeria and the word.

“Until his passing, Mr Herbert Wigwe was the Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings PLC, the founder of HOW Foundation, and a renowned philanthropist who committed to community service and progress/development of Nigeria, Rivers State, Ikwerre ethnic nationality and Isiokpo kingdom. The party chairman prays to God Almighty to comfort the family of the deceased and grant the departed eternal rest.”

NGX mourns

Also, the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc on Sunday mourned the demise of its former group chairman, Ogunbanjo, who also died in the helicopter crash.

Ogunbanjo, whose father, Christopher Ogunbanjo, was a foremost corporate lawyer, served as the President of the National Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange from 2017 to 2021 and as the first Group Chairman of NGX Group from 2021 to 2022, following the demutualisation of the Exchange. The senior Ogunbanjo died on October 2023 aged 99.

Expressing his condolences, the Group Chairman of NGX Group, Dr. Umaru Kwairanga, said, “NGX Group mourns the untimely departure of Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo and Dr. Herbert Wigwe, along with his wife and son. Bamofin Ogunbanjo’s leadership has left an indelible mark on our organisation 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time. May their souls rest in peace and may the Almighty comfort their families.”

The Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, NGX Group, Mr. Temi Popoola, stated, “The passing of Bamofin Ogunbanjo is a profound loss for NGX Group and the entire Nigerian private sector. He played a crucial role in shaping NGX Group, and while he will be sorely missed, his visionary leadership and impact will never be forgotten. It is heartbreaking to learn that Dr. Wigwe, his wife and son also lost their lives in the accident. The contributions of these two respected leaders to the financial markets and the overall private sector will be remembered, and we are committed to preserving their legacy by upholding the principles of leadership, innovation, and dedication that they exemplified.”

Meanwhile, a former Director-General of the Stock Exchange Commission and former Vice President of the World Bank, Aruma Otteh, took to her X (formerly Twitter) to mourn the top banker.

She wrote, “#RRIP #HerbertWigwe. On behalf of @royafrisoc, I thank you for your extraordinary generosity and support for the work of society. I remember vividly asking you for help and you said, ‘My sister considers it done’ and of course, your support was generously delivered. Death can never take away your phenomenal legacy of a remarkable impact on society.”

Also, the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Mrs. Olubunmi Kuku, has expressed their condolences to the bereaved families.

Kuku in a statement on Sunday disclosed that she had met Wigwe in Abuja last Tuesday alongside the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, and some FAAN directors.

In the statement, Kuku said, “The news of their untimely passing came as a shock. It was particularly poignant as I had just met with Mr. Wigwe last Tuesday in Abuja, along with the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, and some of our directors. During our meeting, he passionately discussed utilising his vast wealth, resources, and experience for the betterment of humanity.

“Mr. Wigwe was a luminary in the financial services sector, and his absence will be deeply felt as we honour his legacy of accomplishments and the significant philanthropic endeavors he championed.”