Chidi Anya pays tribute to Herbert Wigwe, former chief executive of Access Bank

In hopes deferred is our faith renewed, with these words my father mourned the abrupt departure of a dear family friend in a homily preached at her funeral some 40 years ago. These words served as an encouragement then and even now. I find some comfort or solace.

It has now been a few weeks since the earth-shattering news of the transition of these dear people from mortality to immortality in a twinkling of an eye. We have moaned, we have groaned yet nothing seems to make any sense.  It appeared to us on this side of time that there was so much more work yet to be done. There was yet so much promise! 

I had in the previous days been unable to put down any words to paper but with the finality of the interment of their earthly remains at Isiokpo on 9th March, 2024, there is a bit of relief, in the sense that painful as it is, I am able to share a few words in their honour. Indeed, much has been said by many since their untimely departure in the view of us mere mortals.

One common thread in all tributes was that their lives were impactful and they ran their earthly race with tenacity, grace and fortitude.

I would start with my first meeting with Herbert in October 1984 in his room at Ojukwu hostel at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, better known by the acronym UNEC. His parents Uncle Shyngle and Auntie Afiong were well known to my parents.  Auntie Afiong grew up with my mother in Calabar. Uncle Shyngle’s relationship with my father started I believe in Port Harcourt during the pre-independence years. My introduction to Herbert was made by Uche Omo. In my first year at UNEC, I had the privilege of being assigned to a room right next to the lavatory.  It was not a particularly welcoming place. I thus became an additional “roommate” to Herbert, who seemed to understand my predicament and welcomed my intrusion into his room with warmth and grace. 

He always appeared calm and unperturbed by events around him, nothing seemed to faze him. He seemed determined and focused; he became an encourager in chief in those seemingly turbulent early moments.  Even then, one could count on him through thick and thin! He was one Lagos boy in Enugu who did not brag about himself, but sought to put people at ease in his company. He was as introverted as he could be extroverted. 

He cared! All who met him claimed him as their very own and there always seemed enough of him to go round even in those early years. He played, but his attitude seemed to be that first and foremost, I must not let down my Father, going to the library every day seemed natural to him. Little wonder that the two times Uncle Shyngle came to visit Herbert during that session, Herbert was in the library.  It was no fluke. He seemed to understand pretty early, that to embark on his chosen career path it was either excellence or nothing.  Little wonder that while we were walking, thinking we had time, Herbert ran and indeed outpaced us!  He had little or no patience for those who seemed to lack focus   or and seemed not to understand their purpose. To Hebert, the investment by our Parents was one not to be squandered.  He was in many ways devoted to his friends. 

In the subsequent years in Lagos, as his professional career really took off he did not forget any of his friends and indeed we were plenty, a tribe, he remembered us all. I remember bumping into him at Atlanta. He had gone to spend some time with Chizoba, Chizi and Tochi who were all in the US at the time. His words at this chance meeting, “Chidi, my brother why are you being a stranger? Are you afraid hanging out with me?” Abeg when we get into Lagos we must link up oh!”

He was warm, cordial and graceful.  Indeed, I had cause to link up to plead for his assistance resolving some matters on behalf of my Father-in-law, Dr A.O Ajayi. I called him, he immediately set up a meeting and the matter resolved and the title documents handed over to me. The promptness of his action was appreciated by my Father-in-law. He was ever so proud of Herbert and Aig’ s professionalism … “those boys would go places” were his words.

Chizoba was so generous. I remember on the eve of my engagement to my darling wife, Titilola, in August 2001, Chizoba went to Mile 12 to buy some of the biggest tubers of yam I have ever seen in my life as a gift and contribution on behalf of her Auntie, our Auntie Pat Echebiri. The share size of these 42 tubers of yam seemed to show my would-be new parents that we did not come to play. From all I know and heard Chizoba’s generosity knew no bounds. She did nothing in half measures! “Ọ na-aha agba chippings”. This was certainly before her foray into construction. 

Chizoba and Herbert seemed to complement each other and did support each others’ ambition.

Then came Chizi who seemed a perfect blend of both parents taking on the very best parts of his parents. With him, their legacy in the future seemed secure but what do we know?

Th e transition came calling and in a twinkling of an eye they all answered. As I told our Uncle Shyngle, we know that our God can deliver and save even in fire as the recorded testimony of the three Hebrew boys shows, but alas this was not to be as they departed much like rapture. We mourn and then celebrate the privilege of having them all in our lives, painful as their exit may be.

It is our prayer that light perpetual will shine on them as they now dwell in the presence of our Almighty Father.

Anya writes from Lagos

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