· President describes demise as overwhelming tragedy shocking beyond comprehension
· Preliminary reports reveal wintry weather condition contributed to chopper crash
· Access Holdings confirms incident, says acting GMD to be announced soon
President Bola Tinubu; President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas; the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF); governors of Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Anambra, Abia, Kaduna, Imo, Enugu states; Peter Obi; and Tony Elumelu, yesterday, expressed shock and deep distress over the passing of top banker and entrepreneur, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, his wife, Chizoba, son, and former Group Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo. They died in a helicopter crash on Friday night in the United States.
Equally, yesterday, Access Holdings Plc officially confirmed the demise of its founding Group Chief Executive Officer, along with others in the tragic helicopter accident. In a statement signed by the Group’s Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, the Board of Directors expressed sadness over the unfortunate incident, describing Wigwe as a key driving force behind the transformation of the Access franchise since his tenure at Access Bank in 2002.
The United States authorities, yesterday, said preliminary reports suggested that a wintry weather condition was among the factors that contributed to the chopper crash that killed Wigwe and the others.
Addressing the media, a National Transportation Safety Board member, Michael Graham, said officials were on 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. He added that although the information provided was only preliminary, witness reports suggested that a wintry weather condition was among the factors that lead to the accident.
Graham explained, “The crew consisted of a pilot in command and a safety pilot. The accident flight was operated by Orbic Air LLC as a Part 135 charter flight. 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.”
It was gathered that Las Vegas had reportedly sold out private jet parking slots for Super Bowl weekend as billionaires scrambled to make it into Sin City for the big game, causing Wigwe and those killed in the accident to decide to charter a chopper.
Spaces at Harry Reid Airport in the city and its two nearest executive jet strips, North Las Vegas and Henderson, for private jet parking had already been all snatched up, according to the New York Post.
Tinubu, in a statement issued by his media adviser, Ajuri Ngelale, mourned the exceptional Nigerian business leaders, describing their passing as “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension”.
Tinubu condoled with the Wigwe and Ogunbanjo families, the business community, and all those affected by the incident.
The president prayed for the repose of the departed and prayed God Almighty to comfort the multitude of grieving Nigerians and the families of the deceased at this deeply agonising moment.
Akpabio described the sudden death of Wigwe, his wife, and son in the helicopter crash in California as a painful loss to Nigeria.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, Akpabio described Wigwe’s death as a big loss not only to the Nigerian banking and finance industry, where he held sway, but also to the country as a whole.
Akpabio said, “I received with shock the news of the passing of Mr. Wigwe and some of his family members in a helicopter crash in the USA. Wigwe’s contribution to the growth of Nigerian banking industry and, indeed, the economy of the country were exemplary and commendable.
“In his chosen career, he exhibited a high level of professionalism and unmatched leadership, which marked him out as a true patriot. He was a man of integrity who never believed in cutting corners to achieve success in business.
“His vision in establishing a world class university, Wigwe University, to cater for the educational development of the country, will be cherished as a memento for his love for Nigeria.
“On behalf of the 10th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I offer our condolences to the Wigwe family, the Board and Management of Access Bank, the Governor of Rivers State, the President and Commander-.in-chief of the Armed Forces of Federal Republic of Nigeria for losing such a great son, iconic entrepreneur, a serial investor at such a time that our country needs his services the most.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives also expressed shock and deep pain over the incident. According to a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Public, Mr. Musa Abdullahi Krishi, the speaker described the crash as a huge tragedy to Nigeria as a country.
Abbas recalled how Wigwe, as CEO of Access Bank Plc, grew the deposit money bank to a household name in Nigeria, and across Africa and other continents. He also noted that Wigwe’s elevation to GCEO of Access Holdings Plc was an attestation of his entrepreneurial excellence, business acumen, and corporate ethics.
The speaker said Wigwe left a huge vacuum in the banking sector and the corporate world, by extension. He urged the corporate organisations that he championed and served most of his life to sustain his legacy.
Obi disclosed that he would be absent in Abidjan as the Super Eagles of Nigeria take on the Orange boys of Cote d’Ivoire in an epoch final of the Africa Football Cup of Nations, yesterday, as he mourned Wigwe and others.
A statement from Obi’s media office stated that he would “not watch the epic match today following a helicopter crash in California, USA, on Saturday that killed two Nigerian seasoned bankers, a sector Obi professionally belongs, the Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, his wife and son, and Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group).
“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.”
Writing of the deceased in his X handle, Obi stated, “I’m deeply saddened by the tragic news of the passing of my dear friend, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, CEO of Access Holdings, along with his wife and son, and another close friend, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former group chairman of NGX Group.
“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.
“I’ve maintained a connection to his endeavours in my own modest ways. Herbert, a determined and forward-thinking individual, led Access Bank to new heights following his brother, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.
“His noteworthy contributions extended beyond the professional realm, with commendable philanthropic efforts in health and education, exemplified by the establishment of Wigwe University, showcasing his deep commitment to education as a driver of development.
“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. May God grant them eternal rest and provide strength to Herbert’s family, Access Holdings, and all of us mourning this irreplaceable loss.”
Kwara State Governor and Chairman of NGF, Alhaji AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, joined the rest of the country to mourn the tragic death of Wigwe, his wife, and son.
The governor similarly sent his heartfelt condolences to the Ogunbanjo’s family.
In a statement issued in Ilorin, signed by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Rafiu Ajakaye, AbdulRazaq said the incident was a huge loss to not just the Nigerian business community but also to the entire country and its people who would miss the immense impact of the two businessmen.
The governor prayed God Almighty to repose their souls and give comfort to their families and to the rest of the country at this difficult moment.
Lagos State Govermor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in his condolence message, wrote, “Herbert, my brother, my friend and my adviser. Herbert, the king of visionary and disruptive ideas. I’m 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.
“We also lost another great business leader and legal luminary, my egbon Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, who contributed significantly to the development of the capital markets and corporate law in Nigeria. May his soul rest in peace.
“In this difficult time, our thoughts are with the families of all the victims, and we pray for strength and grace.”
Similarly, Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, described the accident as tragic.
Abiodun said it was a devastating loss for the families, friends, and the entire business community in Nigeria. He described Wigwe as a quintessential banker who contributed immensely to the Nigerian economy, and added that the deceased 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 would be difficult to fill.
Abiodun also condoled the Ogunbanjos on the death of the former chairman of the NGX Group.
Ogunbanjo was born into the family of the late Chief Chris Ogunbanjo of Erunwon in Ogun State.
Abiodun described the late Ogunbanjo as not just an exceptional businessman but also a man of great character and integrity.
Rivers State Governor, Mr. Siminalayi Fubara, expressed shock over the accident.
In a statement, yesterday, by his Senior Special Adviser on Media, Boniface Onyedi, Fubara described the incident as a monumental disaster.
Fubara, on behalf of his family, the state government and the people of Rivers State commiserated with the Wigwe family on the unfortunate incident. He urged the family to be comforted by God’s assurances of His love and outpouring of global sympathy on this deep pain and loss.
The governor said, “There are no words to convey how terrible the losses are, the state and, indeed, Nigeria will miss an unassuming, iconic and accomplished illustrious son of Isiokpo in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State.
“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.”
The governor stated that the prestigious Wigwe University, which he pioneered, must not be allowed to die.
Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State said he was in shock over the unfortunate fatal plane crash.
A statement by Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to Uzodimma, Oguwike Nwachuku, said the governor was still in shock over the ugly incident and yet to come to terms with the reality that Wigwe, his wife, his son and Ogunbanjo were no more.
The statement said the death of the Wigwes and Ogunbanjo became more devastating to the governor as he recalled his close relationship with them.
Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, joined other well-meaning Nigerians and world leaders in mourning the deceased.
Mbah, who described Wigwe as a corporate titan, mourned the deaths as a monumental tragedy not only to Nigeria but also to the entire corporate world.
In a statement he personally signed, the governor 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.
“This incident is, therefore, an unspeakable disaster and monumental tragedy, not only to Nigeria, but also to the entire corporate world.”
The governor of Kaduna State, Senator Uba Sani, also mourned the death of Wigwe and the others.
In a statement on X, Sani wrote, “I received with shock and deep sense of loss the news of the passing on of the Chairman/CEO of Access Corporation (one of Kaduna State’s development partners), Mr. Herbert Wigwe.
“Nigeria has lost one of its most innovative and creative entrepreneurs. He not only led Access Bank to become a global brand, he developed Access Corporation into a veritable vehicle for addressing developmental challenges.
“He established Wigwe University to equip Nigerian youths with the skills of competing in a complex and fast changing world. Herbert Wigwe’s worthy legacies will surely endure.”
Anambra State Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, also mourned the death of Wigwe and others in the crash.
Soludo, in a statement by his Press Secretary, Mr. Christian Aburime, said with the incident, Nigeria lost one of its most brilliant minds in the financial services sector.
The statement said, “Mr. Wigwe was not only a prominent Nigerian banker and entrepreneur, but also a personal friend of the governor.
“His leadership extended far beyond Access Bank. Mr. 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.”
The statement said as a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Soludo had the privilege of witnessing first-hand Wigwe’s innovative approach to banking and his instrumental role during the bank consolidation, in driving the growth and expansion of Access Bank, both within Nigeria and internationally.
“Mr. Wigwe’s legacy will 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,” Soludo added.
In his tribute, Abia State Governor, Alex Otti wrote, “Herbert why? Why? Why? You told me you were going for a board meeting in London from where you will head out to the US and return after a few days and immediately come to Abia to see me. So, what happened?
“Since this news filtered out, I’ve not been able to put my head down. I spoke to Peggy who was broken but strong. I refused to believe.
“What do we tell Tochi and the little ones? Who will tell Mummy Stella and Daddy Shyngle who you celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary two years ago? How about those of us who have come to see you as part of life? Your dream Wigwe University, which you told me was going to be the Harvard of Africa? Who will carry on with that dream? We had extensively talked about setting up a scholarship scheme to support brilliant but indigent students. Who will ensure that this dream is delivered?
“This death is too big a blow to me personally and all those that knew you closely. You were not only my friend but my brother. Your constant encouragement and sometimes insistence have been very helpful in a lot of decisions one took.
“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.”
Billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola, mourned the death of two of his friends, Wigwe and Ogunbanjo, as well as wife and son of the late banker, Chizoba and Chizi.
Expressing his shock over the incident, Otedola, one of Nigeria’s foremost entrepreneurs, recalled how he was present at Wigwe’s residence penultimate week, when Wigwe celebrated the opening of his new house.
While commiserating with the family left behind by Wigwe, Otedola pledged to cherish the memories of his deceased friends.
He wrote on his X handle, “I am shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of a banking genius, Herbert Wigwe, his dear wife, Chizoba, and first son, Chizi.
“Exactly two weeks ago, Herbie and his wife hosted myself and Aliko (Dangote) to dinner at his newly built home in Lagos. I will cherish and fondly remember my memories of time spent together with him over the years.
“Herbie, we will all miss you. Your legacy will live on forever. My heartfelt condolences go out to his children: Tochi, Hannah, and David. I pray God comforts them during this tragic time. May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”
Otedola also paid homage to Ogunbanjo, who died alongside Wigwe and some members of his family, expressing his devastation at the incident.
He stated, “I am devastated to hear of his passing. He gave joy to many of us for so long, from when we were in our youth till date. Forever the guy to crack unending jokes.
“My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Titi, and their children as well as his brothers and other immediate family members. I pray God comforts them during this tragic time.”
Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Tony Elumelu, expressed sadness over the death of the Wigwes and Ogunbanjo.
Elumelu, in a statement on Sunday, described the incident as sad and distressing. He described Wigwe as an exceptional talent, and added that Ogunbanjo’s tenure as chairman of NGX was distinguished by excellence.
Elumelu stated, “Nigeria, indeed, Africa, has lost two of our brightest minds. I admired them both and we all shared the desire to drive Nigeria’s transformation.
“Herbert was an exceptional talent, committed to advancing the banking and financial sector in Nigeria, with Access Holdings. Likewise, Bimbo’s tenure as Group Chairman of the NGX Group was distinguished by excellence.
“Both will be sorely missed by all. Their leadership and entrepreneurial drive will continue to serve as shining examples to millions of our young people.”
Immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel, described Wigwe as a brilliant professional whose innovations positively contributed to the emergence of an attractive digitalised banking system in Nigeria.
Emmanuel stated, “The news of the sudden death of Dr Herbert Wigwe, a brother and compatriot, in a helicopter crash in the United States came to me as a devastating loss to our country.
“More shattering is that Herbert died in the crash alongside his lovely wife, Chizoba, and son.
“From the banking halls, Herbert grew to become a colossus of the industry and later ventured and excelled in other aspects of human life, like businesses, education, and philanthropy.
“The sudden and tragic death of our brother is a colossal national loss, which has created a huge vacuum in the financial services sector as well as in the hearts of many people that encountered him.”
Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has expressed deep sorrow over the tragic passing of Herbert Wigwe, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc.
A statement released yesterday by his media aide, Tunde Moshood, the Minister expressed shock and disbelief at the untimely demise of Wigwe, noting that the visionary leader had visited his office just a few days before the tragic accident.
“In a shocking turn of events, the world just bid a painful farewell to Herbert Wigwe, the esteemed CEO of Access Holdings, who died in a tragic helicopter crash that claimed his life, beloved wife, child, and business partner, Bimbo Ogunbanjo.
Their journey, which began with ambitious business aspirations, ended abruptly, leaving behind a void felt not only in the corporate world but also in the hearts of those who knew them.
“Wigwe, a luminary in the banking and financial sector, was not merely a tycoon chasing profits; he was a visionary leader with a fervent dedication to his nation’s progress. His untimely demise occurred during a crucial juncture, as he sought to revolutionize Nigeria’s aviation infrastructure,” Keyamo said.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in a statement yesterday, sign by the head of his media office in Abuja, Mallam Ahmad Sajoh, said the death of Wigwe and others was shocking and a great loss to the country.
Fayemi described the late banker as a visionary leader in Nigeria’s financial sector, “whose leadership transformed Access Bank into one of the largest and most respected financial institutions on the continent.”
The former chairman of NGF added that beyond his business acumen, “Wigwe was a kind and compassionate individual who touched the lives of countless people through his philanthropy and generosity.”
According to the statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, Fayemi said, “It is with sadness and a heavy heart that I learned of the untimely passing of Herbert Wigwe, his wife, their son, and friend Abimbola Ogunbanjo, in a tragic helicopter accident.
“I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the victims during this extremely difficult time.
“Wigwe was a business leader who helped transform Access Bank into one of the largest and most respected financial institutions in Africa. As Group CEO, he led the bank with vision and purpose, contributing to the growth of Nigeria’s banking sector and the expansion of economic opportunities across the continent.”
Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Olubunmi Kuku, also expressed sorrow at the death of Wigwe, his wife, and son.
In a statement she personally signed, Kuku recalled a recent meeting she and some FAAN directors had with the late banking leader and entrepreneur to discuss mutual interests.
She stated, “On behalf of my family, the entire management, and staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), I extend our heartfelt condolences to the immediate and extended family of the late Mr. Herbert Wigwe, his beloved wife, and son. Our sympathy also goes out to the staff, management of Access Holdings Plc, the How Foundation, and the broader banking community on this loss.
“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 Honourable Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo, and some of our directors.
“During our meeting, he passionately discussed utilising his vast wealth, resources and experience for the betterment of humanity.”
Access Holdings Confirms Incident, Says Acting GMD to be Announced Soon
Access Holdings, yesterday, officially announced the demise of Wigwe and others.
Chairman of Access Holdings, Mr. Abubakar Jimoh, described Wigwe a great friend and fine gentleman with a prodigious intellect and vast business experience.
The statement added that in accordance with company policy, the board would soon announce the appointment of an acting Group Chief Executive.
It said, “It is with deep sadness that the Board of Directors of Access Holdings announces the passing of Dr. Herbert Wigwe, the company’s founding Group Chief Executive Officer and former Group Managing Director of its flagship subsidiary, Access Bank.
“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.”
Jimoh was quoted as saying, “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 even as we remain confident that the Access Group will build further on Dr. Wigwe legacy of growth and operational excellence.”
Wigwe, a visionary leader and philanthropist renowned for founding Wigwe University, served as Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, a multinational financial services organisation providing commercial banking, lending, payment, pension, insurance, and asset management services.
During his remarkable eight-year tenure, until May 2022, as Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank, Wigwe attained extraordinary feats, earning accolades such as Banker of the Year 2020 and African Banker of the Year 2021.
Passionate about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Wigwe actively spoke at business forums, advocating a global business commitment to these goals. As Group Managing Director of Access Bank, he became the first African sponsor of the United Nations Global Compact Initiative.
In 2023, Wigwe embarked on a transformative journey by founding Wigwe University, envisioning it as a globally competitive institution to elevate educational standards and nurture future leaders. His commitment to education as a cornerstone of societal development reflected his profound dedication to shaping a brighter future for Africa.
Recognised for exemplary service, Wigwe received the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) award in 2023. An alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme, he held Honorary Doctorate degrees from esteemed institutions and Master’s Degrees in Law, Banking and International Finance, and Financial Economics. Wigwe also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.