Tributes paid to Nigerian financiers Herbert Wigwe and Abimbola Ogubajo after fatal helicopter crash

Six people were killed in the crash on Friday, which also claimed the lives of Wigwe's wife, Chizoba Wigwe, and son, Chizi Wigwe.

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Image : Herbert Wigwe

Tributes have been paid to Nigerian banking titan Herbert Wigwe, founder and group CEO of Access Bank, and former Nigeria stock exchange chairman Abimbola Ogunbanj, after their untimely deaths in a helicopter accident in California.

Six people were killed in the Mojave Desert crash on Friday, which also claimed the lives of Wigwe’s wife, Chizoba Wigwe, and son, Chizi Wigwe.

The chartered helicopter was travelling between Palm Springs, California and Boulder City, Nevada when it crashed about 96km from Las Vegas. The party was reportedly on its way to Sunday’s Super Bowl NFL game in the city. Investigators are working to discover the cause of the accident.

Bola Tinubu, President of Nigeria, led the tributes to the victims.

“I am shocked and deeply distressed by the news of the passing of Mr. Herbert Wigwe, a distinguished banker, humanitarian, and entrepreneur, and Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former Group Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, along with members of the Wigwe family – Herbert’s wife, Chizoba, and son, Chizi. Their passing is an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” he wrote.  

Herbert Wigwe, 57, founded Access Bank in 1989. It became the largest bank in Nigeria in 2018 after it acquired its main competitor, Diamond Bank. A formidable banker, he brought a relentless drive to the company alongside longstanding business partner Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.

In 2021, Wigwe was awarded African Banker’s prestigious African Banker of the Year award for a second successive year after its move into South Africa following its acquisition of Grobank.

At the time of his second award, following a decade of rapid growth which had seen the firm expand in Kenya, South Africa and Botswana, Access Bank had become one of the largest retail banks in Africa with over 40 million customers.

In 2020, African Business sister magazine New African, which twice named Wigwe in its annual list of the 100 Most Influentual Africans, interviewed him for a special issue commemorating the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. He talked of his ambitions to grow the bank into a pan-African force.

“We want to have subsidiaries across 22 countries over the next five years, with strategic plans to be present in the major trade corridors on the African continent…By 2023, Access Bank will have consolidated its position as Africa’s gateway to the world with about 100m customers in Nigeria and additional 20m customers across our African subsidiaries,” he predicted. 

Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, was among the Nigerian business leaders who paid tribute to Wigwe.

“I am saddened by the tragic death of Herbert Wigwe, CEO and co-Founder of Access Bank, his wife & son. He was a visionary and brilliant banker. May God comfort your aged parents, children, the Wigwe family and the staff and management of Access Bank. You will be greatly missed,” he said.

Strategic acumen and dedication

Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a veteran of Nigeria’s corporate legal and capital market industries, 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.

In a statement, NGX Group said that his “strategic acumen and dedication were instrumental in shaping NGX Group’s transformative journey.”

“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 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time,” said NGX Group chairman Alhaji Umaru Kwairanga.

“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,” said Temi Popoola, group managing director and chief executive of NGX Group.

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David Thomas

Editor of African Business.