OBITUARY: Herbert Wigwe, An Undisputed Leader In The Economic Transformation Of Nigeria
The news of Herbert Wigwe’s death shook the press on Saturday, Feb. 10, after losing his life in a tragic helicopter accident that occurred near the California-Nevada border in the United States of America (USA). Apart from Mr Wigwe, his wife and his son, at least three other people also died in the crash.
Also, many Nigerians including former finance minister and head of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar and a former Abia governor, Orji Kalu, have publicly expressed their condolences to the relatives of the deceased.
It was a German philosopher Martin Heidegger that said “as soon as we are born, we are old enough to die.” Though death shot its arrow at Wigwe at the age of 57, his good deeds will continue to echo in the memories of those he touched.
According to multiple accounts, he was not just a sympathetic philanthropist but an undisputed leader in the economic and social transformation of Africa.
Born on Aug. 15, 1966, Wigwe was raised at Omueke Isiokpo in Rivers State alongside his three sisters—Joyce, Peggy, and Stella—and his brother Emeka. After completing his secondary school education at St. Gregory’s College in Lagos, he pursued higher studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, graduating with a degree in accountancy in 1987.
He later bagged his master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor University) in 1989 through the British Council Scholarship. A year later, he got another master’s degree in Financial Economics from the University of London in 1990.
Though he started his career at Coopers & Lybrand, he also worked at the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) before buying Access Bank alongside his business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. Interestingly, the bank rose from being the 65th largest bank in the country in 2002 to the 4th in 2017.
Wigwe served as the company’s deputy managing director between 2002 and 2014. He was also the Chairman of Access Bank Ghana Limited starting in 2013. From January 2014 until his death, he was CEO and Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Access Investment & Securities Limited, Central Securities and Clearing System (CSCS) and Chairman of Access Bank (UK) Limited.
As an exceptional professional in the field of accounting and business management, he attained fellowship status with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and The Institute of Credit Administration. He was a board member of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and a member of the advisory Board for Friends Africa.
His contributions to Nigeria’s economic growth fetched him various awards and recognition including, the African Banker of the Year in 2016, the BusinessDay CEO of the Year in 2017, the Forbes Best of Africa Award in 2020, the African Leadership Magazine African Business Leader Award in 2020, and the Leadership Newspaper Business Person of the Year in 2020.
As a philanthropist committed to giving back to society, he launched the Herbert Wigwe Foundation, a platform dedicated to providing scholarships, mentorship, and empowerment opportunities to young Nigerians in 2018. Before then, he had established How Foundation, which focuses on delivering free malaria treatment and prevention services to children and pregnant women, and the Slum2School initiative, which endeavors to offer quality education to children living in slum areas.
Few months before his death, he announced his plan to establish Wigwe University with a vision to ignite Africa’s potential for prosperity, nurture thoughtful fearless leaders, and become the leading university in Africa.
In a recent tweet, Wigwe said “Today and always, let us remember that life is a precious gift – a chance to breathe, feel, love, experience and connect. Let’s honor this gift by living with purpose, kindness, and gratitude, making every moment count. Let us number our days.”