Though in tears, members of the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc must have seen the gaping hole created in the organisation by the late Herbert Wigwe after 22 years of commitment, first as a deputy chief executive officer (CEO), then CEO of the flagship subsidiary (Access Bank) and the pioneer Group CEO – a position he held till he drew his last breath in the helicopter crash in California, United States on Friday night.
Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former group chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), and Wigwe’s close confidant, was also on the aircraft. The manifest list include: Herbert Wigwe, 57; Chizoba Wigwe, 56; Chizi Wigwe, 29; Abimbola Ogunbanjo, 61; pilot and co-pilot, who are all deceased.
Wigwe was, undoubtedly, among the last breeds of post-consolidation larger-than-life bankers. The modern Access Bank, the largest Nigerian financial institution by asset size, is synonymous with the late Wigwe and his business associate, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. Both young but successful bankers back then in GTBank, left their comfort zones to acquire Access – a fringe and crisis-prone financial institution.
A master of the non-organic growth model, Access Bank under Wigwe and associates, led the most audacious banking in the country and is famous for the biggest acquisition deals in Nigeria.
Today, Access faces the tough task of getting the right peg for the hole left by the enigmatic banker. With no deputy to step into the shoes in the meantime, the board of directors is certainly racing against time to fill the vacant position as soon as this week.
Perhaps, it has the luxury of time since Access Holdings is a non-operating entity. Yet, the group, in a statement confirming the untimely passing of the late bank chief, said it would appoint an acting GCEO soon in line with the continuity policy of the institution.
“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 Wigwe’s legacy of growth and operational excellence,” a statement signed by the Group Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, said.
The statement noted: “Wigwe was instrumental in the growth of Access Bank, which he co-founded with his friend and business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. He took over as Access Bank Group CEO in 2014, focusing on the bank’s expansion in Nigeria and Africa before taking the helm at Access Holdings in 2022. Under his leadership, Access Bank drove its African strategy to become Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest retail bank by customer base.
“Wigwe was a member of the Access Bank UK board as well as the board of the Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NiBUCAA). He has long been an advocate for the eradication of malaria in Africa, working with the Corporate Alliance on Malaria to support this objective. He also sat on the board of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and Friends Africa and was an honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and Institute of Credit Administration.”
A two-time winner of the African Banker of the Year award from the African Banker Awards, Wigwe lost his life in a helicopter crash, throwing the Nigerian financial community into mourning. His wife and son also died in the incident.
“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. 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,” Chairman of Access Holdings, Abubakar Jimoh, said in a statement yesterday.
The Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group) described as “profound loss” the tragic passing of a former chairman of the group, Ogunbanjo. In a statement on Sunday, the NGX Group also mourned Wigwe.
The NGX Group described Ogunbanjo as a visionary leader and luminary in Nigeria’s corporate legal and capital market spheres, who 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.
“His strategic acumen and dedication were instrumental in shaping NGX Group’s transformative journey,” the statement partly read.
Expressing his heartfelt condolences, the Group Chairman of NGX Group, Umaru Kwairanga, said, “NGX Group mourns the untimely departure of Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo and Dr. Herbert Wigwe, along with his wife and son. 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.”