Life and Times of HERBERT ONYEWUMBU WIGWE, Celebrated Development Banker

Juliet Jacob Ochenje

One of America’s leading news platforms wrote:

“The Eurocopter EC130 helicopter crashed Friday night near Halloran Springs, California, about 80 miles south of Las Vegas.

By Dennis Romero and Minyvonne Burke

The CEO of one of Nigeria’s largest banks was among the six people killed when the helicopter they were on crashed Friday night in California, an official said.

The chartered helicopter departed Palm Springs at 8:45 p.m. en route to Boulder City, Nevada, but “impacted the ground” near Halloran Springs, California, at 10:08 p.m.”.


There was a sense of shock and disbelief across  Nigerian banking and educational sectors as news broke about the tragic helicopter crash in the United States. The crash claimed the lives of Mr. Herbert Wigwe, the Group Managing Director of Access Holdings Plc, along with his wife, Chizoba, and their son. 


Three others, including the former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), Abimbola Ogunbanjo, also lost their lives in the accident. This tragic event quickly spread throughout the country, leaving many feeling stunned and saddened.


The tragic incident left countless people grieving as they tried to understand the reasons behind the unfortunate calamity. Losing someone who had ambitious aspirations, a mentor-like figure, a philanthropist, and possessed unwavering determination, boldness, and bravery – qualities that defined the deceased banking legend – makes death even more cruel.

Who is Wigwes?

Wigwe, born on August 15, 1966, began his professional journey at Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of Chartered Accountants. After spending more than a decade at Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, where he oversaw various portfolios, he left his role as an Executive Director to help spearhead the transformation of Access Bank Plc in March 2002. By January 1, 2014, he had been appointed as Group Managing Director/CEO and remained in that position until May 2022, when he transitioned to a Non-Executive Director role. Throughout his career, his infectious passion and unmatched energy have played a significant role in the rise of Access Holdings and the establishment of Wigwe University as a competitive institution on par with renowned ivy-league schools worldwide.


Wigwe completed the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme and earned a master’s degree in Banking and International Finance from the University College of North Wales. He also holds a master’s degree in Financial Economics from the University of London and a B.Sc. degree in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. Wigwe holds several positions, including Chairman of Access Bank (UK) Ltd and Non-Executive Director of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company Plc, FMDQ OTC Securities Exchange, Shared Agents Network Expansion Facilities Ltd, and Agri-Business/SME Enterprises Investment Scheme. He serves on the Governing Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria.


Wigwe, a highly respected banker, was well aware of the importance of embracing change and having foresight in order for banks to stay competitive and avoid falling behind their peers. He understood that this would have negative effects on customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and revenue growth. As a result, he consistently made sure that Access Holdings, the financial services group he oversaw, became one of Africa’s top institutions. He pursued growth tirelessly, but in a careful and strategic manner. Taking over in 2014 from his friend and business partner Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Wigwe successfully transformed Access Bank from a small, relatively unknown bank in 2002 to a world-class African financial institution.

Banking Influencer

Currently, Access Bank is one of Nigeria’s top five largest banks, based on factors such as assets, loans, deposits, and branch network. This achievement has been made possible by the institution’s long-term strategy of offering dedicated and inventive client solutions. Originally focused on corporate banking, Access Bank expanded its expertise to include personal and business banking when it acquired Nigeria’s international commercial bank in 2012. Additionally, Wigwe, a key figure in Access Bank, has played a role in the development of major African enterprises in industries such as construction, telecommunications, energy, and oil and gas sectors.

As soon as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was established in 2018, Wigwe recognized it as a chance to position Access Bank and its parent company for the advantages that the continent had to offer. This led him to aggressively pursue the expansion of the institution. He saw AfCFTA as a means to not only increase intra-Africa trade but also provide tangible opportunities for the continent. His belief was that Africa held significant potential and that there were prospects for a well-managed African bank that prioritized compliance, supported trade, and possessed the necessary technological infrastructure for payments and remittances, all while avoiding additional risks.

The primary objective of our company is to establish a robust and enduring business model that contributes to economic growth, promotes trade within Africa, and fosters financial inclusivity, enabling individuals to achieve their financial goals. We firmly believe that we possess the ideal position to fulfill these aspirations. Our core strategy involves functioning as a unifying force in Africa, developing a universal payment platform, extending trade financing services, and facilitating correspondent banking throughout the continent. In order to achieve optimal results, we are concentrating on the most important markets.

Our strategy is to ensure that we have the necessary skills and expertise in the country we aim to enter. Our goal is not just to exist in these countries, but to have a significant and positive impact. We are conscious of the benefits our presence will bring to the bank and work closely with our friends and partners to achieve our ambitious vision.

Today, Access Holdings has expanded its presence to multiple countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia, Angola, France, United Kingdom, Botswana, Guinea, R.D. Congo, Gambia, Tanzania, and Uganda, among others.

Recently, Access Bank Zambia Limited successfully completed the acquisition of African Banking Corporation Zambia Limited (also known as Atlas Mara Zambia) after receiving all necessary regulatory approvals. This expansion in Zambia highlights Access Holdings’ aggressive growth strategy.

Leadership Impact

Furthermore, in May of last year, Wigwe was appointed as the President of the France-Nigeria Business Council. This council was established to strengthen business relationships and foster mutual growth between France and Nigeria. Under Wigwe’s leadership, the council has facilitated several successful engagements between French and Nigerian businesses.

Wigwe University, currently accepting its inaugural class, is anticipated to be instrumental in addressing the skills gap. Though aware of limitations, Wigwe aspires to empower young individuals, enabling them to subsequently empower others, resulting in a transformative impact on the world. The potential for positive change is limitless, with countless more lives to impact and future generations to uplift towards reaching their full potential.


Furthermore, he established the HOW Foundation (Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe) which focuses on education, health, youth empowerment, and sustainability. Over the years, the Foundation has invested billions of naira to enhance and assist 23 Primary Health Care Centres in Rivers State. It has also sponsored the training of 75 doctors in Israel and the USA within a five-year period. These are just a few of the Foundation’s interventions, and its dedication to improving education, health, and youth empowerment is evident in its accomplishments. Additionally, the HOW Foundation provides educational support for 13,000 Almajiri children in Kaduna State.

Last Words

Although the loss of Herbert Wigwe, his wife, his son, Ogunbajo, and the others who perished in the accident is deeply felt by their loved ones and admirers, they can find solace in the words of Wigwe, who tweeted on January 19, 2024, reminding everyone that life is a precious opportunity to cherish. He urged everyone to live with purpose, kindness, and gratitude, embracing each moment and realizing the importance of valuing the time we have.

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