February 10, (THEWILL) – It didn’t take long for the sad news about the death of Herbert Wigwe, the Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, owners of Access Bank Plc, to go viral. The former Group Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank plc was onboard the helicopter with his wife, Chizoba, their son and Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the group chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc when the unfortunate incident happened in the evening of Friday February 9. The four aforementioned didn’t survive the crash neither did the two pilots ferrying the quartet. But what most people still do not know is that Wigwe and his companions were on their way to the Super Bowls in Las Vegas, United States. For as long as anyone can recall, Wigwe has made attending the Super Bowl one of his annual rituals. He always attended with his close-knit family, most of whom live in London, United Kingdom. Attending these games with them was usually a time of bonding with his family. And he was on his way to be part of the spectators when the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will play on Sunday, February 11. But fate had other plans.
The Super Bowl is the annual league championship game of the National Football League (NFL) of the United States. It has served as the final game of every NFL season since 1966. Since 2022, the game has been played on the second Sunday in February every year.
Besides Wigwe, quite a number of other affluent and prominent Nigerians are known to be ardent fans of the game and like Wigwe, they also make it a habit to always attend.
According to very reliable sources close to THEWILL, the late entrepreneur had departed Lagos and made a stopover at his home in London to get his family to join him as was the tradition, for the trip to the US. Together with Ogunbanjo, they all flew from London to Los Angeles and then chartered a chopper from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Ordinarily and in some circumstances, they all would have made the trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by road which is approximately a four hour journey. But he chose to go by air. The air trip is a journey of approximately an hour and 30 minutes. However, there were no landing for private jets in Las Vegas because of the huge crowd attending the Super bowl. So they were doing helicopter shuttles for all the private jet owners. The helicopter Wigwe and his family flew in had flown back and forth four times with several VIPs. The chopper took off from Palm Springs Airport but somewhere in San Bernardino County, a border city between Nevada and California, the chopper disappeared. It was later discovered to have crashed in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. The helicopter which was operated by California-based charter company Orbic Air, took off around 8:45 p.m and crashed just after 10 p.m. It caught fire upon impact. Witnesses reported that there was rain and a wintry mix when the crash happened. The NTSB is investigating the cause of the crash and have collected evidence. As at the time of this report, sources close to this newspaper revealed that some bodies have been recovered and they all have been identified to be the aforementioned. Nigerians across all economic, religious and social, political and ethnic strata have continued to mourn the death of the consummate banker. While Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) in the 2023 general elections described his death as unfortunate, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo described the late philanthropist’s death as painful and tragic. That Wigwe will be sorely missed would be simply putting it mildly. He has been described by close associates as a hardworking, selfless and kind person who supports Small Businesses Enterprises, SMEs. He initiated platforms and solutions where women can fully harness their potential and thrive in their various fields.
His love for the art world was to say, the least, second to none. The late stylish banker has a pride of place among top art collectors in Nigeria. He collects art as a passion, both favouring foreign and indigenous creations. His offices across the continent and his homes are adorned with various intriguing art works that do not come cheap. He gives his late father, Pastor Shyngle Wigwe, a former director of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), credit for helping him cultivate his love for arts.
A philanthropist, he founded the Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) foundation, a social enterprise that focuses on youth empowerment through leadership and mentorship and on health, specifically malaria and prostate cancer. Also, through Access Bank, he initiated a collaboration with UNICEF to offer support to vulnerable children, orphans and internally displaced persons in the northern part of Nigeria. To raise awareness for this purpose, the bank organizes the annual high-profile Access Bank/UNICEF Charity Shield Polo tournament.
The Ikwerre man from Rivers State had a heart for educational pursuits. Little wonder, he vigorously pursued his project, Wigwe University which is situated in his home state. The university was all set to disrupt the higher education system in Nigeria with their approach to teaching and learning.
Wigwe and his wife left behind three children who were not on board the ill-fated chopper.