Grief has pitched its tent with the Wigwes and Ogunbajos. For them and friends of the families, the pain from the tragic death of a former Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Incorporated, Herbert Wigwe, his wife, and his son, as well as a former chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, cannot be overemphasised.

One moment, he was full of life, heading for an event in California, United States of America; the next moment, news of his death filled the air.

On Friday, February 9, the 57-year-old banker died in a helicopter accident alongside his wife, Chizoba; his son, Chizi; Ogunbanjo, and two crew members.

They were reported to have been en route to Boulder City, Nevada, from Palm Springs, California, that night when the helicopter conveying them crashed at about 10 pm, in Halloran Springs, near California’s Mojave Desert.

US federal investigators are looking at weather conditions, reports of downed power lines near the accident site, and other possible factors that might have caused the helicopter crash, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to his recent efforts to expand Access Bank’s reach around the continent, including Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana, early in 2024, Wigwe planned to launch a new banking service in Asia and an international university, Wigwe University, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

Saturday PUNCH gathered that his wife, Chizoba, owned Craneburg Construction Company, a firm in charge of constructing the Wigwe mansion – a cutting-edge, multibillion-naira infrastructure project situated at Queens Drive in Ikoyi.

The fully automated building, it was learned, was completed about two weeks before the tragic accident that claimed the lives of the couple and their son.

Since Sunday when the late CEO’s death was confirmed by the company’s Group Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, tributes have been pouring in from across the country.

The late banker was said to be survived by four children, four siblings, his 90-year father, Pastor Shyngle Wigwe, who retired as the director-general of the Nigerian Television Authority, and his mother, Mrs Stella Wigwe.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, several relatives, associates, politicians, and friends, trooped to the home of the parents of the deceased in Ikoyi, Lagos, to condole with the bereaved family.

Among the dignitaries who have visited the Wigwes are a former group managing director of Access Bank, Aigboje Aig-Imokuede; Chairman of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi; founder of Stanbic IBTC, Atedo Peterside; Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, and the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, among others.

When visited the home of the Wigwes on Wednesday, the air of sorrow around the residence was palpable as individuals waited outside the premises.

Sympathisers could be seen holding hands and comforting one another as they reminisced on the lives of the late CEO, his wife, and his son.

While one of our correspondents was not granted access to the main building,  most of the visitors expressed their unwillingness to speak to journalists about the tragedy.

During a second visit on Thursday, some sympathisers, who were seen leaving the premises, told one of our correspondents that the late Wigwe left a lasting legacy.

One of them, who said he was a staff member of Access Bank, but refused to give his name, described the late group CEO and his wife as his benefactors, having helped him to pay his rent for four years when he moved to Lagos from Kogi.

He said, “Wigwe overheard me complaining about my rent over the phone in the elevator. He waited for me to finish and told me to meet the human resources division for assistance.

“I thought it was a joke. In a matter of minutes, I got an email from the company that I had been offered accommodation by the group managing director. I was shocked.

“It took me two months to finally meet him in person again to thank him. He smiled and told me to simply do my job and make my family proud. That man kept on paying my rent till I had to write to him that I could now afford it comfortably.”

Another employee of the bank, who is a branch manager in one of the branches on the Lagos Mainland, said, “Mr Herbert Wigwe was a nice man. His wife was also very nice; she did not discriminate. When I was still a temporary staff member, I remember that it was Wigwe who told the board to look into ways that I and others could be made permanent employees.

“We took the exam and passed. It has been many years down the line and I am a branch manager. I am where I am because he gave me a chance; if not for him, I might have left the system now or might have still been working as a temporary employee, with no hopes of being converted. I will forever be grateful to him for that.”

However, a former Minister of Health, Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, described the late Herbert as a star who developed into a gem and whose loss would need much prayer and patience.

“In him, a star was born and that star developed into a gem, and now we are witnessing a situation where the star that turned into a gem is gone. It needs a lot of prayerful patience to be able to cope.

“We don’t know the ways of God; there is nothing that He does that is not for the good of mankind so we say may his soul rest in peace. This is a big tragedy,” he stated.

Also speaking during her condolence visit, a former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Rose Ukeje, said, “I’m as devastated as possible, but God’s will, what can we say? We cannot ask why, he knows why and he will comfort the family.”

A Redeemed Christian Church of God pastor, Brown Oyitso, described the late banker as a charitable man who extended a hand of help to people and lived a good life.

“He came, he saw and he conquered. His life was a testimony of greatness. You know, he was of help to people and communities. This is how to live your life. It is said that it’s not how long but how well,” he said.

For the father of the deceased, it seemed as if fate was repeating itself as he lost his first son, Osita, 27 years ago, in a car crash.

In an interview he had with The Cable in 2018, Shyngle said he was attending a ministers’ conference on June 5, 1997, when Osita, who was 34 years old, died in a road accident while travelling from Lagos to Port Harcourt.

“I never sweated like that in my life before and I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. For weeks, I couldn’t go up to the altar. I went, then I wept, and I came down. It was like somebody took a pair of forceps to draw out your heart from you.

“That boy was one in a million. He had the attributes of a daughter; he had the attributes of a son. He was a solution provider to all family problems.

“If I had him, I thought I had everything. For quite some time, I didn’t feel life was worth living anymore. We spoke as brothers, not as father and son,” he said.

Meanwhile, some indigenes and residents of Omoeke community, the hometown of the late Access Holdings GCEO in Isiokpo, Ikwerre, Rivers State took to the streets on Monday to mourn his death. The protesters, who were dressed in black attires, marched through the community singing songs of mourning.

During the protest, shops, and markets in the area were closed as the distraught protesters called on the United States of America to thoroughly investigate the helicopter crash which took the life of their son and brother.

They also demanded that the corpses of the later Wigwe, his wife, and his son be flown back to Nigeria and brought to the community for burial. A representative of one of the protesters, identified as John Opurum, said the protesters were demanding to know the circumstances that led to the death of the deceased in the crash.

He stated, “Our demands are that the corpses must be brought back to Nigeria and to our soil here. We must bury him here. We don’t want to know what happened over there. We must know why and how our brother died.”

During a visit to the Access Tower, the headquarters of Access Bank on 14/15 Prince Alaba Abiodun Oniru Road, Lagos, on Friday, Saturday PUNCH observed an air of sadness. An employee, who refused to give his name, said though a new GCEO had been announced, Wigwe was still being missed by the staffers.

“Mr Wigwe was a good man. During some of our staffers’ birthdays, if he knew, he would just show up and make it special for that lucky person. Some staff members can confess how kind he was.

“Except he did not know about your problem or did not have the power to fix it; he always offered to help,” the worker said.

Although the use of cameras was prohibited around the condolence register area adorned with beautiful rose flowers, several customers and well-wishers gathered to sign the register.

A woman, who gave her name as High Chief Olubunmi, said she was a personal friend of the Wigwes and the bank.

“I moved all my money here when Wigwe and his friend started this bank. I have been banking with them for years now. It is shocking to me; Herbert was my personal friend.

“Four days before he passed, we spoke. It is just so sad for me, my son, that he is gone and I, who am much older, am still here,” she said, holding back tears.

The Ikoyi residence of the late Abimbola Ogunbanjo was filled with palpable sadness when our correspondent visited. Outside the large compound, several sympathisers thronged the home to share in the grief.

His widow, clad in a floating gown and black headgear, sobbed as her late husband’s associates said kind words about him.

Ogunbanjo, a former chairman of the Nigeria Exchange Group, died alongside Wigwe in the ill-fated crash. Certified in international capital markets and marine law, he held the position of GCEO at the NGX group from 2021 to 2022.

He had his early education at Corona School, Apapa; the University of Lagos Staff School, Claremont School, Hastings, Sussex; and Igbobi College, Lagos State, before he went to Millfield School, England where he attained his GCE O’ Levels.

Afterward, he proceeded to the American College, in Switzerland for a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Ogunbajo also had a bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Buckingham, United Kingdom.

A representative of the family, addressing a group of sympathisers suspected to be close associates of the late Ogubanjo, said the death of the banker was heartbreaking for the entire family.

He said, in his welcome address, “Thank you very much for coming to give us so much strength. Only a few months ago, we did this same thing for someone close to the family.

“Little did we know that we would do this same thing again soon. We saw what happened. It is so heartbreaking.”

He broke down in tears before continuing his speech.

“You know when I spoke with him, he would counsel me. He was more than a brother. He will always be more than a brother. Coming here today, I feel strong. Every time his friends call or anytime I receive a message, I am strengthened, and all I can say is thank you all for standing by him.”


The sad development led to widespread mourning in Nigeria and the Diaspora. President Bola Tinubu, President Emmanuel Macron of France, state governors in Nigeria, business tycoons, and some prominent Nigerians have expressed commiseration with the families of the deceased Nigerians.

The Federal Government confirmed that it had begun talks with the government of the United States of America on the ongoing investigation of a chopper crash that claimed the lives of Wigwe, his wife, son, and Ogunbanjo.

It also said the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau had entered into discussions with the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States to officer necessary support on the ongoing investigation of the circumstances that led to the crash of the chopper.

This came as American investigators said the wreckage of the crashed chopper would be transferred to a new location in the US for comprehensive tests on Tuesday.

The ill-fated helicopter, operated by Orbic Air as a Part 135 charter flight, crashed around 10 pm last Friday.

Nigeria’s NSIB is the Federal Government agency that investigates air crashes, among others in the country. The NTSB has a similar mandate in the US.

NSIB’s Director-General, Captain Alex Badeh, while confirming the latest move by the Federal Government in a statement, said Nigeria’s engagement with the US on the issue aligned with Chapter 5, Subsection 27 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Annex 13, which bothered on “Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation”.