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Herbert Wigwe And His Towering Legacy Of Entrepreneurial Stardom, By  Godknows Igali



Herbert Wigwe And His Towering Legacy Of Entrepreneurial Stardom

An archetypical inference to a tsunami, news of the tragic death of ace banker, businessman, educator and philanthropist, Herbert Onyewumbu on 9th February, 2024 hit the global news space with indescribable shock; and misbehave. True, Herbert had died from a helicopter crash, on the cold plains remote part of the Mojave desert along the California-Nevade border, in Midwestern United States, along with the two closest human beings to him, the wife of his youth, Chizoba and heir apparent, Chizi and no less, enterpreneurial connoisseur, Abimbola Ogunbajo,
scion of one of Nigeria’s outstanding business dynasties.

Perhaps more than any other Nigerian in recent history, safe for late President Musa Yar’Adua, the surge of memorials, eulogies and which poured in from across the world were unprecedented For the country’s President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose knowledge and personal relation with the Wigwes and the Ogunbajo family is more than casual, having watched them attain their meteoric rise in the business world under his erstwhile leadership in the affairs of Lagos, the country’s commercial hub. He lamented, the death was “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension”! Soon after, tributes and encomiums streamed rapidly from the world’s political and economic elite. Notably, French President Manuel Macron, South Africa’s Cyril Ramophosa, Ghanaian leader, Nana Kufo-Ado, Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, former Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, WTO Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala amongst many others. Interestingly, these global leaders all added up on their personal relationship and friendship with Herbert.

The Pan Nigerian gusto with which Herbert lived most of his life obfuscated his real identity. Certainly, he was not part of the tripodal hegemony of Ibo, Hausa/Fulani, or Yoruba. Neither was he from nearby Ijaw, which at 4th positions in Nigeria still attracts more visibility, nor was he of the Ogonis of KenSaro-Wiwa. He was of Ikwerre ethnicity.

News of Herbert’s death, which came towards the dark hoyrs of the day on that ill-fated day, therefore palpably gloomed a dark horizon over his Ikwerre Land. The Ikwerre or Iwhnuruọha people as they call themselves according to ethno-linguitic studies are ancient and distinct and might. Studies adduce that they have lived in the upper fringes of the Niger Delta from about the 12th century. Today, they are concentrated in four of the twenty-three local government areas of Rivers State and make up about half of the indigenous population of Port-Harcourt, the nations oil capital. Although they are not one of the big names in the constellation of Nigeria’s diversity, their national presence and service have been robust. Besides Ace Writer, Captain Elechi Amadi, and the academic/political henchman, Dr. Obi Wali, the likes of Prof Otonti Nduka, Prof Godwin Tasie have kept their space in the nation’s knowledge biosphere visible. In the professions, the likes of Okey Wali, former President of Nigeria Bar Association, OCJ Okocha, Former Chairman of the Body of Benchers and the galaxy of political juggernauts, Chief Emmanuel Aguma, HRH King Frank Eke, First Civilian Deputy Governor of Rivers State and Chief Nwaobidike Nwonodi are national house names. In the artistic world, some notable Nollywood personalities such Monalisa Chinda and Tonto Dikeh also continue to leave their mark. As a matter of fact, later day politicians of these ancient, such as Austin Opara, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Celestine Omeha, a short tenured Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, former Governor/Minister of Transportation, Kingsley Chinda, Minority Leader of the current House of Representatives and not the least, Nyesom Wike, the present Minister of the Federal Capital Territory/Former Governor. The current Chairman, Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, and His Royal Majesty Eze Sargent Awuse.

It is against this backdrop of outstanding group ascendancy Herbert was born on 15th August, 1966, in Lagos but hailed from Isiokpo, the headtown of the Ikwerre people. He was born into the household of Pa (Pastor) Shygle Wigwe, from a lineage connected to local royalty and his wife, Pastor (Mrs) Stella Wigwe. Yes, the great joy of another baby boy, but at the time, Pa Wigwe who was a serving officer in the Nigerian army was perhaps, also preoccupied with the burdensome political upheaval which visited Nigeria in the aftermath of the January 1966 military coup; led by his erstwhile roommate, Major Chukwuma Nzeogu.

Besides being the vortex of Ikwerre civilization, Isiokpo, comprising 9 communities, is one of the 7 automous kingdoms that make up the people. Alongside Okrika town, the Isiokpo community was the next big human settlement adjacent to Port Harcourt. So Herbert grew up in the complexities of delightful inter-ethnic mix, which, since its founding in 1912, gives Portharcourt its modernist cultural heritage. Indeed, Herbert represented subconsciously, such contemporaneity, including his adeptness in its peculiar variant of pidgin English in which he habitually communicated with close friends.

Pa Wigwe and his wife raised Herbert and his siblings typical of the drill and somewhat orderliness of old school military living. A healthy blend of discipline and love. These became the more reinforced by constant reminding of Christian beatitudes and spirituality as Pa Wigwe and wife soon migrated from ‘orthodox’ Anglicanism, which his Isiokpo people were used to. He moved into pentecostalism, under the direct watchful eyes of Pastor Enoch Adeboye of The Redeem Christian Church. Easily, Herbert and his wife, being young adults, followed suit. Unarguably, such transcended virtues and body of morality provided the compass for Herbert’s unbending engrossment with hard work, success, and a sentinel of works of charity.He learnt quietly but voiced unavowedly that with God there were no mountain peaks that could not be surmounted.

Post Nigeria Civil War (1967-1970), Pa Wigwe signed off from the Nigerian army, even though he fought on the Biafra side and returned to his professional delight, communication engineering and broadcasting. He rose step by step and ultimately became Director General of the Niger Television Authority, raising it to become the largest of it kind on the continent.

Schooling at the various stages was, therefore, not with tears, as his senior public service father generously invested in children’s education. At the Federal Government College, Warri, one of the country’s earliest ‘unity schools’ which he attended for secondary education, he stood out. Ditto at the University of Nigeria, where he read Accountancy. Perharps is a little appreciated, but actually true is the fact that Herberts alma matter, UNN, was formally established by Nigeria’s first President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in 1955, but actually took off 7th October 1960 and remains a much prided global centre of learning. Going forward, Herbert continuously endured the rigour of self preparation for the top. So in tune with the motto of his next school, the University of North Wales states inter alia: – the best gift is knowledge – he bagged a Masters in Banking and Finance from this 139 year old institution. A few years following, he took up and earned a second Masters degree in financial economics from the globally leading school – the University of London – and ultimately an executive course from the prestigious Harvard Business School.

The world of finance and monetary economics is perhaps one of the most complex career preoccupations ever. It’s multidimensional, multi-disciplinary, and multitasking, requiring the highest levels of skill, foresight, attentiveness, and flexibility.

With a sound educational formation and appreciation of diverse perspectives such as accounting and quantitative, economics, financial instruments, risk management strategies, and investment strategies, Herbert soon plunged into what maybe rightly termed the world of financial engineering. He started his professional life at leading consulting firm Coopers and Lybrand founded in London since 1854 by William Cooper and kept a record of only attracting the very best. Since 1998, the firm has moved on to become Price Water Cooper (pwc). Thereafter, he cut his teeth at Guaranty Trust Bank, which, since its founding in 1990, has remained one of the Nigeria’s outstanding retail banking houses. He rose to become an Executive Director after ten years and left to find new pastures.

Totally averse to risks, Herbert teamed up with other young turks in Nigeria’s financial sector to acquire and reflate ACCESS BANK in 2002. Prominent above all was his co-inspirator and bossom partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. Though both of the same age, Herbert willingly took the back seat and allowed ‘Aig’ to lead. The truth is that Access Bank was founded since 1989 but moved from pure corporate activities to commercial banking in 2012. However, in the wake of consolidation of the Nigerian banking sector in the 2000s, Herbert, Aig, and partners acquired the floundering institution. They subsequently turned the brand through sustained acquisition of similarly distressed financial groups in Nigeria and other African countries. The ultimate merger was with Diamond Bank in 2018, one of the biggest ever of its kind in the history of Nigeria.

Under the duo of Aig and Herbert, the bank has become the largest bank in Africa with its 42 million customer base and number one in Nigeria in terms of assets ($25.5 billion). Its staff strength of over 28,000 itself in different countries, especially in Africa, is itself quite impressive. More importantly, the bank remains a key driver in various critical areas of the Nigerian economy and in all the countries where it has operations.

Beyond making money and creating opportunities and jobs, Herbert will not be forgotten early for many reasons. This is because he used enormous wealth to provide succour to the bleeding world around. He invested gratuitously in what mattered most to humanity, country, and community.

Amongst others, his public spiritedness became global news as he rose to take the lead in combatting Covid 19 at the time when it ravaged in 2020. He rallied round other persons of deep pockets in ‘Corporate Nigeria’ and raised over 23 billion Naira for various remedial activities.

Along with his wife Chizoba, educational support to vulnerable families had become synonymous with their names at the national level. This was particularly through various faith-based outlets through which they helped the needy. They also worked with the UNICEF to support education and youth enterprises all over Africa.

His final opus magnus was his investment in the building of the Wigwe University. Set in the picturesque plains of hometown Isiokpo, he stated his ambition was similar to that of Puritan Clergyman, John Harvard, in 1636 to establish an all-time world best in university education. Fortunately, he has laid most of the institutions and physical resources for the attainment of his dreams.

Herbert was intrepid, suave, debonair vivacious, and tasks driven. He was restless and always ready to take on tasks that even angels could not dare. In this, his personal welfare was no exception or excuse for failure.

But on this last flight, Herbert’s drive and instincts did not give a fair warning to what layed ahead.

The Nigerian nation under under the hand of former President Muhammadu Buhari conferred on Herbert, the nations third highest honour, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) amidst other accolades from far and wide.

But then, just ten minutes from the Portharcourt International Airport, his Isiokpo town will today, 9th March, 2024, place in their final resting places, the remains of its most prided son, Herbert, wife, and son. Presidents, kings, nobility, and plebians will gather to celebrate one of the greatest impresario in the global money world of our time. Though essentially drenched in emotional subjectivism, one objective truth that no one can derogate from is that life’s worth is not necessarily in the multitude of days. But in the amount of impact created in the hearts of men and in the world around. Herbert’s accomplishments in life and conquest over death were both swift and irritractable. Of certainty, like Julius Ceaser in his letter to the Roman Senate in 47 BC, he can say Veni, vedi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered!

Rest on Herbert, Chizoba, Chimzi, Abimbola!

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