Bad weather likely a factor in crash that killed Nigeria’s Access Bank CEO Wigwe

Dr Herbert Wigwe, 57, the co-founder of Nigeria 's largest bank Access Bank, died Friday night in a horror helicopter crash over the Mojave Desert

Officials investigating a helicopter crash in the California desert that killed Nigerian banker Herbert Wigwe said conditions at the time of the accident late Friday night “suggest rain and a wintry mix.”

Access Bank, Nigeria’s biggest lender by assets, confirmed the death of its co-founder and chief executive in a statement released on Sunday.

“Witness reports of the weather conditions at the time of the accident suggest rain and a wintry mix,” said Michael Graham, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is conducting an investigation.

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“The helicopter was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder,” he said at a media briefing Saturday in Barstow, California, adding that the type of aircraft wasn’t required to have those types of recording devices aboard.


Nigerians Mourn

The charter flight was operated by Orbic Air LLC, Graham said. The crash site was near Halloran Springs in the Mojave Desert, close to California’s border with Nevada. The Airbus Helicopters EC-130 departed Palm Springs, California, and was headed for Boulder City, Nevada, south of Las Vegas, before crashing at about 10 p.m. on Friday with six people on board, Graham said.

A preliminary report on the crash should be available in a few weeks. The full NTSB investigation could take 12 to 24 months.

Wigwe, 57, died alongside his wife and son, the bank said in a statement released on Sunday. His death was mourned by Nigerians led by President Bola Tinubu and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization.

“The Access family has suffered a major loss with the passing of Dr. Wigwe, who was a great friend and fine gentleman,” Abubakar Jimoh, chairman of Access Holdings, said in a statement to the Nigerian Stock Exchange. “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 Dr. Wigwe’s legacy of growth and operational excellence.”

Bankrolling a University

Also on board were two pilots as well as Abimbola Ogunbanjo, 61, president of the National Council of the Nigeria Stock Exchange from 2017 to 2021, who also served as the group chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc from 2021 to 2022. His death was confirmed by a family member in Lagos.

Wigwe started his professional career with Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of chartered accountants, before spending a decade at Guaranty Trust Bank. In 2004 he co-engineered the acquisition of local lender Access Bank, where he assumed the post of deputy managing director and eventually became CEO in January 2014.

The banking executive told Bloomberg News in November that he was bankrolling a $500 million university outside the southern city of Port Harcourt to help students hone the skills needed for the finance and technology industries in Africa’s most-populous nation.

According to Bloomberg, Wigwe said he planned to teach and mentor students and engage some of the country’s prominent entrepreneurs, including billionaire Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, to teach at the university.

“To get the next set of leaders in banking, you need to create the right education for them,” Wigwe said from his office in the 14-story Access Bank headquarters, overlooking the Lagos lagoon.

Ogunbanjo started his banking career at Chase Manhattan Bank Nigeria in 1985 before he re-qualified as a legal practitioner and joined the law firm of Chris Ogunbanjo & Co in 1990, where he held the position of managing partner until his death, according to a biography from his firm.

He joined the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2011 and served in various capacities, including vice-president, according to his LinkedIn biography.

Ogunbanjo was the former vice chairman of the Commercial Law and Taxation Committee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and acted as special Nigerian counsel to the London and Paris clubs in connection with the refinancing and rescheduling agreements made between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and International Creditors Banks.