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Macron, Clinton lead tributes during funeral for Nigerian banking CEO killed in California helicopter crash

French President Emmanuel Macron and former US President Bill Clinton were among those paying tribute to Nigerian banking boss Herbert Wigwe as his funeral got underway.

Wigwe was a towering figure in African banking and philanthropy and his death has spurred an outpouring of grief.

A seven-day funeral ceremony celebrating his life is currently being held in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos.

Wigwe died last month in a helicopter crash along with his wife and son in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border. A former group chairman of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, was also killed in the crash.

“France has lost a great friend in Herbert Wigwe,” said Macron, represented Wednesday by French foreign trade minister Franck Riester at the ‘Night of Tributes’ memorial for the Wigwes held in Lagos’ Victoria Island.

“Not only was he dedicated to the development of cross-cultural initiatives between our two countries, but he has also without respite worked to increase our economic partnership,” he added.

Former US President Bill Clinton also paid tribute to Wigwe, saying “Words cannot ease the pain of such a tragic loss.”

Clinton added that he “deeply admired Herbert’s commitment to widening the circle of opportunity for young people in Nigeria and supporting humanitarian work around the world.”

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu earlier called the death of the Wigwes “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” while Vice President Kashim Shettima mourned their deaths in a eulogy delivered at the memorial Wednesday.

“Herbert left us in winter before the season of bloom,” the Nigerian vice president said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Wigwe as a “continental partner and banking sector pioneer” whose death was a “terrible loss.”

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote gave a tearful tribute to Wigwe, describing him as a “loyal friend” and “mentee.”

“I feel very helpless because I could not prevent the tragedy that befell my friend, brother, and mentee - a very loyal friend for that matter,” said Dangote who added he was immortalizing Wigwe by renaming one of the major roads leading to his refinery after him.

Wigwe’s aide, Olusola Faleye, described his final moments during the ‘Night of Tributes’ event held in Lagos on Wednesday. Faleye said he was supposed to fly with his boss on the ill-fated journey to Las Vegas but opted at the last minute to go by road with the family’s luggage.

“Since 2019, I cannot count one or two places or flights that he (Wigwe) has been in that I’m not in it. We were always together,” said Faleye.

Building Africa’s biggest bank

Born in August 1966 in the city of Ibadan, Wigwe’s father Shyngle was a civil servant, and his mother Stella a nurse. Wigwe has spoken of how they instilled in him the values of hard work, integrity, and service to others.

Wigwe graduated with a degree in accounting from the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1987 and embarked on a career in finance. He later pursued a master’s degree in Banking and Finance at North Wales University (now Bangor University) in the United Kingdom.

In 1991 Wigwe returned to Nigeria and began his professional journey as a graduate assistant at Coopers and Lybrand Associates Limited, swiftly rising through the ranks.

He later joined the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), where he became the youngest executive director at the age of 32.

It was during his tenure at GTB that Herbert forged a lifelong friendship and partnership with Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, another rising star in the Nigerian banking scene.

Together, they set their sights on a venture that would change the landscape of Nigerian banking forever.

In 2002, Wigwe and Aig-Imoukhuede made history by acquiring Access Bank, a relatively unknown institution at the time.

Under his leadership, Access Bank transformed from a modest entity into one of Africa’s biggest banks, with branches in Paris and South Africa. Wigwe was planning an Asian expansion at the time of his death.

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