Wigwe’s Personal Assistant, Faleye, Narrates Last Encounter with His Boss

Wigwe’s Personal Assistant, Faleye, Narrates Last Encounter with His Boss

Tributes continued to pour in for the former Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Dr Herbert Wigwe, and two members of his family yesterday, with his Personal Assistant, Olusola Faleye, who escaped death by the whiskers, giving a vivid narration of his last encounter with his boss.

Wigwe died last month in a helicopter crash in the United States of America, alongside his wife Chizoba and son, Chizi as well as a friend, Abimbola Ogunbanjo.

Faleye said that the need to go by road and deliver his boss’ luggage instead of waiting for it after arrival made him take a different route to avoid the delay that comes with flying.

He narrated how even as an aide, he attended the same London school with his boss for his master’s programme after Wigwe asked him to pick any institution in the world to further his education.

Faleye also stated that during the flight before the ill-fated helicopter crash, he had raised concerns with his boss as to the safety of flying a chopper by night, but that Wigwe told him he was sure the US had the right facilities to ensure their safety.

He said: “One of his strengths was that he comes to you in a time of storm and he rescues you…That’s a man, one man that God threw into this generation and I am not sure we will have anyone like him soon.

“He was a great man, he lives because I still see his dreams scattered everywhere germinating and growing.

“Now to our last journey. Five of us embarked on that journey, I remember Mr. Bimbo (Ogunbanjo) chatted me up and said he wanted to come with us. It was on Tuesday and I told him my boss’ journey is not always straightforward.

“Sometimes, you can get in the air and divert somewhere else. He said he was going to wait. I said he was still going to Abuja and maybe we would be leaving later in the midnight and he said he was going to wait. I still tried to let him understand that we would be in London on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and he said he’ll wait. I don’t know why I was trying to convince him not to, but we all went on the journey.

“We flew from London to Palmspring, it was a smooth journey. I remember in the mid air, I walked up to him and said sir, how comfortable are you flying a chopper at night. I had never done it before. And he said, this is America, they have navigation system for flying chopper at night. And I went back to my seat.

“We landed; everyone was filled with joy that we were almost there. We sat, waited to be cleared by immigration and we came out. Coming out, we had two vans waiting, one was to take us to board the chopper, the other was to take our luggage because it cannot go on the chopper.”

Faleye also spoke of how on the way, he tried to get in touch with Wigwe, thinking that they had arrived their destination, stressing that none of the phones went through.

“Throughout my years of working with him, I have always told myself that flying that way is not a luxury for me, I am on duty. And as they were loading the luggage, this thought started playing in my mind, you will fly a chopper , one hour you are there, but three hours the luggage have not come. Will I go to bed? No. I will still have to wait for those luggage to come.

“And I said, why not just go by road with the luggage and deliver to him and others. I always reason in the line of duty. I walked up to him and said I think it’s safer and secure for me to just ride and bring the luggage to you. He said brilliant idea and I said safe flight,” he added.

The aide pointed out that since 2019, there had rarely been anywhere or any flight his boss took which he wasn’t on board.

“At 10.09 the something pricked me, at 10.08 the chopper went down and I picked my phone and was like they should have landed in my estimation. I called him, it didn’t ring. I called madam’s three numbers they didn’t ring, I called Chizi and Mr. Bimbo, so I started sweating and afraid and I was still on the road going to Vegas,” narrated.

However, the night of tributes continued with Nigeria’s Vice President, Kashim Shettima, French President, Emmanuel Macron and ex-Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) leading the charge.

Like in the last few days, the mourners spoke glowingly about the deceased, highlighting a number of encounters with Wigwe in several impactful ways.

Shettima: Wigwe transformed banking sector

Shettima, in a eulogy, described the late Wigwe as an early bloomer who transformed the Nigerian banking industry, recalling his visionary leadership and unwavering dedication to his community.

Addressing a crowd of mourners in Lagos during the funeral service of the late banker, the vice president, who waxed poetic, said in all, Wigwe’s narrative was one of triumph.

“Herbert left us in winter before the season of bloom. Spring was just about to arrive at his last location, the United States when the Lord called for him. Spring is not the symbol of Herbert’s bloom; his journey was defined by peculiar seasons. He bloomed long before his co-travellers.

“This spring, for us, isn’t the season of festive flowers; it’s the season of wreaths. This spring, for us, isn’t a season of tears; it’s a celebration of Herbert’s flight to a height that only a few of God’s chosen ones have attained,” Shettima said.

Shettima highlighted Wigwe’s early successes, his dream of building the “Harvard of Africa,” and his commitment to leaving a lasting legacy.

“Herbert, though an early bloomer in the garden of life, didn’t share the fate of those who faded away prematurely. His narrative was one of triumph. He conquered all there was to conquer,” he added.

The vice president also regretted the tragic loss of Wigwe’s wife, son, and others, describing the loss as a collective grief felt by many and a “fading fragrance of a garden that touched lives far beyond its borders”.

He however urged Nigerians to celebrate “the divine miracle that was the lives the deceased lived,” adding that “the spread of this grief that binds us is so because they cultivated a garden of success.”

He stressed: “Their achievements were not just individual triumphs but testaments to the collective strength of those they touched, those they built, and those they inspired.

“The journey of our departed brothers and sisters may have ended in a distant land, but their spirits linger in the hearts of everyone here and beyond,” the vice president noted.

Sanusi: He was more concerned for others than himself

In his remarks, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and ex-Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido stated that with the manner the late Wigwe and Aigboje Imokhuede treated him, some people believed he owned Access Bank Plc.

Marked by intermittent sobs, Sanusi described Wigwe as someone who was always more concerned for others than himself, noting that he lost a very loyal and dependable friend.

“I get into trouble often without knowing how to get out of it. I get into trouble with my eyes closed because I know there are some people that will always be there for me. When you lose some of those people there’s a big void in your life,” he said.

He disclosed how he called the late Wigwe a night before his dethronement as Emir of Kano, stating that Wigwe until his death was always available for him and his family.

“I told him that this is what is going to happen and he said to me, don’t worry, no matter what happened we are here for you…. The announcement was made in the morning around 9.45 am and by noon Herbert had a plane waiting for me at the tarmac in the Kano airport.

“ I put my family in the plane and sent them to Lagos. He received them, got a flat for them and took good care of them,” he said.

Sanusi added that even when he got to Lagos to meet his family, Wigwe and Imoukhuede gave him every needed support to the extent that a private jet was made available for his use whenever he needed to travel.

“Some people believed I owned Access Bank and Herbert and Aig (Imoukhuede) were fronting for me. They gave me cars, private jet, they didn’t talk about it. I have lived in Lagos for four years now, the house I and my family live is provided by Herbert. He was always about others,” he said.

Recalling his tenure as CBN governor, Sanusi disclosed that what he achieved in CBN could not have been possible without the deceased and a number of other people. “We achieved more in five years than we could in 20 years and Herbert and Aig were part of that success,” he lamented.

He added: “There are times that when people die and out of decency, we simply say nice things about them. But I think everyone who knew Herbert sitting through all those hours would agree with me that not one word or compliment about Herbert was untrue.”

He mentioned that Wigwe created a trust for his children’s education and the depth of his trust in Herbert meant he was the lead protector of his life’s savings, which is in a trust.

Earlier, the night of tributes for Wigwe commenced with an opening prayer by Segun Ogbonlowo, setting the stage for a night filled with emotional reflections. Singer, Mercy Chinwo and the Lighthill choir added a poignant touch with their musical renditions.

Macron: Deceased banker was an exceptional man

A representative for the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, Frank Riester, conveyed France’s deep sorrow over Herbert’s demise. Riester praised Herbert’s career successes, philanthropy, and commitment to social change.

He acknowledged the loss for both Nigeria and the African continent, emphasising Wigwe’s dream of nurturing responsible leaders through projects like the Wigwe University.

He said: “It was with great sorrow and emotion that we heard the terrible news of his sudden demise in a tragic accident three weeks ago. I would like to extend my sincere condolences to his family partners, teams and friends. I share their pain and grief for the loss of this truly exceptional man. My thoughts are with his loved ones.

“His demise is huge loss for all of us here in Nigeria, his beloved country for which he had so many dreams and also throughout the African continent that he loved so much and for which he had so much ambition.

“He was truly an inspiration to all of us. Late Herbert Wigwe was not only an outstanding entrepreneur whose career successes were admired in Nigeria, Africa and beyond.

“He was also a philanthropist known for his strong dedication towards the most vulnerable. He was a visionary committed to social change and sensitive to youth empowering, women entrepreneurs, education, healthcare, and environmental issues.

“His latest project the beautiful Wigwe University created in his dear state of Rivers embodies his vision and belief in the potential of the youth of this country and beyond. His dream was to nurture responsible and fearless leaders that will drive transformative change in Nigeria and Africa.

“France has lost a great friend in Herbert Wigwe. Not only was he committed to the development of cross-cultural initiatives between our two country but he has also without respite worked to increase our economic partnership.

“I would have preferred to return to Lagos under a different circumstance. I am honoured to pay tribute to this extraordinary man, his wife and son, and the people on the plane. France will never forget Herbert Wigwe.”

As the night of tribute unfolded, the collective voice of grief and celebration echoed through the venue, embodying the lasting impact of Herbert Wigwe’s life and the void left by his untimely departure.

Dangote, Elumelu, Oramah pay tributes

Aliko Dangote said: “My relationship with Herbert, goes beyond just friends. He was my mentee, my blind supporter, and my brother. Herbert’s loyalty to me I can’t describe. I don’t think I would ever have a friend and a loyal devoted friend like Herbert for a long time.”

Chairman Heirs holding, Tony Elumelu said: “Herbert was a brother, a friend, a colleague and a co-patriot. Herbert was a great African. We have lost a great patriot; we have lost a great man. Herbert, you left us too soon but we take comfort in the fact that you lived a great and fulfilled life. May your soul rest in peace till we meet again”

President AfeximBank, Benedict Oramah said: “Herbert was always an inspiration, always innovative and always daring. You lived a good life, you brought change to yourself, to your family, colleagues, society, Nigeria and the entire continent of Africa.”

Other friends, colleagues extol his virtues

Board members of Access Bank, including Bisi Lamikanra, Okey Nwuke, Iyabo Soji Okusanya, Lynda Mataka, and Paul Usoro, also offered touching tributes.

Lamikanra highlighted Wigwe’s expectation of excellence but noted his kindness, a rare attribute for someone of his stature and urged everyone to draw lessons from Herbert’s open life story.

Former Diamond Bank Chief Executive, Uzoma Dozie, also shared personal insights into Wigwe’s character and contributions to society.

Dozie spoke on the merger and how Herbert valued the merger and made the transition seamless because he was ‘nurturing’ towards everyone. He said Wigwe was a leader who also strove for the best.

Chief Executive Officer Chapel hill Denham, Bolaji Balogun said: “Everything about him was about challenging the norm. Every time we said something was difficult to do, he would always say let’s go and figure out how we would get it done. Herbert worked himself sometimes to near exhaustion and he would keep going.

Former chairman Access bank, Gbenga Oyebode said: “Herbert was a special breed, he worked very hard and I’d like to think of him that he played very hard also. He was very intense, very focused on growth, on detail, very focused on the people he worked with and he was always on the move.”

Former CBN Deputy Governor Ernest Ebi said: “He bestrode the industry like a colossus, was highly respected by his colleagues and demonstrated great leadership.”

Another former chairman of Access Bank Bello Olusoga said: “He couldn’t stay still, he was always looking for that big deal. He was very focused, he knew what he wanted and didn’t mind working hard to get what he wanted.

Atedo Peterside said: “He was more than a banker, when you call him a banker, you diminish him. Bankers are all over the place, so there is nothing phenomenal about being a banker. That is why on Arise Tv, I described him as a giver and philanthropist.

Governor of Ogun state, Dapo Abiodun said: “You were different things to different people. You were selfless and promise-keeping.

Chief Executive Officer, Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) Samaila Zubairu said: “You were one of the lucky few who had the opportunity to dream and realise your dreams. You have such a big heart to do so much for our country, continent and our race. I just can’t believe that you are no more with us.”

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