March 15, 2024

Herbert the great, by Donu Kogbara

Don’t be deceived!

Donu Kogbara

Here are two endearing eulogies for the late Herbert Wigwe, penned by two Rivers ladies who regarded him as a beloved brother. I will add my own tribute soon.

From Dame Gbene Joi Nunieh:

I woke up that Saturday morning, and I didn’t know it would be a day of shock and sadness. I would never have imagined that my two close friends and classmates, Bamofin Abimbola Olurotimi Ogunbanjo,OFR, and Dr. Herbert Oyewumbu Wigwe, CFR, his beautiful wife Chizoba and their son Chizzy, will die together in an helicopter accident.

The last time I spoke with Herbert was on the Thursday before he passed. It has put me in remembrance of the powerful teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in James 4:14: “Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow, for what is your life? “It is even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away”.

  The long story of my 50-year friendship with Herbert cannot be squeezed into few lines, but I had to find the nerve to put together these words without breaking down.

Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (Hebbie Wiggs), was my friend since kindergarten. I first met Herbert at the very prestigious Port Harcourt Primary School then owned a by Jewish Brit, Mrs. Judith Nwonodi.   

Herbert was one of the leading rebels in our Class, yet his strong test scores and obvious intelligence, served as proof of his talent and skills.

I am not surprised that he built his Wigwe University at Isiokpo, he was very proud of his Ikwerre ancestry. He loved to dance to our Rivers traditional music, and was one of the boys chosen for the school “native dance” by Mrs. Tariah, who was brought in from Township school to teach us the Rivers dance steps.      In 1978, fate brought us together again when we wound up in Federal Government College, FGC, Warri. That was where our brother/sister relationship really took off.

His nickname was “Hebbie Wiggs” and the FGC Warri version of Herbert, was a new improved version of the Port Harcourt Primary School Herbert. I honestly believe that the FGC Warri 42 School Rules and Regulations on all aspects of School and Dormitory life, especially the most ingenious Rule 1, which states that: “A breach of common sense or good manners is a breach of the school Rules”, molded him into the great banker he turned out to be.   

He was a brilliant and hardworking student and continued to be a friend indeed to his childhood classmates. He always went out of his way to reassure us that we were his real friends. He never displayed any arrogant traits associated with wealthy people.

 I can testify that money did not change Herbert. He took our calls at the first ring, and if he missed a call from anyone of us (no matter what life had thrown our way), he would call back as soon as he could. He made out time again to be at our class reunion in April, 2023.

He was raised in a loving Christian home to love God. He was a star and I am consoled by the words of his favourite R & B Soul Funk disco Song, “Take it to the top, don’t stop”, by Kool and the Gang.

It’s obvious that the song had tremendous impact on his life. We all saw Herbert take his banking career to the top, and did not stop, till his last day on earth.

As we celebrate Herbert, I hope that all of us who mourn him will reminiscence on his life, by listening to the lyrics of that song and remember that, Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, kept climbing, kept moving up, did not ever stop. Whatever it was, he took it to the top.

I pray that our Almighty God will grant the souls of Herbert, his wife Chizoba and their son Chizzy, Eternal Rest, in Jesus Name, Amen.

By Ms Keesi Kobani

My sister, Leesi Kobani, and I met Herbert in the earlier years when he was a DGM at Guaranty Trust Bank, at barely 29 years old. I had just ‘started life’ the previous year at my first post-NYSC job as a young, fresh-faced PA in Whitewood Group. At the time, there were very few Rivers State indigenes who lived and worked in corporate Lagos; my big sisters on this platform, Lauretta Kobani and Ibiso Dakoru were among the few excelling far from home. Our elders, Sir Atedo Peterside, HE Odein Ajumogobia, and HRH Ebitimi Banigo, had paved the way for the rest of us and set a very high bar.

  Herbert was excited that more of us were venturing out of Port Harcourt and would check on my sister and I from time to time and urged us to get involved with the various activities that were organised by our Rivers brethren. We made a few efforts to attend meetings and occasions because of how passionately Herbert sold the need to come together. He believed so much in the power of community.

  As is often the case, I changed jobs and moved, and I lost touch with Herbert. However, I noted with pride his meteoric rise in Guaranty Trust and ultimately the acquisition of Access Bank. We met again by chance in 2004. I was the GM of Woodstock Electronics, the pioneer custom electronic design and installation firm in Nigeria, and we had been engaged to do work for Access Bank. Aig and Herbert (a tag team like no other) were in full gear on their way to turning it into the colossal success it is today. Needless to say, our firm and every one of our staff opened Access Bank accounts! Herbert was very pleased to see how I had grown and how well I was doing professionally and encouraged me to continue to strive for excellence and higher opportunities. Over the years thereafter, we saw each other at various corporate events, and he was always glad to see my progress on my career path.

  When I ventured out on my own to run my own business, Access Bank was my most consistent client from Lagos to my move to Abuja, and up until I started spending more time in the UK.

  I always felt Herbert was special because of how driven, visionary, kind, generous, hardworking and loyal he was, but I never realised the extent of his impact till the weeks after his very painful loss. The outpouring of grief and accolades is unrivalled. Herbert believed in excellence, building capacity, nurturing potential, community… I have first-hand experience of this.

 He was a once in a lifetime gift, and I will not forget his influence in a hurry. Rest well, you have given a wonderful account of your time here. God has you now.

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