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Updated Feb 12, 2024, 9:53am EST
africa

Succession process begins at Nigeria’s largest banking group after founder’s death

Access Holdings
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Access Holdings, which owns Nigeria’s largest bank by assets, will appoint an acting chief executive following the death of its CEO Herbert Wigwe on Friday in a helicopter crash.

The Lagos-based company, which is present in 14 African countries “will soon announce” the appointment of an acting group CEO, it said on Sunday (Feb. 11) when confirming his death in a notification to the Nigerian Exchange, which operates the main stock market.

Access said Wigwe had died in the crash, along with his wife and a son, in the United States, near the California-Nevada border. Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu said Wigwe’s death was “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension.”

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After becoming co-owner in 2002, Wigwe led Access Bank as CEO from 2014 until a structural change in 2022 led to the creation of a holding company to organize its geographical expansion and product diversification. The group’s banking operations in each country — from Kenya to South Africa — have been led by individual country managers and teams, while Wigwe ran the overall ship.

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it will provide a preliminary report on the crash in “a couple of weeks” while a full investigation could take between 12 and 24 months before a final report is issued.

Michael Graham, an NTSB board member who gave a briefing, said Wigwe had been traveling in an Airbus EC130 helicopter from Palm Springs to Boulder City, Nevada. The helicopter crashed near Halloran Springs, a community in the Mojave desert in California’s San Bernardino county, at 10:08 pm local time, about an hour and 23 minutes after take-off.

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“We are on scene now to gather perishable evidence,” Graham said on Sunday in California, promising a careful review of “all potential factors to determine the probable cause.” He cited witness reports that suggested there was rainy weather at the time of the accident. The helicopter did not have cockpit voice or flight data recorders. It was a kind of helicopter that did not require such devices, Graham said.

Meanwhile, Wigwe’s death has elicited broad expressions of grief across Africa’s business community including from peers at other banks, startup executives as well as beneficiaries like the U.S. National Basketball Association’s Africa operation. The latter described him as one of its investors in a post on X.

Wigwe leaned heavily on mergers and acquisitions for Access’s expansion in a bid to be “Africa’s gateway to the world,” as he described the bank’s vision. Last year, it bought majority shares in the subsidiaries of Standard Chartered Bank — also one of Africa’s largest banks — in Angola, Cameroon, the Gambia and Sierra Leone. Beyond Africa, its footprint includes the UK, China, India, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to its 2022 report. An Asia launch was planned for this quarter, Semafor Africa reported late last year.

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