Been writing some of my favorite memories of him down. I don’t want to forget. I didn’t even make the video I said we should do. I haven’t written this kind of epistle since my foster mum who looked after me from when I was three months old died. I wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready. This shouldn’t have happened.
Mr Herbert Wigwe was my friend, my big brother, my mentor and gisting ogogoro partner. My mum had three girls. None of my male cousins is older than me. So it was really Mr Herbert that gave me my first experience of what it feels like to have a much older brother.
The only person I know that eats that weird cashew Chinese rice. Who eats nuts inside rice like a Gambian?
The only person I know that eats Amala in the office. The master of corporate amala consumption.
Those childish shoes with the face on them. I hated them so much. I always used to fight him about those shoes. But he loved to wear them. He even started wearing them whenever I was coming to the bank, because he knew that I hated those “childish shoes” so much.
He is the only person I know that would stop in the most razz suya spot in Abuja before boarding his private jet, then begin to eat the suya from the newspaper in the plane.
The person that made me start saying “correct” all the time.
A teacher. A nurturer. And someone that taught me so much about business and life. When I first started my business he was the first person to ask how I know so much about corporate finance. I didn’t even know what corporate finance was!!! He told me that I have a natural talent for finance and over the next few years he pushed me to study finance formally.
I stood on business with him & told him that under NO circumstances was I going back to school. I studied medicine for goodness sake, does he even know what it means to spend a whole 6 years studying? But he pushed and pushed. Even sending me a list of Msc Finance programs that I could do remotely. I finally decided to apply. Even the admissions team thought I was unqualified and doubted that I would be able to cope in a class with seasoned investment bankers & economists. But he was my cheerleader. He believed in me. He always saw potential in the strangest of places.
When I was struggling with quantitative finance, he brought out a whiz kid from the depths of Access bank to teach me. He was so proud of my distinction in Banking.
He was so funny. But he never ever laughed at my jokes. I once asked why he never laughed at my jokes. He said “Ola, you are a lot of things, but you are not funny”. I promised him that after my PhD In Finance I would apply for a job at the Nigerian Central Bank as a supervisor and fine Access Bank every time he didn’t laugh at my jokes.
He actually laughed at that joke.
When my office was at the airport, he would call me and I didn’t have a driver, but he would ride in my car back to the Island. The only problem is, I drive REALLY slowly. So we would be going at snails pace with all the escorts behind. He always said he has NEVER met a slower driver. I would respond that I drive even more slowly when I am carrying precious cargo.
I didn’t really worry about Herbert’s health, because he was so young. But I continually checked in on his parents. One day I decided to make one of my “criminally healthy” meals for the family to try and get his parents to eat more vegetables. Carrot swallow with broccoli rice.
I remember Mr Herbert expressing disbelief at the entire concept of broccoli rice. It was the kind of insight you can only receive from an experienced billionaire banker. He said that rice is actually a thing we all understand. And broccoli is a separate thing. Just because you make broccoli into the shape of rice, it doesn’t mean that the broccoli has become rice. He thought it was a delusion. I still disagree!
The Oracle of Isiokpo
I called him the Oracle of Isiokpo. My oracle. Because if Warren Buffet was the Oracle of Omaha; the best investor in America, then we needed our own Oracle in Africa. And his name was Herbert Wigwe.
I called him my blueprint because he provided a road map of hard work, discipline & hustle that I could follow/understand, like the blue print of a building.
I can remember when Dapo Olagunju and I travelled to Abuja with him at the time that Abuja airport was closed for maintenance. He made the snap decision to fly in this very “dodgy” looking police helicopter that we found at the side of the runway. Not airforce o. Police.
Me and Dapo were terrified. He slept the entire way from Kaduna to Abuja. When I asked him if he was scared he said that “when it’s your time, it’s your time”. I have thought a lot about that day in the past few hours.
Dapo is now a very senior executive in one of the worlds most prominent US banks. I wonder if he still remembers how afraid we were.
It was like that story in the Bible were Jesus was sleeping on the boat whilst his disciples were trying not to die.
He was my person o. My real person. Egbon for real. In gisting and in jesting. And this is coming from someone that doesn’t really have people like that. But he was my person. My guy, any day.
But he was more than that. You see plenty of men will gist and laugh with you, with questionable motivations. But not Mr Wigwe. He wasnt just someone that shined teeth with me. Herbert did more. He was the only man, that has ever taken a financial chance on me. Like literally given me opportunity as a business person and fought for me as a sponsor at risk to his own reputation if I failed. In a Nigeria that things can be so mediocre, he showcased excellence. He was not merely a mentor/giver of advice, he was my sponsor, speaking for me in rooms where I was absent.
But he was even more than that. Because he did the most important thing one person could do for another. Beyond friendship, beyond career opportunity. He gave me community and opened up his family to me. He called his parents “our parents”. Because they have honestly taken me in as a daughter.
When I had a medical decision to make last year it was Madam Peggy and Mr Emeka his siblings that I called to discuss it with and make a “family” decision.
I always planned big surprises every year for his birthday. But for the past few years I had started planning and saving towards his 60th and his 65th.
I really wanted to make it huge. I had been keeping a list of things that he had mentioned in passing that he wanted to do and never had time, so my plan was to make all of them happen for his 60th birthday. It never ever ever in my wildest dreams occurred to me that he wouldn’t make it to sixty. He was exercising. He had given up alcohol. He doesn’t smoke. And honestly this might be a weird & even slightly callous thought, but I just believe God wouldn’t put one family through the death of a child twice.
Human error. When I was learning to fly that’s what they called the cause of majority of helicopter crashes. They taught me that humans are far less reliable than machines. That means if it was a different pilot, there could have been a different outcome. If the pilot had done a session of yoga/meditation prior to the flight perhaps he would have an increased level of situational awareness. Perhaps if….I have so many scenarios running through my head. At what point did he know that the helicopter was going to crash? Was he scared? Was he in pain?
If you are reading please send a prayer or a supportive text message/voice note to Mummy Wigwe and Pastor Wigwe and his siblings. We celebrated their love story, their 60th wedding anniversary just last year. I was so happy to see the family so bonded and together and so whole. This will be devastating for them.
Also to Mr Aig. Mr Herbert has a biological brother. But when we were talking and he said “my brother” I always had to clarify whether he was referring to Mr Aig or whether it was his actual brother Dr Emeka as he used the same term to describe them. I have business partners and I call them partners. Not brothers and sisters. It demonstrates the bond they have. Its a great loss to the Wigwe family, but also to the Aig-Imoukhuede family as well. The most prominent relationship in the Bible was not a romantic relationship, it was a friendship between David & Jonathan. Mr Aig and Herbert’s friendship reminded me of this famous Biblical friendship.
I can’t not talk about Chizi. Because Chizi is a testament to Aunty Chizobas strict, no nonsense upbringing. I first started talking to Chizi when he wanted to learn financial modelling. He was so determined he would turn up to meet me in Capital club every week. I used to wonder why he was hustling like someone that has no inheritance. But that was Chizi. He was such a determined person, planning to start his MBA. I just sent him a list of programs as I thought he would be better off with an executive MBA, so he wouldn’t have to resign from his job. He was too young. He had too many plans. A true son of his father with that restlessness. The apple Chizi did not fall far from the Herbert tree.
So what can we learn from the life of my Oracle of Isiokpo, my blueprint, my beloved, big egbon, leader of the Access Bank warriors, co-convener of the ecosystem.
Mr Herbert Wigwe was the best of the best. The finest of the finest. Ah. No. The most hardworking person I know. Such a survivor. Always restless. Always hungry. One step ahead. So strong. So, so strong. The most ambitious person I know. And he had so much more to give. He was only just getting started.
May He Rest in Peace
Dr Olamide Brown, is a medical doctor, healthcare entrepreneur, and founder of HealthCap Africa.