Heroism: What musicians, athletes, Herbert Wigwe death can teach us

Nigerian banker Herbert Wigwe. He died alongside his wife and son on February 9, 2024, in a helicopter crash in the US. [Courtesy/Wigwe University]

When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, it dominated the headlines in Kenyan dailies.

Kelvin Kiptum’s death also garnered attention. It’s easy to understand why Kiptum made the headlines.

He was a budding marathon runner, a race that epitomises endurance and true heroism. Running 42 km, from Nairobi to almost Thika, is no small feat. Many would collapse after running just 100 metres.

Let’s be frank; heroism and money often go hand in hand. Without the allure of rewards in a 42 km race, it would likely garner far less interest. I once briefly met another marathoner, Kamau Wanjiru, and could sense the heroism in his eyes.

The beauty about sports is that cheating is hard; we see you running or golfing, and winning. Doping is another story. The same applies to singing. You can’t pretend you are a great singer, our ears will say No! Michael Jackson was hailed as a hero for his music.

His prowess, especially during our school days, was undeniable, with moonwalking being the hallmark of his heroism. I can still moonwalk - challenge me!

Other musicians and actors like Taylor Swift or Lupita Nyong’o are best remembered not just for their music or acting but emotional attachment. When you listen to music or watch a movie, you are emotionally attached. Although musicians and other artists fade with time because of age and new competitors, their window of opportunity is much longer than that of athletes.

Artistes can even flourish after death. Note how Tupac Shakur has made so much money even in death? We still listen to Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach long after they left this planet. We still love actors that long exited the planet.

Athletes’ window of opportunity closes indefinitely. And the same applies to other sports. The lack of emotional attachment reduces their longevity. Let us add that the advertising industry can keep you longer in the limelight. Think of endorsements in golf, basketball, or football. Transitioning to coaching, management, or even team ownership keeps sportsmen longer in the limelight and money. We lack such transitions in Kenya.

This perhaps explains why the death of Nigerian banker Herbert Wigwe did not make local headlines. Unlike musicians and actors, bankers and entrepreneurs often fail to elicit the same emotional connection. Despite this, banks consistently generate profits, even during economic downturns.

Back to Wigwe. I last heard of him three months ago when watching CNN. There was a catchy advert on Wigwe University, named after him and under construction in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Wigwe’s death on his way to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, USA, underscored the event’s international appeal and economic significance. The Super Bowl generates substantial consumer spending, highlighting its immense financial impact. 

Wigwe was born in Nigeria but studied in London and Wales. He was the CEO of Access Bank. If you recall, it bought out Kenya’s Transnational Bank.

He headed that bank from 2014. The same bank is now poised to buy National Bank from KCB. Why did KCB fail to turn around National Bank? How will the purchase of National Bank change our banking sector? Was Afrosinema a rehearsal before buying our banks and, in whispers, our girls?

The Access Bank, founded in 1989, merged with Diamond Bank in 2021 to form Africa’s largest bank by customers. It is in 18 countries and has 49+ million customers. The bank employs 28,000 people by 2024. In 2023, it acquired majority shares in Standard Chartered Bank’s subsidiaries in Angola, Cameroon, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone.

Given the weight that Wigwe carried and how he shepherded the bank to greatness, why was he not in our headlines? Despite Nigeria’s political challenges, its cultural influence, particularly in music and literature, continues to grow.

Nigerian banks like Access Bank have become leaders in Africa’s financial landscape, signaling potential for the country’s ascent as a global power. Wigwe’s philanthropic endeavours, including the establishment of a university, reflect a commitment to giving back to society.

I have interacted with Nigerians very closely; they even supervised my PhD thesis. They are go-getters, and it does not matter the economic sector or even hearts.

Finally, Wigwe started a university to give back to society. It’s a noble cause; we make money from people, not trees. Why not return some in good faith? We hope Wigwe’s successors will carry on his dream.

On Wigwe University’s website, Herbert Wigwe says, “I cannot change the world overnight. But if I can empower even one youth today, tomorrow, they could join me in empowering others. With time, we could change the world.” Can you say that and do the same?