Herbert Wigwe: Offering Goal-oriented Leadership

July 26, 2021

Herbert Wigwe, Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, and Chairman of the Body of Banks’ Chief Executive Officers, is facilitating the desired collaborations by in the public and private spheres to benefit the Nigerian economy. Ugo Aliogo tracks his recent footprints

Like a man on an uncommon mission, Herbert Wigwe has since the creation of the group continued to offer value-driven leadership to the banking industry as well as the much-needed collaboration with managers to drive development of the Nigerian economy.

The urbane Wigwe, who formed a formidable alliance with Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, to transform Access Bank into a household name in the Nigerian banking landscape, is today one of the most respected bankers on the African continent.

Under his watch Access Bank has gone from a lower ranked Nigerian bank when he was the Deputy CEO to become one of Africa’s leading financial services groups.

He has shown a relentless pursuit for growth, albeit in a measured and calculated manner.

As leader of the Body of Bank CEOs, he has collaborated with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in introducing initiatives to support Nigerians, especially micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) operators as well in ensuring stability in the banking system.

For instance, the banks in collaboration with the CBN, under the aegis of the Bankers’ Committee, are presently renovating the National Arts Theatre, Lagos. Cappa and D’Alberto Limited, the contractor handling the project, had indicated that the renovation of the iconic theatre would be completed next year. When completed, the edifice would be the number one event centre in Africa. In addition, there would be the development of clusters to support the creative industry.

Not only will the National Theatre be restored, there would not be a single job loss. Instead, more jobs would be created during the reconstruction of the facility.

Nigeria is a country with over 250 ethnic groups. This is a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Through music, movies, writing, food, fashion, dancing, arts among others, the country’s treasure are continuously showcased to the world.

One of the factors that have hindered the growth of the entertainment sector is poor state of infrastructure. For instance, the National Arts Theatre, the principal centre for the performing arts in Nigeria, had lost its glory as well as its potential as a means of non-oil revenue generation for the country.
The national asset was built in 1976 as one of the four main venues of the historic Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) that took place in 1977, had completely lost its splendor before the intervention by the CBN and the bank chiefs.

Indeed, just like the National Stadium at Surulere, Lagos, this facility had been turned into a meeting point for mostly town unions and indigenes from other tribes that reside in Lagos State.

The sorry state of the national monument then and the desire to aggressively ramp up activities in the non-oil sector forced the Bankers’ Committee, in collaboration with the CBN to intervene in the National Theatre as well as the creative sector.
Wigwe explained that the entire banking industry came together and decided to intervene to rescue the moribund national asset.

“It is not just about the banking community; we are also partnering the Lagos State and federal governments. Lagos State government is going to support us as far as the dredging issues are concerned and ensure that there is an entire urban regeneration around the whole of that area.

“We are doing this for some reasons. The first is that we need to restore our national heritage. The national theatre is one of the most iconic buildings all over the world.

“The second thing is that this will help to create employment to millions of Nigerians over the next five years, apart from those who are going to be involved in construction and all of that.
“The third thing is that it is a classic example of an urban regeneration exercise in line with the sustainability principles of the central bank,” Wigwe added.

The project is being funded through the Creative Industry Funds Initiative (CIFI) of the Bankers’ Committee.
The CBN and the bank CEOs had set up the Creative Industries and Financing Initiative through which banks set aside, on an annual basis, five percent of their profit after tax (PAT).

“This facility will be a convenor – providing space, support network, business development and community engagement for the creative, cultural and technology sectors.

“The Signature Cluster will consist of a building each for music, film, fashion and information technology verticals. In addition to these, a welcome/visitor’s centre, police and fire stations and structured parking for up to 500 vehicles will be built, “CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele explained.

Emefiele stated that the 44-hectare site adjourning the National Theatre would be developed and utilised for the development of purpose-built creative hubs for the music, film, fashion and information technology.
He said the aim was to deliver a successful creative and entertainment city that would encourage additional investment into Nigeria’s creative industry.
The intention is that before the end of President MuhammaduBuhari’s tenure in 2023, the entire project would be completed.

The anticipation is that there would be at least 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created during the construction phase and that over 25,000 people would be engaged in different sections of the centre when the Signature Cluster is completed, with anticipated multiplier effect of other job opportunities.
Another area where the leadership qualities of the chairperson of the Body of Bank also manifested was the full support he gave the CBN Governor towards the creation of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) as well as in actualising the objectives of the group whose aim was to actively support the federal government in taming the spread of the deadly virus.

The coalition was the first cross sectoral effort among private sector leadership to tackle the pandemic. It succeeded in mobilising private sector thought leadership, private sector resources, increased general public awareness, education and buy-in; provided direct support to private and public healthcare’s ability to respond to the crisis; and supported government’s general efforts in the COVID-19 fight.

The group received a total of N39.64 billion as donations from members of the private sector and spent N43.272 billion on various interventions, including N28.7 billion on food relief, as palliatives to 1.7 million households translating to eight million Nigerians.
According to Wigwe, the coalition right from the onset knew the fight against coronavirus was not going to be easy but would require collaborative efforts of all.

He said CACOVID-19 approached the fight against the virus from three levels.
“One, it was clear from beginning that no one institution can go it alone, so we solicit everybody’s cooperation in tackling this scourge. “Two, while several measures are being taken to stop the spread, including lockdowns, restriction, social distancing, there was the need to address the hunger.
“How do we cater for the feeding needs of the people if these measures are to be effective?” he asked.
Wigwe explained that the third level was the thought leadership aspect of the plan, which was to tackle the post-pandemic aspect.

According to him, “a lot of businesses have been badly affected and economies have been disrupted. How do we get them back to life after we might have defeated the coronavirus?”
The Access Bank GMD explained the modalities adopted to get the food relief materials to the targeted households, pointing out that it was done from the bottom of the pyramid, which is the 774 local government areas where the CACOVID partners were assigned to deliver the materials.

In order to tackle some of the challenges created by virus, CACOVID early this year unfolded plans to commit over N150 billion to set up and implement a youth development programme to support the federal government’s job creation drive.

The group said the youth development programme would provide technical and vocational education to over four million Nigerian youths over the next five years.
In addition, the private sector-led coalition unveiled plans to raise and spend N100 billion over the next two years to renovate and buy rifles as well as other security gadgets for the Nigeria Police Force, with special focus on the 44 police stations destroyed by hoodlums in the wake of the #EndSARS protest against police brutality.
Wigwe said: “Every transformation comes with its own pain and hitches. CACOVID right from inception came to help with the issue that came with COVID-19 and also to protect the livelihoods of people.

“Obviously in that process, there would be hitches from time to time. As we share more information, people will have a clear picture of what we are trying to do. The most important thing has to do with issues of employment.

“COVID-19 and the lockdown have created several problems. What I will say to young people who are seeking funding to start their own businesses is that they should reach out to their banks.”
Beside other interventions, the banks also collaborated with the CBN in introducing the Agricultural Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS), to improve access to affordable and sustainable finance by agri-businesses and MSMEs.
This has enhanced the creation of productive employment opportunities and boosted the managerial capacity of agri-businesses and MSMEs. So far, a total of N111.7 billion has been disbursed to 29,026 beneficiaries.

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