In Loving Memory of Chiz, Herbert, and Chizi: A Tribute to the Unforgettable Legacy of Resilience, Love, and Success

Herbert Wigwe everyone knew, but not many knew the backbone behind his immense success. I called you Chiz Baby. Queenette Allagoa called you Chiz Burger. Most called you Doreen. I remembered when you came back from the United States of America 31 years ago. You were just 26 years old, armed with your university degrees and ready to start life afresh back home. We immediately became close over our unique family dynamics and love of trading. I remember marvelling at your capacity to switch back and forth from an American accent to a Nigerian English accent with ease. I was immediately drawn to your infectious laughter which could be heard from a mile away and your tremendous industry. You were born into privilege, but you were never afraid of hard work.

Your dad, the late Chief Cyprian Chukwuemeka Nwuba (Uncle CY) was a chartered accountant and had worked for Shell Petroleum Development Company where he rose to the position of African Financial Controller, before transferring to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation where he was the Group General Manager, Finance and Accounts, before his retirement. Your mum was a senior public servant who worked in the education ministry before she took you, Alex and Pauline to live with her in the United States.

Despite spending your impressionable years growing up in the U.S., we would head out daily to Oke-Arin market in the heart of Lagos Island where we tried our hands at wholesale trading. I would later drop my forays into Oke-Arin market and give up the shop that my parents had paid for me as I forged a new career in journalism. But you never did, frugally saving and turning around every penny that you made until you became an immensely wealthy and successful businesswoman with interests in construction, real estate and the hospitality sectors.

I remember the beginnings of your relationship with Queenette, which was to blossom into a lifelong unbreakable sisterhood. Today, she’s inconsolable without you, but remains thankful to God for your life. I remember your first meeting with Herbert, then a young, freshly minted General Manager at Guaranty Trust Bank, and the twinkle in your eye after introductions had been made. It was at Queenette’s house where we used to hangout as young women, laughing our heads off and without a care in the world. I remember your wedding to Herbert and the reception at the Muson Centre. I remember Chizi’s birth a few months after and Tochi’s four years later. We would still hangout at Queenette’s house where Herbert would often turn up after work to pick you up, but only after he had helped himself to a hearty meal of edi kai kong, afang or fisherman’s soup that were regular staples at Queenette’s abode.

I recalled when you ventured into the construction industry. Just a few of us knew that Craneburg Construction Company was your baby. You would regale me with stories about size of the contracts your company was taking on and I was amazed at your trips all over the country, executing and monitoring road, infrastructure and building projects. You would sometimes call me from Bauchi or Sokoto State and I would ask, “Chiz Baby, what on earth are you doing there?” You would always respond with your trademark laughter, “Ijeoma, I am working.”

It was your construction firm that built the highways, bridges and toll plaza from Lekki Phase II all the way to and within Epe town, making the journey to Ijebu Ode in Ogun State less arduous. It was your construction firm that built roads and flyovers in Ondo, Imo, Adamawa, Ogun, Bauchi, Gombe and other states. You took on airport construction projects, oil and gas, and marine projects like fish to water. Today, Craneburg is one of Nigeria’s largest, diversified construction groups that employs 7,000 people working across all major sectors of the economy. When you were not travelling around Nigeria, you would take off to China or Hong Kong to import all sort of things that you sold. No enterprise was too big or too small for you to handle. You revelled in it like very few people could.

I once asked you how Herbert felt about your far-flung business interests. You responded, saying that your relationship with him was built on trust and he was a confident man who was very supportive of your business. Herbert was later to confirm this over ten years ago when he proudly confessed to a mutual friend that you were probably wealthier than he was. More recently, in an interview on Arise News Channel, when the interviewer Ojy Okpe asked Herbert what his most prized possession was, without skipping a beat, he said you were his most prized asset and his everything. This was how much you meant to him. You were anything but a trophy wife. You were an equal partner in a blessed union made on earth and now in heaven.

As I watched your relationship with Herbert thrive, I was later to understand that it was your independence, industry and mutual love of children that solidified your bond as a loving couple. Just like Herbert, you loved children dearly and I watched your family grow with the addition of David, Hannah and Okachi. I remember your love and dedication to your children. Despite your business interests, you always took off for several months at a time watching over Chizi and Tochi in the UK when they were at boarding school and university. When David and Hannah were old enough to go to boarding school, you did likewise. I remember when you told me that Herbert found it difficult to let go of David and how he cried like a baby when he was dropped off at prep school in the UK. You and Herbert absolutely adored children and were planning to have more because they brought both of you tremendous joy.

Barely a week before you embarked on your final journey to the United States, I called you to introduce you to a friend of mine who wanted to build two multi-storey buildings in Lagos. Irrespective of the numerous projects that you were already handling, you were very grateful and excited at the new prospect and within 24 hours had met with her and her team at their office in Ikoyi. My friend is very sad at your passing but has promised to go ahead with Craneburg Construction as a mark of remembrance of your dynamism and industry.

Chiz Baby, what will we do without you? You were a beautiful woman, not just in looks but in spirit. You never, ever flaunted your success. You were always God-fearing, humble, playful, shrewd and intelligent. Last Saturday evening when I heard that you, Herbert and Chizi had been declared missing after the helicopter crash, I kept calling Alex your brother who was extraordinarily brave that night. We held on to whatever glimmer of hope that we had that all three of you had walked away from the crash and would be found. But as the night wore on and we learnt that you were no more, I completely lost sleep.

All I could do was to go down memory lane of our early beginnings as I showed you the lay of the land and introduced you to the few friends that I had. I thought of our minor scrapes as young women and our ability to move past them. I thought of your interactions with my mum and dad whenever you came round to visit. I thought of your interactions with your parents and siblings Alex, Pauline, Tolly, the late Anana and Chinny and how much you loved them. I thought of Tochi, Hanana, David and little Okachi who you, Herbert and Chizi have left behind. It was like watching life through a kaleidoscope.

Chiz Baby, right now we can only console ourselves in the knowledge that you and your dearest Herbert left behind separate, yet intertwined sustainable legacies through which we shall remember both of you for eternity. Thankfully, Tochi is your daughter through and through. She is almost the same age today as you were when you returned to Nigeria over three decades ago. We believe in her capacity, with the support and guidance of her numerous uncles and aunties, to look after and bring up her younger siblings in a manner that would make you, Chizi and Herbert proud. Despite the heartbreak, they will grow, prosper, and carry on the baton of the Wigwe family. They will be fine!

Sleep on my dearest Chiz Baby. Sleep on my dearest Herbie. Sleep on my dearest Chizi. And may your souls rest in eternal peace.