Diaspora Nigerian Declares For 2019 As Independent Candidate
London, England (CNN) — He may be the chief executive of a flourishing media company, but the last thing Alistair Soyode wants to be classified as is a media mogul.
“Classify me as someone like a farmer, because that’s what I studied,” he says as he attempts to describe a career arc that is as unorthodox as his television channel. “I’m a farmer who moved into television.”
Soyode founded Bright Entertainment Network (BEN) television, the first and longest-running African and Caribbean-focused television channel in the United Kingdom, in 2002.
Eight years later, BEN TV’s mix of entertainment, news and sports programs reaches nearly one million viewers daily — not bad work for a man who originally came to England to play professional football.
However, his aspirations to become a pro footballer failed to materialize. “I think the chill and the weather didn’t allow me to concentrate, so I decided to pack my bags and find something else to do,” he says in an interview with CNN’s African Voices.
After working in telecommunications and selling mobile phones, Soyode started BEN TV after trying and failing to find an appropriate production company to create shows for a Nigerian television station.
“I couldn’t find a black TV station where I could go to ask them for programs … so I thought ‘if I set up a production house, I’ll be able to produce a program and supply it to a Nigerian TV station'”, he says. “And that’s how the idea of BEN television came about.”
While Soyode oversees BEN TV from offices in London, his first love is Nigeria, and he has two priorities toward this end. The first is to give something tangible back to his native country; the second to re-brand Nigeria as an iconic nation.
He is the European chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), set up by the government in 2000 to unite Nigerians living abroad with an interest in contributing to the development of the nation.
Soyode said he recently joined NIDO members in installing solar panels on the roofs of villages in Niger State, giving its inhabitants electricity for the first time.
“We’re not just talking about conferences where you go and present a paper and talk and at the end of the day nothing happens,” he says. “NIDO is not just talking about things — we’re actually using our resources to build.”
Soyode says that while the BEN TV brand may have grown and changed over the past eight years, the focus of the channel remains the same — to promote the importance of media in African and Caribbean communities and to counter what Soyode sees as a negative worldwide perception of both Nigeria and Africa.
Soyode is also putting together an effort to rebrand Nigeria from the ground up, starting with Nigerians who he says are actively engaged with their communities, in order to reverse negative stereotypes of Africa’s most populous country.
“The people in Nigeria need to know that the power belongs to them,” says Soyode. “When people are corrupt, we need to challenge it. What is wrong is wrong, so what do we do to change it? The change begins with you.”