The founder of BEN TV,The founder of BEN TV,Alistair Soyode, is a quiet, reserved figure.Softly spoken, but witha purpose and direction to everyword he says. Growing up in the Northern part of Nigeria for most of his life, his parentswere from the North and South of the country, so he calls himself a‘Complete Nigerian.’
“The culture I grew up knowing is more the Northern culture, but asa person though I just want to be known as Nigerian.”Praising God as the one that gave him the strength and vision to do what he does, Alistair relives the CNN article that classified him as a farmer who became a global CEO.Alistair studied Agriculture and Irrigation Engineering in Katsina, before it was his love of sport that lead him to,at the time, find out what he wanted to do with his life.
“I tried a variety of sports over the years, but I settled on football, and was on the junior team playing for aclub, thinking that the bigger picture would be to find a foreign team and get signed to play.”More than two decades ago, Alistair arrived in the UK to play football, but with the cold, the snow, and coming from a hot climate in Africa, it was all too much and he realised that a football career wasn’t on the cards for him.“I thought, ‘there must be something else to do…’” explained Alistair, “so I tried various businesses to make ends meet.”“As an entrepreneur I started in the telecommunications industry, selling mobile phones as a retailer.
At that time Nigeria had just introduced the telecoms industry into the country, so I published the first magazine on telecommunicationsin Nigeria.”From telecommunications, Alistairmade a leap into the TV business with no formal television, media or communication background, Alistair did what many entrepreneurs do; he saw a gap in the market and he jumped on it.
“There was no representation of fully ethnic content on television at the time,” mused Alistair, “and with many people in the country that are from Africa, The Caribbean or indeed Black British, there was no representation for these people on TV.”“Back then, Nigeria as a nation was seen as a bad influence on the continent,with all Nigerians being tarred with the same brush,” Alistair reflected, “I with the same brush,” Alistair reflected, “I knew personally that there were many positive Nigerians doing wonderful things around the world, people in sports and movie industries,but you just don’t hear about them.”Alistair figured that if no one knows about Nigeria or the wider black community, then someone should show them the truth.
“Lets create something positive.”But moving from place to place, trying to find programmes and people who believed in the project that he had was difficult for Alistair.“Finding someone to give you what is intruth quite a lot of money to back your idea,when you have no experience was a challenge.”A few years before the launch, when he applied for the licence, it was very difficult, as noone had come across a channel like the onethat was being proposed, so BEN TV became aguinea pig for the changes in legislation.“Being the first black oriented TV stationthat is culturally original, based in the UK, started by myself and still broadcasting, still on air is a massive thing for me.
”Between 1998 and 2002, Alistair was lining up the facilities, satellites, resources, programmes and supplies to start the channel, before joining the satellite company that he has worked with forever in South America tosee the launching of his own particular satellite.“When the satellite was going up, wherever it was going to and knowing it was for me was an amazing feeling,” beamed Alistair.Based in the heart of London, BEN TV is byits own words, ‘Europe’s 1st Ethnic oriented Television Channel,’ and serves a huge audience,including a range of cultured programming to transform, empower and challenge the conventional perception of Africa, Caribbean and African-descendants in Diasporasince 2002.BEN TV doesn’t receive funding like the mainstream channels, nor through TV licencinglike the BBC, and for Alistair it is a Catch-22 situation.
“For us to go more mainstreamand reach a bigger audience, we need the financial backing, but by doing so we could lost touch with the communities that make us who we are.”Next on the horizon for BEN – massive capital intensive business. “The community is not made up of big time spenders, how many companies do we have that are African or Caribbean owned with large spending power, that’s not many, you can probably count themon one hand.”
“What I stand for, what I’ve always stood for and what I will keep standing for is the integrity of the people. I would love to take the platform bigger in the weeks and months to come.”As the interview continued, you couldn’t help but be taken in by his manner, his charm,and most importantly his belief in what he was saying. Every word was carefully chosen with a clear end picture in sight.Television isn’t the only love of Alistair’s lifethough, “For me personally the only thing I live and breathe and get excited about right now is Nigeria,” explained Alistair, “I don’t see the challenges, I see the opportunities.”challenges, I see the opportunities.
”Alistair isn’t just looking at investment in thecountry, he is looking at change, and reform for the country.“Optimistically dreaming, if we stand for thechange, we will be there to create the change. As long as we stand there and believe, we will be victorious.”Alistair is looking for Nigerians who are professionals,businesspeople and entrepreneurs to look at the political parties and find one that aligns withyou that they can join.“The Elders have said that the youth should join politics, and it is now with humility and respect that we are answering the call, we are here andready.
”Passionately, almost worth of standing at a podiumin front of a huge crowd at a rally, Alistair continued,“I see no state, no religion, the only thing Isee is one Nigeria. I don’t believe we need to fight,I don’t believe we need to be at war, I believe that we need to give peace a chance. A peace that we have never experienced before is coming, but only if we elect the right people.“Yes we can, yes we will make Nigeria better and greater, yes people who are positive about a greater country will support us. We want to better Nigeria, have an equal Nigeria with a better education system. Alistair believes that a team of younginspired people alongside the elders could rule Nigeria in 2019, to help start to create the change that is so needed.
“I am not in business to make money, but to sustain. We are not going into politics to make money, but because we believe that this ideal of a new Nigeria is enough.“With almost every industry in the world having a Nigerian in it, and the richest people in Africa of Nigerian descent, Nigeria as a nation need to give their people a chance.”To showcase these people, engaging them and the youth to push forward to a better tomorrow for Nigeria is very high on Alistair’slist of priorities.For the young people, regardless of your cultural heritage, Alistair has a few words of wisdom that is sage advice from someone who has lived by his words.“Regardless what you want to do with your life, just look at what you want to achieve, who do you want to work with? Always look to the top, whether that is a singer, an actor, a presenter, a business owner, look at the mand ask how did they get there.Start to emulate what they did and you’ll be well on your way.”