Dr. Alistair Soyode is one of the many Nigerians in the Diaspora doing the country proud. With his TV station, Ben TV (Bright Entertainment Network), he showcases the talents and promises of Nigeria, Africa and the Caribbean to the United Kingdom audience where he is based. Ben TV has been consistent in doing this for the seven years it has been in existence.
Last year, realizing the great promise of the Nigerian music industry, Ben TV reached a unique agreement with the Primetime Group in Nigeria to synergically broadcast Nigerian content, especially music, in the UK and Nigeria. The arrangement would provide Ben TV with a platform to reach the Nigerian audience back home and also give Primetime TV a footing in the UK.
Soyode, who is both a member of the Re-branding Nigeria Project and chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization Europe (NIDOE), talks to Notes and Tones about the arrangement and the challenges of running a TV channel with foreign contents in a foreign land…
What prompted this move and how are you going to go about it?
When you look at Nigeria as a country, you ask yourself this: “What do we sell? What do we export? What do we provide for the international community?” In the sporting industry, we haven't done that much in football, which we pride ourselves on. In the tourism industry, we also haven't done much. Then, in Nollywood, we may have the second to the largest movie industry in the world, but which Nigerian movie has been recognized at a major international award? It is in the music industry that we have received more attention lately. That is why we need to give the music industry more attention and encourage the players in that industry, give the industry more leverage and make it work better than any other industry we have in Nigeria.
Do you intend to show a lot of Nigerian music on Ben TV?
We would be showing good music videos showcasing Nigerian content and lifestyle. We will entertain people and expose the culture and lifestyle of the people to the diasporic experience. It is not just about the music, it is about the lifestyle and culture of the people. We want to put music on the platform it needs to get to people outside Nigeria. We have the music and our artists are gaining international recognition and we can't fail them.
How come Ben TV has not done much on the home front?
We are very willing to promote Nigerian music and also come on the home front. But if you don't find the right person or partner to work with, you might never succeed. We have just got that and you would definitely see us home. We have been promoting Nigerian music and culture for the past six years and we have done well.
How profitable is running such a venture as Ben TV in the U.K?
It is not profitable. I am selling a product, a nation, a rhythm that people have a question mark on. Financially, it is not profitable at all and there are challenges. We have a choice to do something else, but we still choose to keep doing what we do because it is right.
Don't you have a Nigerian community in the U.K?
We have, but they alone won't be able to keep the station afloat. If they are, we won't be doing some of the things we do to survive. We're coming back to Nigeria to find business. I am promoting my country out there and my country should appreciate what I am doing and people who have business to offer me should come forward and do so. It is not like I am begging. I am not begging; I just want to be appreciated. One can run until he stops and then he would need people to pull him up.
How have you been coping?
It is not by my power or knowledge. I just give God the glory because I don't' know how. I have had a lot of challenges, a lot of companies and governments owe us money, but we still manage to stay afloat. Sometimes it is very hard for us because we can't pay what we should be paying, but we are still there and would still continue to do the best we can, not just for Nigeria, but for Africa as a whole.
Is the Nigerian government in any way involved in what you do or appreciate you for what you do?
We need to give credit to people who believe in what we do and there are quite a number of those. But they need to get involved and help us achieve our dreams. Which media is international in the last six years, promoting Nigeria? It is Ben TV. Which media shows the electoral reforms and what the people are going through in Nigeria? It is Ben TV. Still not taking the credit away from other media houses, be it electronic or print, but we have been consistent for seven years. We are international for seven years. We have represented Nigeria from the Obasanjo era to the Yar'Adua era. Who else has done that? The stations here are not international. Some of them are now becoming international, but we have been there for long. If someone is doing something for you and you absolutely love what the person is doing, you should do something for that person. I don't want to believe that if we are being negative like some other media, that we would have been more recognized. Our country is good and if you give the youth the necessary empowerment they need, then things would improve. I am a committee member of the Re-branding Nigeria Project. That's another challenge, but the fact is that we are all Nigerians. If you run away from this country to another place, you would never feel as homely as you would feel in Nigeria.
How did the whole idea of Ben TV come about and what were you into before then?
I was in the U.K and was always thinking of something to do because I needed money. You know when you are looking for money, you think of almost anything that would give you the break that you are looking for in life. I was into telecoms, then I was writing some programmes for some TV stations, then before you knew it, I had a TV station on my hands.
Don't you see the need for launching a Nigerian channel of Ben TV?
It is not about launching a new station here in Nigeria, it is about bringing our station from the U.K into Nigeria. Right now, we are speaking to some of the cable and satellite companies in Nigeria to see if we can be on their package. But we don't know why some people don't want to have us. Maybe they see us as competitors, but we will find out those that don't see us as competitors and work with them.
What's the reception of a TV station with a large foreign content in the U.K?
The Nigerian community in the UK is more than a million and the African community there is more than two million. What we do is that we have programmes from as many African countries as possible. So, we are really a centre for a variety of programmes across Africa and the Caribbean. We have Caribbean programmes on the station which are presented by their own people. We are not just about Nigeria, but we deliver the largest Nigerian content that people see as independent, free, unbiased and neutral.
What's your viewership like around the world?
I cannot give a figure around the world because we are only tracing the figures in the UK. So, we can say that we have something like 60 percent of the Nigerian and African audience in the U.K.
What's your workforce like? What's the racial mixture of your staff?
Depending on the programme, sometimes I look around and I don't see any blacks. We employ capable hands from all over the world.
How many channels do you transmit on?
I don't believe in people doing multiple channels. My message is that of bridging the gap between everybody, between the militants and non-militants, eastern and western parts of Nigeria, between the Africans in the diaspora and those at home, between the white people and black people, between the female and male and I can do that with one channel. So, I don't really see the need for multiple channels.
How much do you think the Re-branding Nigeria Project has changed the image of Nigeria?
Nigeria is a very big product to sell. The project is not about changing our green and white colours, it is about making Nigerians realize the need for change and convincing them to embrace it. We do not have all the basic amenities of life, but we are on our way to getting them. It is the people involved that matter; it is Nigerians that matter. It is about Nigerians realizing that we are the ones to turn things around for ourselves. We should begin to look at things positively and working towards achieving our dreams.
What was the process of the election that got you the position of the NIDOE chairman?
The election was conducted by an electoral commission of the European body in Paris, with representatives from the 17 chapters in Europe. Some Nigerian ambassadors and High commissioners were in attendance.
What are your responsibilities as the chairman of NIDOE?
Some of the responsibilities are to oversee the entire collective interests of Nigerians in Europe towards Nigeria's development, co-ordinate issues and matters affecting Nigerians in the diaspora, working with the government in bilateral relations with Europe, using and coordinating the expertise and skills of Nigerians to achieve mileage back in Nigeria. NIDOE has contributed to many issues and discussion on the positive development of Nigeria. We do hope that as many states as are seeking for experts in health, medicine service delivery and various other areas can partner with us. We have these professionals who are willing and able to help. Our will and mandate is towards national development for and in Nigeria.
Any views on the absenteeism of our president and the broadcast through the BBC?
The president, we heard, is recuperating well in Saudi Arabia. We do hope that we will be able to provide the video/TV interview which is sought by Nigerians.