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From farming student to TV network CEO

From Nick Thompson for CNN
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BEN TV CEO Alistair Soyode is the public face of a flourishing media business.
  • Alastair Soyode studied farming before founding BEN TV in 2002
  • BEN TV is the first and longest-running African-oriented channel in the UK
  • Soyode seeks to rebrand his native Nigeria through grassroots political reform

Editor's note: Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Alistair Soyode, the Nigerian founder of the BEN TV channel in the UK.

Watch the show on Saturdays 1130 and 1830 GMT, Sundays 1700 GMT and Monday 1130 and 1630 GMT.

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.

Video: A man of almost limitless energy
Video: Giving something back

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.

The people in Nigeria need to know that the power belongs to them.When people are corrupt, we need to challenge it. The change begins with you.
--Alistair Soyode, CEO BEN TV
  • Nigeria
  • Media
  • Africa

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."

CNN's Tom Hayes contributed to this report