MAMBILLA TEA IS AMONG THE BEST IN THE WORLD â€“ BOLUJOKO, MASTER TEA MAN
Grab your kettle, boil some water. Toss in a teabag into a cup, and pour the steaming hot water into it. What comes out is a golden yellow liquid of exciting goodness, rich in antioxidants. Welcome to the world of Dr. Julius Teju Bolujoko.
Though used to bigger offices, (having done over two decades in various capacities with Cadbury Nigeria Plc), Bolujoko obviously is a firm believer in mustard seeds becoming an oak. My readily understand why he partitioned a room into two cubicles.
One serves as his office while the other half provides his administration manager a place to do his paper work. Bolujoko is primarily concerned with deploying his wealth of experience to doing his own thing, producing a unique brand of tea called Master tea, derived from the black tea, despite the many challenges of manufacturing in Nigeria.
His love for functional foods, (that is foods that have a lot of health benefits for the body), got him into his romance with tea, and it's a gospel he has been spreading in the last one year through his new product. With an array of tea flavours (like a supermarket shelf for various brands of tea) on a table beside his window, he says his love and interest in tea dates back to his days at Cadbury, which he joined in January 1984, as a Process Development Scientist, after brief stints at Nichemtex, and Coca-Cola. Please enjoy, as he tells the story of enduring 'romance' with tea. Excerpts…
Tea is good, people should know more about it
Actually, Cadbury used to do tea, Typhoon Tea. And I witnessed how the tea was being made in my early years there. I also had a boss who was a tea expert, and I used to discuss a lot with him about tea, and I've always taken an interest in tea too. So it wasn't something that came to me overnight. I had seen that it is good and I felt people should know more about it, and actually use it.
Quite a number of research has been done about tea, and one of the latest research says that if you take three cups of tea in a day, your chances of getting cancer is very remote, very low, because it helps you to fight all those things that can cause problems in the body. And I think that is one of the things that people ought to know; that what you eat actually matters a lot. Anything that contains a lot of flavonoids helps the body to fight all the things that can harm the body.
Always been interested in functional foods
But aside tea, he says he has always been interested in functional foods, and has been involved in various research works in this area. As a process scientist, your training is in process, which means chemicals, foods. I've always had an interest in functional foods, that is foods that we eat not just for the sake of eating food but for the benefits they hold. All the research I did in Cadbury was in that direction.
While at Cadbury, Bolujoko helped developed products like Poundo Yam, Dawadawa and researched on the use of sorghum for Bournvita and confectionery manufacture, which especially earned him a National Productivity Award Merit Award from the Federal Government in 1988. He had severally also been recognized by the company he served for 23 years for innovations and contributions to the growth of the company. Thus for him doing something new is always an exciting prospect, which he says, explains his decision to retire and re-fire from his own company, Ruchim Manufacturing which produces tea made from natural black tea.
To him functionality is very important in foods that we eat, one of the key works that we did then was to get vitamins and minerals embedded into Bournvita. If you look at the overall research, though things are much better than before, a lot of the deficiencies prevalent in Nigerian children, are due to the absence of micronutrients in their food. Micronutrients help to ward off many diseases. So that was why we did a lot of work adding a lot of micronutrients and vitamins to Bournvita.'
He equally believes that tea is one of the foods that has a very functional activity, because it is packed with quite a lot of things that are good for the body, since it contains flavonoids.
'During the metabolic processes in the body, free radicals are usually generated and when you take something like tea which is rich in antioxidants, it helps mop up the negative things. If the free radicals are left like that, they go on to affect organs of the body. And that is why we have cancers of various organs. So if you have a system whereby you take in something that mops up these free radicals, so that they don't commit 'crimes' in the body, that food becomes functional.'
According to him, the high functionality of tea is known all over the world, and having done a lot of research in that area, the thought of manufacturing tea naturally came. 'When I retired, I thought this was what I wanted to do, put tea in the home of every Nigerian. So that was how Master Tea came about.'
He says his product is unique in the sense that it has low caffeine, considering that caffeine is one of the key things that drive people away from tea, despite the fact that it is lower than that of coffee.
I knew I couldn't retire and actually retire
But why would he delve into the murky waters of manufacturing on retirement, when he should be putting up his feet and savouring the rewards of the labours of these past years especially as he is very close to the big 'Six-O', this reporter queried.
'I knew that because of the level of activity and involvement I had for over 25 years, I knew that I could not retire and just fold my hands because that would be inviting trouble. It's just like someone who is running a 100 yards and suddenly stops, you'll create a problem for yourself. So it's better to keep going, that enables you to be active up here (pointing to the head) and I'm someone who likes learning, I learn a lot. So to me, it's a new learning experience.'
Never mind what banks say in the adverts…they don't support ideas
Sharing the story of how he got the company kick started, one obvious new knowledge he has acquired is the fact that the banks are never there for new businesses like his. From his experience in the last one year, he says he has come to realize that rather than get an idea going, the banks would rather support (though indirectly) the economy of another country, thus his recourse to personal savings over the years.
'It's not very easy getting funds from the banks when you want to start up. For instance if you go to the bank and say, this is my idea, how do you support an idea, not many banks in Nigeria support ideas. If I had said that rather than make tea and create jobs, all I want is to import packed tea from Sri Lanka, I would get a lot of bank support because they want something of two, three months gestation.
They would readily open a Letter of Credit for me that would enable me to buy abroad and bring it inside. When they do that they'll know how much is coming in after three months and what their share would be, and everybody is happy. However we have not created any job, no activity within, we have not looked at our agriculture to see how we can help it. We are developing someone else's country and economy.
That is what most of the banks actually do, they don't look at or support ideas, never mind what they say in their adverts. But don't forget, Cadbury started as a tea house, one of the people that started it said, let's set up a tea house to prevent people from drinking a lot of alcohol. So they created a nice environment for people to come in and drink tea that was how Cadbury started. But the banks are not looking at how they can create more Cadburys in Nigeria, that's the sad part.'
Getting started with personal funds, he recalls another saving grace that got him going, a chance meeting with the manufacturer of a machine he needed. 'I was looking for a machine that would be able to pack tea, I didn't want a manually operated machine. From my experience and exposure, I know that the more automated you are, the better it is for you in terms of quality assurance, and being able to deliver promptly, with good presentation.
I was at an exhibition in Germany, there I saw quite a number of tea machines but I saw one made by an Italian company which I preferred and indicated my interest. Fortunately the owner of the company was there and he said they had not sold a singular machine in Africa, and would like to do so. So we got talking and he told me the amount. And I told him there's no way I would be able to pay him, but I can guarantee that I would pay in installments if he would give me the machine.
And to the surprise of even his workers, he agreed, that was how we got our first machine, this was about four years and we've fully paid up. That was the opportunity God gave us, I would say God because you rarely see situations like that where Nigerians are given the benefit of the doubt. We have since moved on to acquire more machines.'
We get our tea leaves from the Mambilla Plateau, it is one of the best in the world.
Unknown to many, the main ingredient of his product, black tea, is grown here in Nigeria, and can favourably compete with those from other parts of the world. It is a yet to be exploited area, that can boost the image of Nigeria, he says.
'We source the tea from Mambilla Plateau. There's a tea plantation there owned by the government, it's unique in the sense that the tea from Mambilla is about the best in the world. The volume they have is not large enough for big companies to patronise them but smaller companies have been patronizing them. However it's about the best in the world, in the sense that we have the good weather, the good soil and the sun, all these combined helps to make it one of the best in the world.'
However, he says the quality, taste and everything any tea brand has to offer would be determined by the blending, and that is what will distinguishes one tea from another even if it's from the same source.
'We believe Mambilla Plateau tea is good, and it is something that Nigeria can actually give to the world. If you hear about Colombia, there are so many negative things we hear about Colombia, but you'll definitely hear more about Colombian coffee, than the negative things. So if Nigeria can get the good things out, like the Mambilla tea, it would help us to douse some of the problems we are having and people will see us in a better light. That's what I call rebranding.'
Poor power supply increases cost of production by up to 40 per cent
For Bolujoko who graduated with a first class in Chemical Engineering from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State), and has a Ph.D. in the same discipline (with Masters in Process Engineering and Economics from the Loughborough Univeristy of Technology, courtesy of a Commonwealth scholarship), the first and biggest challenge that has dogged his steps like an albatross is the issue of epileptic power supply.
It's a cross every business in Nigeria carries, he says, but they would have fared better if it were not so, he laments, saying: 'The biggest challenge for any business in Nigeria would be two or three. The first one is NEPA. If you look at cost of production, power accounts for about 30-40 per cent. What happens is that because you generate your own power, your cost of production is way too high making it difficult to compete in the international market.
Instead of being about 5-10 per cent of cost of production, it is about 30-40 per cent because you are generating your own power. So that in itself is not good for business. And that is why government should address it squarely, so that we can have a GDP growth that is much higher than what we have now. And it's not just the fact that there is no power but also the quality. Like today, we have high voltage.
For our machines, we have a system that helps to check the power supply, if it's too high, it goes off and if it is too low, it is equally knocked off, so that these machines can be protected. So we do have days that the voltage will be too high, and we won't be able to use it, we'll revert to our source of supply. And the same thing goes for days that it will be too low'.
The second clog in the wheel of progress for businesses that Bolujoko identified is access to credit. He opines that if the economy is to progress, the government must be committed to creating an enabling environment for small scale industries.
'Government must create an enabling environment for small scale industries to thrive. We hear and see from the papers that this billion has been set aside for small scale industries, but the question is, how many small scale industries have gotten the funds. If you look at industrialized countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, compare them in terms of industry, you'll find that the difference between these two countries is that in Germany, small businesses add to the growth, like a business employing between 10-50 people. The UK on the other hand has more of big businesses, big this and that, and it has not given it the much needed growth. But where small businesses are encouraged, they are the engine of growth because things can be done much faster, decisions are made faster.'
Solving the power problem is possible with political will
I believe that the power problem does not defy solution, rather it requires political will. If the government really wants to solve the power problem, it needs four years to achieve that. At the end of that period, we wouldn't remember the times we didn't have power. But to do that will take willingness on the part of government not to think of regions that is not to be compelled to duplicate it in many parts at the same time.'
Suggesting a power program that will focus on Lagos using gas, because most of the economic activities happen there, he said the other parts of the country could then be powered with the other alternatives that have been used in the country.
'If the full potential is there, Lagos and environs accounts for 50-60 per cent of power that is used in Nigeria. If you actually solve the problem of power in Lagos, you are actually solving the national problem of power. My pastor always says, you eat an elephant, by taking it a bit at a time. If you look at Nigeria and you say you want to solve power problem, it can never be solved. If we can create five or six areas to generate power using turbine engines, it would be easy for us to make projections within the time frame. Government doesn't have to spend money to do this.
You'll find companies that will be available and willing, IPPs (independent power plants operated by private companies, instead of government. They can undertake the project, and there are quite a number in Nigeria but they are small. If we do an international bidding for this, carving out Lagos into different zones, like asking one to do the power plant, another takes on distribution, while another takes the collection of rates ( the pay as you go system that we have now is excellent).
So within the four years period, it'll become history given that you need time to plan, install, and time to commission. And when you are doing all of these, you're also looking down stream, power sharing into the houses, industry and so on. The Lagos power problem can actually be resolved within this period. And if you can do that for Lagos, then whatever we have now, the Shiroro, Egbin, hydroelectric, can now be diverted to supply other parts of the country. So what looks like a big problem becomes a small problem. But there must be a political will to do it.