Few weeks after resuming at his new duty post in Washington, DC, Nigeria’s new Deputy Ambassador, Hassan Muhammed Hassan granted African Mirror a rare interview. He spoke to our publisher about the new order at the embassy.
Q: Please tell us about your background
A: My name is Hassan Mohammed Hassan, I am from Borno state. I began Foreign Service career in 1984. I was first sent to Pakistan in the early 80s, I was in New York for 5 years, Damascus in Syria and I have also been privileged to work in other places in different capacities.
Q: With regards to addressing the complaints of Nigerians living in the U.S on service delivery, what is your administration going to do differently?
A: I don’t know how things were done in the past, but I can assure you that we are poised to render the best of service to every Nigerian living in the United States. By this, I mean we are prepared to render the best in terms of the consular and immigration services. Our personnel at the embassy are well trained. One of the measures recently put in place is to ensure that if anyone applies for visa, it should be ready within 24 hours, provided the applicant fulfills the requirements and has completed the online application process and paid the required fees. We will also do our best with regards to the issuance and renewal of passports. They should be ready within the shortest possible time. Our people only need to be a little patient with us.
Q: There have been complaints that passports take forever to be issued or renewed………….
A: (Cuts in) I want our people to know that passports are not made by the embassy, they are made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs back home and distributed to embassies all over the world. In some cases, there might be some delay. Even, sometimes, officials of the embassies and their families experience delay with reference to the renewal of their passports too. In the past, we used to experience scarcity, but now, things have improved tremendously.
Q: Apart from Washington, DC, New York and Atlanta, are there plans to open more consulates in the U.S to provide consular and immigration services?
A: We don’t have any such plan for now. Even, the richest country in the world cannot have consulates everywhere. Besides money, there are designated jurisdictions for the location of embassies and consulates. The host country regulates the location of embassies and consulates. For instance, we have been asking for permission to open another consulate in San Francisco in California for some time now, but up till now, we still haven’t got it.
Q: It was reported that the embassy was having difficulty meeting its financial obligations to the staff. What is being done by your administration to address this and also to forestall this kind of situation in the future?
A: Every country in the world goes through different challenges at one point or the other. In our own case, Nigeria experienced economic hardship due to the way the economy was bastardized by the previous administrations. This had negative impact on the ability of the government parastatals to meet their financial obligations for some time. The present administration has been working so hard to fix the situation and that challenge has been overcome now and things are getting back to normal gradually. Right now, Nigeria has come out of recession and I believe, this will impact all of us positively. Another way of fixing this problem will be to cut down on our staff strength at the embassy in order to match our limited resources. Every embassy has a stipulated number of local staff it can employ in addition to the home-based staff. Over the years, we’ve had number of local staff bloated to over 100 percent without a corresponding increase in the resources allocated to us to cater for them. This created problems. The only option we are left with is to reduce the number of the local staff. This has also generated controversies because many would allege they are being laid off because of their tribes. We have to be able to live within our means and resources.
Q: What is the embassy doing to allay the fears of Nigerian immigrants with reference to the new immigration policy made by President Trump?
A: Nigerian government or its embassies cannot challenge any policy made by the host countries, because it’s the host countries’ right to come up with policies they believe are the best for them. Government policies anywhere in the world cannot be challenged. In Nigeria, we also have immigration policy, which had led to the deportation of some illegal aliens, so, that is not peculiar to the United States. What we can do is to advice Nigerian immigrants, especially, those who are yet to fulfill their legal residency requirements to do so. But if as a legal resident of Nigerian origin, you are harassed, then, you can come to us and the issue will be taken up officially. Above all, Nigerians should be law-abiding
Q: How will you describe the relationship between Nigeria and the United States at this time?
A: Nigeria has always enjoyed its relationship with the United States. I can say confidently that the relationship has been exemplary. Upon my arrival few weeks ago, our consular officers from New York and Atlanta and I had met and interacted with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE in charge of West Africa as well as the State Department. We are interacting and we will continue to interact on a regular basis.