By Victor Gotevbe & Ikenna Asomba
Mrs Sadat Hassan is a Deputy Comptroller in the Nigeria Immigration Service. Just last April, she was redeployed to the International wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, amid tears, but plethora of awards, and grand send-forth receptions from Nigerians in Germany, after having served in Berlin Germany, for six years.
In her six-year stint in Germany, Hassan, a lover of entertainment, won for herself several accolades and names from many a Nigerians residing in that country, as well as German nationals who crossed paths with her. Unique of all was that she was referred to as the Mother of all Nigerians living in Germany. To them, Hassan was a patriot, lover of Nigeria and Nigerians, hardworking, affable, good-natured, benevolent, easy-going, accessible, defender of human rights, fighter of injustice and a detribalised Nigerian. Hassan corroborated these qualities, saying they were inborn.
Hassan, who spoke to DIPLOMATIC WATCH, on the sidelines of a seminar in Lagos, organised by the African-German Information Centre (AGIC), Germany, the African Courier Verlag, Germany, in collaboration with the Germany Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tagged: Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), bared her mind on her nolstagic experiences in Germany, even as she cautioned Nigerians, particularly the youths against irregular migration to Germany, among other countries. She also affirmed that it’s not possible to pass Immigration checks with falsified documents, under the current no-nonsense leadership of Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede. Excerpt:
Who is Sadat Hassan?
Sadat Hassan is a Deputy Comptroller of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). I was born and bred in Illorin, the Kwara State. I was born to a civil servant father and a housewife mother. My father was a Federal Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, under the Yakubu Gowon’s administration. He had though served in many Ministries, but his last before he died in 1973 was the Defence Ministry.
I had my primary and secondary education was in Illorin. I had actually attended Ireti Primary School, in Ikoyi Falomo, Lagos, but immediately my dad died, the family relocated to Illorin. After my primary and secondary education, in Illorin, I went to Kwara State Polytechnic (School of Basic Studies), we call it Cambridge then. I finished there in 1983, then I proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaira, Kaduna State to study History. I got my BA History in 1986. Then, in 2000, I proceeded for my Masters at the University of Calabar, where I finished in 2001. By that time, I was already in the Nigeria Immigration Service. I joined the Service in 1989 as an Assistant Superintendent of Immigration and I have risen to the rank of Deputy Comptroller.
You were a speaker at the Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria Campaign initiated by AGIC, African Courier and the German Government, what was your experience like in Berlin, Germany where you served?
I was deployed to serve in Germany as a senior Immigration staff in 2011, and I left Germany on April 4, 2017. Well, my experience generally was actually very interesting. But like I said at the programme, my duty was to issue passports to Nigerians resident in Germany and to issue Visas to Germans visiting Nigeria. The third one was general Immigration duties which includes deportation, looking after Nigerians, visiting the prisons, among others.
But the most difficult one was the third duty. It was difficult because you are basically handling the fates of your citizens and sometimes you don’t have that courage, but you have to summon courage to take decisions, very hard decisions at that. There were some decisions that were very easy to take. For example, there was a case of a Nigerian lady into prostitution in Germany, and she had been arrested several times, and the German authority was coming to me to say ‘Madam, this is your citizen, we have picked her up on the streets, several times and this is the 6th time,’ and I said to her, Madam, you can’t continue to do this, you are not helping the image of our country. So, I have to send you back to Nigeria, if you continue like that. Do you know she began to plead saying, ‘Ma, please you should allow me to work (prostitute) a little while.’
Taking a decision on such kind of case was not difficult, because right there, your conscience tells you that she was not fit to stay in Germany any longer. Then, there was a case of financial crime, fraud to be precise. The young man was brought out from the Prisons, before me and the German authority, and he said to me ‘Madam, don’t mind them, there are some of their citizens that even duped more money than I did. Mine was just €20,000, it’s not much. There are German citizens that duped over €1million, mine is not much, don’t mind them.’
The young man was a Yoruba guy and he actually spoke to me in Yoruba language and I replied him in Yoruba, scolding him not to say that again, as he was embarrassing me. I told him that even a €1 thief is a thief. I cautioned him, there and then. So, for such a person, it won’t be difficult for me to take a decision, to say, go back to the country.
Difficult cases of approving deportation orders
However, there was a case where a young man was being accused of Rape. He has a German wife, and the daughter his wife had for her first husband, had accused him of rape. And the wife was coming to me to say, ‘Madam, he’s not guilty.’ She confided in me that her daughter, 18 years, was going out with a criminal, and she was the one that asked her husband to intervene, as he should not continue to watch her handle the daughter alone. She told me that the boy he had for the husband was behaving well, that the girl only used the rape allegation to get back at her Nigerian husband who was always on her neck to behave well. The daughter reported the matter to the German Police and the guy actually went to jail for seven years based on allegations of Rape. Though, I am not a lawyer, but in that case, it was difficult to sign the deportation order of the young man, because I wasn’t convinced that he committed the offence.
The German authority came to me to say, ‘Madam, he has to be returned to Nigeria after his jail term.’ And I said, no, I can’t do this. He already has a stay here for more than 10 years. He’s married to your citizen, he has a son and a daughter. And the alleged offence you said he committed, he has been punished for it. So, why the deportation again? Actually, I didn’t sign that deportation order. He is still there in Germany and the case is settled. Even, the young man came thanking me some two years later.
Saving an Igboman called Ojukwu
So, there are some difficult cases at times and some easy cases that you make quick decisions, either to say yes, or no. I also cited the case of another young man named Ojukwu. According to German laws, if you get married to their citizen, you get residency permit. It’s after sometime you get Citizenship. So, he was deported because he earlier lied to the German authorities that he was a Cameroonian citizen. After he got their citizenship and married, he opened up that he was a Nigerian, as he has to submit his passport for Residency permit. He had no choice but to tell them the truth which he did. Then, the German authority deported him to Nigeria for lying to them earlier about his citizenship.
Unfortunately for him, he didnt know he had to come to the embassy to report. He was deported. Fortunately for him, the German wife wanted to come to Nigeria to visit him, and she had to come to me for Visa. So, in the course of the interview, I realised that the husband had been unjustly deported. I said to her, give me your husband’s contact details, as he lived in Port-Harcourt then.
I called the young man and asked him to write a formal complaint to my office and he did that very day, and I went to the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany to brief him on the matter. The ambassador said to me, ‘Madam, you are the professional here, if you asked me I didnt even know if he had committed any offence or not. You are the professional, please handle it. As far as I am concerned, I will give you the political backing to any length.’ Having been equipped by the ambassador’s assurances, I went back to my office and told my secretary to write the German authority, asking them to explain why they had to deport such a person to Nigeria. I wrote the first letter, it was not responded to. I did a reminder, it wasn’t responded to and then, I did a second reminder. And I categorically told them that after the second reminder, if they didn’t respond, then I have to suspend every working relationship we had with them temporarily. I told them, I won’t attend to any of their correspondences. I actually stopped, and didn’t attend to their correspondences for three weeks.
They sent letters, enquiries but I just kept them aside. They bombarded us with calls, no way. I happened to have a German as one of my clerks, they called him and he told them the reason behind my action. The German Chief of Police equivalent to the Inspector General of Police in Nigeria, had to personally come to my office and was asking me why I stopped work? I told him the reason, and he said, ‘but the young man was into crime,’ and I told him that it’s not in my knowledge that young man was into crime. I clarified him that the young man only lied about his citizenship, reminding him that the German law only has a fine for such offence, and not deportation. I asked that the young man should be allowed to come back and stay with the wife.
He angrily said, ‘so, you stopped work because of one person?” I said, look, the United States of America can go to war because of one citizen. I told the German Police Chief that I am here in Germany because Nigerians are there. If not, I had no business being in Germany. So, he got angry and left my office.
I was surprised, the following day, the young man called me from Nigeria to say, ‘Madam, they just called me from the German Embassy in Lagos that I should come.’ I said, go there, they are not killing you, just let me know whatever happens. He got there and he was given the German Visa. He’s back in Germany now with two children. As a matter of fact, when I was leaving Germany, he was crying like a baby, saying ‘Madam, who would defend us?” I said, don’t worry, God will send somebody else.
So, naturally, I’m just someone that hates cheating. I am someone that wants to fight injustice. Naturally it comes from me. Even in my private life, I naturally don’t like injustice. So, if it’s within my powers, I want to fight injustice, but if not within my powers, I want to voice out against it. So, that is me naturally. I think this is having effect on my official work some how.
In your stay in Germany, was there any form of diplomatic row based on your fight against injustices?
There was none I can remember. The only one I could remember is the story I just told you, but it didn’t escalate. It was actually a diplomatic row if you want to see it that way- I, stopping work, which was not supposed to be, but I believe that’s the only language they understand. It did not escalate anyway. But the German authority know inside them that they were wrong. But at times, they are very smart, they pretend as if all is well, nothing is wrong. So, it takes someone that knows the law to make the right decisions. Of course, when I got to Germany, I studied the country’s immigration laws very well. I know when Nigerians were right and wrong. So, when I go for Consular interviews where cases of Nigerians were reviewed, I know when to plead.
One day, one of our Consul General to Frankfurt, Mr. Odinaka attended the Consular Meeting, he said he wanted to observe me. Normally, we spend five days in this Quarterly meeting. So, in one of those meetings, on the third day, when we finished work, he asked me, ‘Madam, how do you do it, you know when to shout, when to plead and calm them, when to defend and argue. How do you do it?’ I said to him, I don’t have an answer, but I know it’s by God’s powers. Truly, it’s God. It’s not perfection or because I know it all. But as the cases are coming, my instinct would tell me how to handle it. What he meant by I know when to shout is that when I see a Nigerian being maltreated and the German authority are coming to defend it, I raise my voice. I tell them look, you have thousands of Germans coming into Nigeria, on daily basis, because I sign their visas. If they were being treated badly, they won’t go. Therefore, I won’t allow you treat my citizens badly.
Although, there were cases you can’t defend Nigerians, very extreme cases. In such cases, you see me pleading, please can you give him time, let him settle this or that. If there were cases that needs me to defend Nigerians, I stand out to defend them. It was a very interesting experience in Germany.
Challenging a German Policeman to withdraw a nasty comment against a Nigerian
I remembered a German Police, one day, made a nasty comment about a Nigerian, and I said to him, withdraw that statement, if not I am leaving here today. He thought I was joking and I was already packing my files. The other Police members prevailed on him and he withdrew the statement and apologised. When we finished working for the day and were together for dinner as we usually do, he approached me and said, ‘Mrs. Hassan, you take this job too personal.’ I said yes, you are defending your citizens and I am defending mine too. So, that is it.
No doubt, you have a proven track records in the Immigration services. As an experienced officer, what are the brief do’s and don’ts, you have to let Nigerians know who intend to travel abroad?
What I have to tell Nigerians, particularly Nigerian youths is, if you don’t have a genuine reason, genuine documents, please don’t go. You don’t have business there. Don’t also go to the extreme of following the desert and you kill yourself just because you are seeking greener pasture. It’s not always green when you get abroad. It’s not that rosy as being painted. But the human traffickers collect money from Nigerians and give them rosy stories that would interest anybody. But the truth is that they are lying, they are just trying to make money out of them. We have seen a lot of them that died in the process, including those of them that made the journey.
Our youths have to be sensitised, because I realised that a lot of Nigerians are actually ignorant of what is happening abroad, or what they are going there to meet. They only hear of we are going abroad, they feel that they are going abroad for greener pasture, may be because of the pictures they see back home, everything is rosy, and they feel that’s what they will meet over there. But when they get there at the end of the day, they meet a different story entirely. It is not an easy thing. The situations of some Nigerians abroad is pathetic.
There was a case of a young man who committed suicide, jumping into the Lagoon because the Immigration officers were coming to arrest him. He died. There were so many cases of those jumping from high rise buildings because the Immigration came calling on their doors. The stories are pathetic. But the truth is, we have cases of some Nigerians that will come and say, ‘Madam, I want to go back.’ A lot of them, they will come and say, ‘Madam, I want to see you’ and when you ask what the problem was, they will tell you, ‘Madam, I want to go back to Nigeria.’ Sometimes, I want to share in their experiences and I ask them, why do you want to go back home, and they begin to say, ‘Madam, can you imagine, although I was not too rich in Nigeria, but at least, I was working, I had a family, wife and children. I live in a flat and when I get back home, my wife and kids will say, daddy, welcome back and they will give me food to eat. But here in Germany, I can’t imagine I am staying in an apartment with seven others. I don’t even know the kind of disease they have. Please, I want to go back. Life is not as difficult as this for me in Nigeria.’ Some of them would also come to me and say, ‘I am here, I can’t marry and I can’t go sleeping around with women I don’t know just because I want papers or resident permit. I can’t do it, I want to go back.’
It’s so pathetic that some Nigerians, in the process of looking for a German to impregnate, they move from one club to the other, because the German law says, if you marry a German or have child with a German, you are automatically given a resident permit. Some of them, they meet the worst of German women that are HIV positive. Some of our citizens, when they have chronic disease and the German authority wants to deport them, I refuse them. After all, they didn’t come to Germany with such a chronic disease. I tell them, I am not signing, you have to take care of him or her. It’s a liability you have to cater for.
There was a case of a Nigerian of Igbo extraction, that was held for drug-related offences, and in jail he had a fight with a German national. In the process, the German national lifted a metal and hit him on the kneel and he got his kneel broken. The German authority brought him and said, ‘Madam, we are deporting him.’ I said never. He didn’t come to Germany with a broken leg. When you take care of him and his leg is okay, come to me, I would sign his deportation. But unfortunately for them, the medical report said, the broken kneel is going to be permanent, and I said to them, it’s your problem, please face it. Up to today, the young man is still in Germany. That case is more than five years.
Since your coming back to Nigeria, and your deployment to the airport, have you had cases where you reject foreign nationals and send them back at the point of entry?
Yes, we have heard several cases. If they don’t meet the requirements at the point of entry, we definitely send them back. Although, there is no particular country for now.
Any difference in your job over there and now?
No difference, it’s all immigration jobs and they are interwoven. The only difference is that I don’t issue passports here. There in Germany, I deal with foreign passports, and also here, I deal with foreign passports too. The jobs relate. It’s the same.
Do you sometimes detect fake documents?
All the time, we detect falsified documents. We are trained to know falsified documents. You can’t pass through our gates here, or anywhere in Nigeria with falsified documents. It’s not possible. Not under the current no-nonsense leadership of our Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammad Babandede. On daily basis, we detect falsified documents. That’s the work we are here for. To man the gates. However, in the past, it was rampant, but with the advent of the e-passport, it’s very difficult to falsify the e-passports.