President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday urged the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to correct "the lingering perception of corruption and fraud" in the service.
Declaring open the 2012 Annual Comptroller General of Customs Conference in Katsina, Jonathan acknowledged that the monthly revenue generation of the service had tripled from N30 billion to N100 billion.
Represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, the president said that the ongoing reforms in the service had brought about "greater efficiency" but more needed to be done on corruption and fraud.
"In line with our administration's zero tolerance for corruption, the customs service must constantly examine itself by weeding out corrupt men and officers whose activities tarnish the image of the service.
"You must faithfully abide by the principles of good governance, which encapsulates transparency and integrity."
The president also urged the service not to relent in its laudable role of facilitating trade, border protection and security of the nation.
He said the Federal Government appreciated the efforts of the service in preventing the proliferation of small and light weapons in Nigeria and pledged that the government would continue to give the required support to check the activities of those involved in the illicit trade.
He, however, called for increased collaboration between the service and other customs bodies across the world in the fight against "persistent smuggling and criminal activities" at entry ports.
"Constant networking and exchange of vital information with sister agencies will not only ensure easy detection, it will also guarantee the reduction of high risk shipments in the international supply chain."
On the theme of the week-long conference, "Borders Divide, Customs Connects", Jonathan urged conference participants to make the interest of Nigerians paramount.
He said discussions at the conference must seek innovative ways to ensure that "our borders do not distance us from sub-regional, regional and international trade."
He advised that borders should connect individuals and the nations to the economic benefits of global trade and ensure security.
In a goodwill message, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar highlighted the issue of officers killed in the line of duty as a result of insurgency in some parts of the country.
He urged the conference to address this and also the public perception of the service and professionalism.
Atiku, a former customs officer, said that although the public associated the service with corruption, "I cannot reconcile why retried officers happen to be the poorest after they leave the service".
"Transparency is the greatest antidote against corruption," he stressed.
He commended the introduction of the single window system aimed at reducing the time and number of documents needed to transact business in Nigerian ports.
On professionalism, Atiku criticised what he called "short training schedule" for new recruits in the service.
He recalled that when he was recruited into the service in 1969, they trained for almost two years,
"but I hear today that people undergo training for only three months.
"You must train yourselves properly and you must start by recruiting the right candidates."
Earlier, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko, described the year 2012 as a watershed for the service.
He highlighted the decision by the government to return Destination Inspection Regime (DIR), previously outsourced to contractors, to the service from Dec. 31, 2012.
He assured stakeholders that the Nigeria Customs was ready to assume all functions of the service providers contracted by the government to provide scanning and risk management support under the DIR.
"The bold decision by government to return to the service, its statutory responsibilities is a function of the confidence Mr President has both in the leadership and capabilities of the service."
Dikko, who assumed leadership of the service in 2009, highlighted some of his achievements.
He said the present management had enhanced the remuneration of an average officer and had sustained a moral rebirth to enhance fiscal discipline and integrity.
He noted that the service, under his watch, had consolidated on service delivery by developing an indigenous database cargo clearance system known as Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS).
The customs boss added that the service had concluded negotiations on Customs Mutual Administration Assistance Agreement with customs administrations in South Africa, Turkey and the U.S.
According to him, the agreement will assist in information sharing on commercial fraud.