Two former policemen in Nigeria have been sentenced to death over the most infamous case of extrajudicial killing in the country’s modern history.

Ezekiel Achejene and Emmanuel Baba were convicted of murdering two of the Apo Six – six young civilians who were shot dead in 2005.

Police initially tried to cover up the deaths, saying the victims were armed robbers who had opened fire first.

But an earlier judicial panel of inquiry rejected that story.

The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo later apologised on behalf of the police for the killings and paid $20,300 (£16,700) in compensation to each of the families.

However, a trial to determine which individuals were behind the killings was repeatedly delayed.

Three other former officers on trial at the High Court in Abuja, who all denied involvement, were acquitted for lack of evidence while a sixth suspect was never brought to trial.

The judge, Ishaq Bello, said the court had had no option but to convict Achejene and Baba after they had confessed to shooting two of the victims on the order of senior officers.

The two men had tried to retract their confessions during the trial but the court rejected this.

“The two defendants have no regard for the sanctity of human lives,” Judge Bello was quoted by AFP news agency as telling the court. “They are not only over-zealous but also extremely reckless.”

The case, which was investigated by the BBC in 2009, concerned six young Nigerians from Apo, a satellite settlement of Abuja: Ekene Isaac Mgbe, Ifeanyin Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna and Anthony Nwokike, who were all car spare parts dealers, and Augustina Arebu.

They came under fire when they approached a police checkpoint in their car.

Four died on the spot and the other two were taken to a police station alive. The bodies of all six were found together later, along with weapons which the panel heard had been planted by police.

The phrase Apo Six has been trending on Twitter in Nigeria, with some tweeters saying they are pleased that someone has finally been held accountable.

Many Nigerians complain that police officers and the military rarely face justice for alleged abuses against civilians.