This paper focuses on processes involved in the Obasanjo administration’s appropriation of feminist language and meanings in its economic empowerment and development strategy, NEEDS. This appropriation of progressive ideas takes apparently gender neutral forms, through the presentation of the government’s economic and development agenda as partitioned from political practice, as well as forms that are more specifically oriented to the terms ‘gender’ and ‘empowerment’. On both tracks, appropriation involves the erasure of power in the production of altered meanings. I argue that NEEDS works ideologically to manufacture hegemony and the illegitimacy of dissent with regard to the government’s reform programme. In this context, the struggle to reclaim feminism in the pursuit of social and economic justice in Nigeria requires the production of more nuanced, feminist knowledge about the workings of power, including ways in which feminist conceptions of women’s empowerment might be realised.